Beer Man

Crazy Mountain Brewing Tests the Waters With Hemp-Seed Beer

In the 1500s in what is now Germany, there was a law that beer could only be made with three ingredients: water, barley and hops. But that was then and this is now. In the United States in the new Millennium, you can find beers made with just about any ingredient imaginable, from curry, chai tea and kaffir lime leaves to beard yeast, bull's testicles and breakfast cereal, from coffee and syrup to peanut butter and potatoes.

But there's one ingredient that brewers continue to shy away from because of its murky legal status and mixed social and societal connotations: hemp seeds. Crazy Mountain Brewing, though, is poised to change that with Hippie's Hemp Brown Ale, which was made with two hundred pounds of toasted hemp seeds. It will debut in late March in 750-ml bottles as part of Crazy Mountain's Local's Stash series of one-off beers.

“It's an interesting ingredient that people haven't dabbled around with very much — and it is hard to get your hands on,” says brewery spokeswoman Kaleigh Armitage about hemp seeds. “We wanted to try something different, something that hasn't been done a lot.”

Hemp, of course, is cannabis's more buttoned-up botanical brother, and although it doesn't contain THC, the chemical that makes marijuana psychotropic, the family connection has meant that hemp has been illegal to grow in the United States for seven decades. That is beginning to change, however, along with marijuana laws in Colorado and some other states, which now allow limited hemp farming.

But for now, hemp is still illegal to grow in the U.S. from a federal standpoint, so companies that use it in products have to import it from other countries. And many do. You can buy clothes and fabric, soap, shampoo, rope and candles, paper and even animal feed made with hemp. You can buy beer as well, but it's not easy to find. The two most prominent examples are Hemp Ale, from California's Humboldt Brewing, and Joint Effort, a one-off collaboration beer that Red Hook bottled in 2013.

Hippie's Hemp Brown Ale will probably be a one-off beer, too, but the goal is create a partnership between the brewery and Major Hemp, Crazy Mountain's California-based hemp seed provider, and a beverage company or hemp products producer that might be looking to brew a version of the beer on the regular basis. In that case, Crazy Mountain would become the contract brewer of the beer.

Ted Jorgensen, the president of Major Hemp, which is owned by Sipp Industries, lives in Colorado Springs and has seen how the craft brewing industry has exploded. He believes the industry just needs some encouragement to begin working with hemp as an ingredient, which is why Major Hemp has developed a mixture of hemp seeds, hemp cake and hemp flour that “works well in the craft brewing process.”

Although it was Crazy Mountain that first approached Major Hemp when the brewers were looking for hemp seeds, Major Hemp, which imports its seeds from Canada, is now looking for other breweries to do business with, including at least one in the Colorado Springs area.

Major Hemp also touts the health benefits of hemp, which some people consider to be a “super food” because it is high in various omega fatty acids and amino acids.

Hippie's Hemp Brown Ale was brewed on Crazy Mountain's twenty-barrel system in Edwards rather than its larger Denver operation. But the beer will be sold in bottles from both locations. Only one hundred cases will be available, along with some kegs. It is scheduled to be released on March 18.

“Our brewers liked the flavor profile of hemp seeds, and being from Colorado, where there is so much buzz about this, we wanted to try it out,” Crazy Mountain's Armitage says. “It will hopefully be a popular beer ...and a good way to develop a partnership.”
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes