It was only a matter of time until cannabis became part of the seltzer craze, and the pot industry didn't wait long. But instead of diving into fizzy waters alone, Oh Hi, a Durango-based cannabis seltzery, joined forces with the bubbling water's nemesis: craft beer.
Last year, Jonny Radding and Aaron Miles, co-owners of southwestern Colorado dispensary chain Durango Organics, partnered with Ska Brewing co-owner Matt Vincent to launch the line of fruity THC seltzers.
Oh Hi's visibility has bubbled up fast in its short life: The company won a first-place trophy for best edibles at the 2019 High Times Cannabis Cup in Colorado and debuted a CBD-only line at the end of 2019 so that consumers can buy the drinks outside of dispensaries. Proudly using Durango as a home base for Oh Hi and their accompanying businesses, the three co-founders hope their venture will further solidify that small city as a capital for Colorado's most popular industries: weed, beer and outdoor recreation.
We recently caught up with Radding to learn more about Oh Hi's plans.
Westword: How much did White Claw mania impact your thinking while creating Oh Hi?
Jonny Radding: It helped drive us to the idea to make this. It wasn't just White Claw, either. Seltzer water in general has taken over a large portion of the beverage market, taking away from the soda category. That was something Matt pointed out to us — because at first I was looking into doing an energy drink, like an infused Red Bull, to capture that sort of market.
How important is it to have someone like Matt, who's been brewing beer for over twenty years and has other interests in the beverage industry?
Matt's been invaluable. I've known him for close to thirty years, and Aaron's known him for at least ten years. Matt had come to me before, trying to collaborate and see if there was anything we could do [with cannabis] and Ska Fabricating, his metal fabrication for canning lines in the beverage industry. We had tried to collaborate on ways to put herb in a can, basically.
When Aaron and I decided to get a license for manufacturing infused products, we didn't even know what we wanted to make. At one point, we noticed there wasn't as much competition in the beverage sector, and Matt was a natural person to turn to after that. He's really taken major control of the operation part of things, as well as John Lynch, our head of operations, who does a great job on the day-to-day. But, yeah, Matt's information in the beverage world, from canning lines to packaging to production costs to marketplace trends to distribution — all levels of it, he's been invaluable.
I remember drinking beers in garages with those Ska guys twenty years ago. It's very unique, just like marijuana, and there's a lot of synergy between the two. They're sort of like black sheep industries, so it's really cool that they've come together here.
How important is it to be first when trying to take advantage of something new?
It was extremely important to be first to the market with this type of beverage, as well as having it in a can. No one was doing anything in a normal can at the time, and that was really important, too. We've been very fortunate to work with Stillwater's Ripple to develop the drink, and we think we hit a home run with the flavors; they don't have that marijuana aftertaste. They truly taste like a seltzer water, and I don't think there's many beverages out there that taste as good as ours. And we give a lot of credit to Ripple for providing that tasteless THC to put in our drink. My favorite flavor was pomegranate, but I bounce back and forth, depending on what I'm doing or how hot it is outside.
Why put the production facility in Durango? It seems pretty far away from most of the state's cannabis industry.
We love where we live. Living in Durango creates all sorts of challenges in terms of getting your product out there throughout the state — or to other states, eventually. We're not in an easy section of Colorado for those things to happen, and the logistics are difficult. But we're very proud of our corner of the state and the type of support of we get from the people who live here. We have a lot of hometown pride for Durango and the Western Slope, and we understand we're not in the core of the marijuana world, like Denver, but we wouldn't change where we live for anything. Costs are high here; so is real estate and almost everything else. But we love it.
Durango's government has had some early discussion about considering social consumption businesses. Could you see Oh Hi opening up a tasting room for infused seltzers in the future?
We would love nothing more than that. I think right now, though, it's about how to make something like that work within the tough restrictions for those businesses that the state Marijuana Enforcement Division has outlined.