Given their status as the country's most common controlled substances, cannabis and beer are inevitably compared during discussions of policy and social impact. But the plant's rise in legal commerce over the past five years is now making it a legitimate sales competitor, and big beer is noticing.
Although they took their time as the pot business grew around the country, brewing companies and brewers are starting to get the gonads to jump into the legal-weed trade. Several influential brands have announced partnerships with cannabis companies over the past few months, and their intentions range from huge investments to using hemp as a regular beer ingredient. Here's just a taste of how beer companies and brewers are diversifying their portfolios with pot:
With its heavy ties to Colorado, you'd think Molson Coors would have used its Rocky Mountain connections to enter the legal cannabis industry years ago. But finally, on August 1, the company announced it was diving into cannabis...in Canada.
Molson Coors Canada is partnering with Canadian cannabis company the Hydropothecary Corporation "to pursue opportunities to develop non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian market following legalization," according to the company's announcement. Canada's recreational market is set to begin sales of legal marijuana in October.
Keith Villa, creator of Blue Moon
While working for Coors in 1995, Keith Villa created the beers that inspired the start of the Blue Moon Brewing Company. When he retired from Coors earlier this year, the brewmaster hinted at plans for a new beverage with "cutting-edge" ingredients.
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And in March, Villa and his wife, Jodi, announced their partnership with Ebbu, a cannabis extraction lab, to start Ceria Beverages. The new line of THC-infused drinks will have the "same onset time as alcohol," according to the company's launch announcement, and will be brewed like a craft beer — but the alcohol will be taken out of the brew before it's infused with THC. (The law doesn't allow a drink to contain both.) The beverages should be in Colorado dispensaries before 2019.
Lagunitas founder and CEO Tony Magee hasn't been coy about his love of the plant. The California brewer created his Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale in honor of an undercover police investigation into Lagunitas for alleged pot consumption at the brewery in 2005, and it's not the only pot-inspired beer in the lineup. Lagunitas has also brewed a SuperCritical Ale infused with cannabis terpenes and the Waldos' Special Ale, a beer released every year in honor of 4/20.
Magee and Lagunitas took their connection one step further in June, when Lagunitas, which is owned in part by Heineken, launched Hi-Fi Hops, an IPA-inspired, THC-infused sparkling water. The drink is available in California dispensaries and comes infused with ten milligrams of THC or five milligrams of both THC and CBD.
Constellation Brands, the owner of breweries such as Corona and Modelo, was the first entry on the big-beer list to officially invest in legal pot. The company bought a 10 percent stake in a Canadian cannabis producer, Canopy Growth, last October. But Constellation upped the ante earlier this month, when it pumped a whopping $4 billion more into Canopy Growth.
Constellation CEO Rob Sands recently told CNN that legal cannabis could be "one of the most significant global growth opportunities for the next decade." But until America legalizes the plant on a federal level or gives its legal pot companies easier access to banking and public trading opportunities, Constellation will only be pumping its money up north.
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New Belgium Brewing
Okay, so this is technically hemp — but last time we checked, hemp was also a member of the cannabis family. And if any brewery is embracing hemp, it's New Belgium. The Fort Collins-based brewery isn't as keen on cannabis puns as are Oskar Blues or Lagunitas, but it has been putting its money and resources where its mouth is. In March, the brewery launched Hemperor HPA, a hemp pale ale brewed with hemp seeds.
According to New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer, the company faced varied obstacles in releasing the beer, which still hasn't made its way to all fifty states because of confusion surrounding hemp's Schedule I status with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
As a result, in July New Belgium announced that it was partnering with GCH Inc. (Willie Nelson's legal cannabis company) and the Vote Hemp organization to create the American Hemp Campaign, an organization that highlights the plant's economic benefits and call for federal and state reform of laws hindering the hemp industry.