Beer Man

Now That Weed Is Legal, Can It Co-Exist With Beer During the Great American Beer Festival?

Brewers love beer. That's no secret. But like much of the rest of the population, the people who work in the brewing industry enjoy marijuana as well. There is certainly no shortage of pot references when it comes to craft brewing and craft-beer names.

Oskar Blues, for instance, helpfully prints a small circle on cans that drinkers can use to turn the package into a pipe. Then there's California-based Lagunitas Brewing, whose attempt to name a beer The Kronik was rejected by the federal government. A few breweries have even gone out of their way to name brews in honor of legalization, like Metacool Maltuwanna at the Wynkoop, Recreational Smoke at West Flanders, and Colorado Kind, at Mountain Sun, which always taps new beers at 4:20 p.m.

See also: Five Colorado Pot-Themed Beers to Pair With Amendment 64

And pot will be a hot topic when thousands of brewery employees and beer tourists from around the country descend on Denver next week for the Great American Beer Festival.

"People definitely have two things on their mind this year. One of them is beer, and the other one is weed," says Dave Thibodeau, co-founder of Durango's Ska Brewing. "A pretty large percentage of that crew will make its way to a dispensary."

But connecting the two industries is less likely to happen.

"I think the two industries are kind of leery of each other still," says Wynkoop head brewer Andy Brown, who made Metacool Maluwanna with hemp seeds in 2011 in honor of Amendment 64, but isn't planning to revive the idea any time soon.

The Boulder-based Brewers Association, which hosts GABF, doesn't allow exhibitors or sponsors that "promote, mention or suggest" marijuana (along with tobacco, guns, porn or -- worse! -- distilled spirits, wine or flavored malt beverages. But BA spokeswoman Barbara Fusco says no pot-themed vendors applied this year, anyway.

So far, only one event has been planned that ties the two subjects together: Ska Brewing's Pints & Pipes, which takes place at the weed-themed Cheba Hut downtown. Anyone who orders one of three Ska beers on tap between 6 and 8 p.m. on Wednesday, October 1 will get a free hand-blown glass pipe with the Ska logo etched into it.

"We were thinking, 'God, all those people are going to be out here going to dispensaries. Let's give them all a pipe -- and at the front end of the week," Thibodeau says with a laugh. "It's just too good to pass up."

One reason breweries could be hesitant to hold pot-themed events is because they all have to be licensed by the federal government, which still deems marijuana use and possession to be illegal. Another might be the news stories that have suggested that pot legalization may have a negative impact on beer and wine sales in the future.

Marijuana activists, for their part, have frequently spoken out against alcohol while trying to get cannabis legalized, saying it is a far more dangerous vice than marijuana. Thibodeau says he understands the concerns on both ends.

"But if you are someone who is into both, why not enjoy it all?" he asks, adding, "We are opportunists. This probably won't be the last time Ska talks about the relationship between the two industries."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes