For a drug that makes so many users so sluggish, marijuana sure does send entrepreneurs racing to create financially lucrative legal ways to sell it. Just days after New Belgium Brewing announced The Hemperor Hemp Pale Ale, whose mixture of hops and hemp hearts imbues it with a strong whiff of weed, a more famous Colorado brewer is making public his plans for a non-alcoholic brew that actually gets drinkers high.
Keith Villa, who oversaw the Blue Moon Belgian White brand for 23 years after developing it for Coors Brewing in 1995, is crafting what he believes to be the first beer to actually contain THC, the chemical in cannabis that produces a buzz. Not only can buyers choose from among three levels of high, they’ll know exactly how much energy or euphoria to expect from each bottle or can.
“If they want to watch the Super Bowl and drink a six-pack and not get totally stoned they can just enjoy themselves with our light beer. That way they know they’ll be about as buzzed as they would have been if they’d drunk the equivalent in (alcoholic) beer with an ABV (alcohol by volume) between 4-4.5%.”
While other brewers experiment with hemp or a non-psychoactive version of the CBD compound contained in cannabis, “What we found is consumers of cannabis want the real deal,” he says. “Giving them a beer with hemp or CBD is almost like giving a craft beer drinker an alcohol-free Russian Imperial Stout and telling them, ‘This is good enough.’”
Two months after retiring from his three-decade Coors career, he’s still formulating the name of the product line, though he’s calling the company he founded with his wife CERIA BEVERAGES, after the Belgian brewing school where he earned his doctorate in brewing science. Famous for the beer that comes garnished with a slice of orange and continues to introduce millions of drinkers worldwide to Belgian-style ale, Villa says he expects to revolutionize yet another industry with this venture.
“Now we’re going to bring cannabis to the educated beer-drinking masses,” he says. “We’re at the same instance that craft beer was back in the ‘90s. If you think of a typical consumer who goes into a (marijuana) dispensary, they know very little other than this stuff is green and it gets you high.”
Working with partner dispensaries in Colorado then gradually other states where recreational pot is legal, Villa will brew beer, strip out the alcohol then transport it to the dispensaries to add in the THC and sell to consumers through their retail outlets. Villa has partnered with a company called ebbu that’s figured out how to dose each 12-ounce packaged serving of beer with the amount of THC that would compare to the ABV in a normal beer can or bottle. Like alcohol, a drinker’s metabolism, body mass, food consumption and the like will contribute to variations in sensation. But at least the majority of drinking-age users who don’t necessarily know what 10 mg of THC will do to them can more or less anticipate the effects by monitoring the amount of CERIA beer they drink.
Meaning, if a customer wants a sessionable high, she can buy a “light” beer. For more pound per punch, she can trade up to a “medium” — equivalent to a beer that ranges between 5-6.5% — or “heavy-duty” dose that Villa says has no theoretical limit. She’ll mix and match ratios of Sativa to Indica pot strains to customize her experience toward states like blissful, energetic or relaxed, and eventually she’ll be able to decide if she wants all of that in a Russian Imperial Stout or a familiar-tasting, Colorado-brewed Belgian-style wit.
Villa has to sell near-beer because the federal government bans products that combine alcohol and cannabis. He says his fellow brewers have so far avoided adding psychoactive ingredients to any alcohol-free brew they might decide to make because of the massive amounts of extra bureaucratic labor involved and the risk of irritating regulators who’re wary they might step one toe over the line. By establishing an entire company around the concept, Villa, who is taking on equity partners, has all the time and almost none of the exposure.
“It really is a step back in time to just after Prohibition,” he says. “Back in 1933 you had a stigma with alcohol. After so many years of being illegal it took years to get over that. But once that goes away for cannabis it will be a huge part of our economy.”
With Millennials leaving beer for marijuana and multi-national breweries like Heineken and Corona releasing alcohol-free beer for this market that views beer as too costly and caloric, it’s sure brewers will be watching with suspicion and some amusement. Though Villa calls his liquid “craft beer,” the feds officially label booze-free beer a “non-alcoholic malt beverage” so while he may capture more Millennials, he can’t add to beer’s all-important sales figures.
That, however, is no longer Villa’s problem. After decades of disrupting the beer market with Blue Moon, he’s ready to do it again, and this time, he’s bringing more firepower than some Belgian yeast and a slice of orange.
“We’re using full cannabis extract. We’ve got the full Monty,” he says.
By: Tara Nurin, Forbes