Despite Colorado legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, there remains a persistent taboo surrounding marijuana use. Hannah Metzger reports that some companies are trying to challenge this taboo by combining marijuana with one of the most socially accepted beverages in America: beer.
From barbecues to wedding receptions, drinking alcohol is an accepted and expected way for people to unwind and socialize. And now some breweries want marijuana to play the same role with the introduction of THC-infused beer.
Keith Villa, the creator of Blue Moon, is leading this trend. Villa is the brew-master and co-founder of Ceria Brewing Company, a company that creates nonalcoholic THC-infused beer.
“Ceria is really produced just like a beer. So, we brew it, ferment it, and we actually have a great tasting beer by the time it’s almost finished. But at that point, that’s when we run it through a special machine to remove the alcohol and then once the alcohol is removed then we replace it with THC distillate from cannabis and then we package it and distribute it to dispensaries.”
Ceria’s beers are low-dose, containing 2.5, 5 or 10 milligrams of THC, the part of marijuana that creates the sensation of being high. The beers are also nonalcoholic with less than 0.5% of alcohol. Since adding marijuana to alcohol is federally illegal under the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau, making the beers nonalcoholic frees Ceria from federal control and allows them to add THC to their products in states where marijuana is legal.
“Our goal is to have low-dose products that people can trust and use responsibly and socially and, above all, stay in control … it’s all about socializing and making sure you have fun with each other just like the world of alcohol. A lot of people socialize over alcohol whether its a glass of wine or a craft beer or a cocktail.”
The cannabis beer industry has exploded in recent years with dozens of breweries popping up around the United States. It’s even been predicted that the U.S. market for cannabis-infused drinks will reach $1.4 billion by 2024.
But how are marijuana enthusiasts taking to this new THC trend? Amanda Push, a staff writer and marijuana reviewer with DGO magazine, says it’s a blend of two things Colorado has become known for.
“I like the idea because Colorado’s all about beer and weed. It seems to be two really big markets here and I think that it’s a really interesting concept combining those two industries together.”
Upon its release, Push reviewed Ceria’s Grainwave Belgian-style White Ale infused with 5 milligrams of THC.
“I guess for me it kind of tasted like a Michelob Ultra or a slightly spicier Corona. It’s a good beginner beer, I thought. Like, if you’re not a super beer-person it’s got a pretty inoffensive taste … It’s still very refreshing, it still tastes like a beer, you know, it doesn’t have like a weedy aftertaste to it which is a problem that a lot of I think edibles have.”
Ceria also works much quicker than edibles, with the THC taking effect in around 15 minutes, similar to the reaction time of alcohol. However, while the beer is faster-acting, it is not as strong as most edibles according to Push.
“I would say for me I react a lot more strongly to edibles … I could drink it and not feel like I was completely disabled afterward. Like, I was still able to do stuff. My mind wasn’t total mush after I tried it. So, I would say that it was a lot less heavy-handed than an edible or smoking a joint.”
While some regular marijuana users might be disappointed by Ceria’s mitigating effects, that appears to be Villa’s intention.
“There are ways that people can get high if they want to get very high. From our perspective, we want cannabis to be a lifestyle, to be used socially and responsibly and so that our customers can stay in control.”
However, not fully embracing the strength of THC could be risky.
Ceria beers being low-dose appeals to beer drinkers but could turn off regular marijuana users. In addition, Ceria is described as an introductory, non-offensive beer which would appeal to marijuana users but could turn off beer drinkers. While the intention may be to appeal to a broader market, some brewers have their doubts. Among those who are doubtful is Michael Memsic, the co-Founder and CEO of Sanitas Brewing Company.
“I don’t necessarily know that the beer drinker or the craft beer drinker is going to say ‘I’m in the mood for a beer, but I’m going to have this THC beer instead and I’m not going to have beer.’ I think that it will function differently.”
Memsic sees THC beer as a risk in today’s market.
“I don’t think it’s gonna bring marijuana users to beer because I think that they’re all very aware of beer. I do think it has the potential to go the other direction. [Do you see this as a threat to the industry?] A small threat yes. But I thought that legalization was a threat from the beginning. And I don’t think that this is much more of a threat, I think the threat already exists.”
There are some benefits to THC beer that could push consumers away from alcoholic beer. For example, THC beer does not cause hangovers and has significantly fewer calories.
These benefits may contribute to the increasing popularity of THC beer. Ceria alone is planning to expand from Colorado to California, Nevada, Illinois and Canada in the coming years.
However, THC beer is not without its issues. Some believe that THC beer encourages consumers to use alcohol and marijuana together. This combined use has been shown to increase the amount of THC in one’s bloodstream, making marijuana’s effects more severe. And it’s been found that people who use marijuana and alcohol together are twice as likely to drive drunk.
Also, THC-infused beer is more expensive than alcoholic beer. An expense that Push believes may not be worth it.
“My personal opinion is, if I want to pay $9 for a beer, I’d like to see more of an after-effect, you know, after drinking it. I’d like to see them put a little more THC in the bottle just to make up because you’re paying $9 for a beer. … If you’re someone with a higher tolerance level, you’re having to pay for two beers which comes out to 20 bucks for two beers to get that effect that you’re looking for.”
Regardless of whether THC beer proves to be a fleeting trend or a market-defining product, Villa hopes that Ceria will be able to expand the world of cannabis.
“Our motto is ‘Cannabis pro Omnibus’ which is Latin for ‘cannabis for the people.’ … It’s not just one-size-fits-all for everybody but we feel that we can deliver our products to different populations and have success and we’re happy doing it.”