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On a hot summer day, there’s nothing more satisfying than cracking open a frosty bottle of—non-alcoholic beer with weed in it? googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.defineSlot(“/43459271/nat-external/leafly.com/Mobile/Medrec”, [300, 250], “leafly-dfp-ad-widget-mobile-medium-rectangle-896700393″) .defineSizeMapping(googletag.sizeMapping() .addSize([0,0], [300,250]) .addSize([768,0], []) .build()) .addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().collapseEmptyDivs(); googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); googletag.enableServices(); });

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Aimed at millennials, who are apparently tired of drinking, a confusing batch of cannabis-infused beer alternatives recently arrived on dispensary shelves. These drinks aren’t labeled as “beer,” there’s 5 to 10 milligrams of THC dissolved in them somehow, and they’re here to revolutionize cannabis consumption—at least according to the people selling the stuff.

Looking for new sources of revenue, the liquor industry is positioning itself to profit from cannabis, instead of competing with it, which sounds good until you remember how groups like the California Beer & Beverage Distributors previously donated money to prevent cannabis legalization. Such is the incredible hubris generated by the investment firms and Big Alcohol executives looking to co-opt cannabis by liquifying, bottling, and marketing it as “a true alternative to alcohol.”

In Canada, where cannabis is federally legal, giants like Molson Coors intend to be a “participant” in this new $3 billion dollar market rather than a “spectator,” preparing new cannabis beers for this fall when THC-infused food and drinks become legal to sell. Similar headline-grabbing deals unfolded during 2018, with Constellation Brands—who owns Corona and Modelo—acquiring a sizable interest in Canopy Growth Corp. through a $4 billion dollar investment in the Canadian cannabis company.

On the upside: Anyone can choose to discreetly consume liquid THC at parties without lighting up a stinky joint. And some parents will be empowered to use cannabis drinks because their kids already understand the concept of “adult beverages.” Plus, we could all benefit from reducing our alcohol consumption.

Also, cannabis and beer do belong together. Both hops and herb are members of the family Cannabaceae, with the plump hops blossoms kinda resembling cannabis flowers. Hops contain terpenes just like cannabis, imbuing different beers with unique flavors as well as acting as a bittering agent and preservative while retaining the “head” of a beer. There’s also “strains” of hops, much like cannabis, with varietals such as Cascade, Chinook, and Centennial primarily used in the US.

If you want to make a real cannabis beer, you’ll need to do so at home, because combining cannabis’ main active ingredient, THC, with alcohol and selling it is still officially prohibited in California and ten other legal markets.

Substituting cannabis flowers for hops during the beer fermentation process results in a brew that gets you tipsy and lifted simultaneously, due to the alcohol pulling a full spectrum of cannabinoids from the plant while showcasing the unique flavors of the cannabis flower. Sounds good, right?

However, when people say “cannabis beer” today, this type of brew is not what they mean. Since it’s not legal to sell a mixture of THC and alcohol (with the exception of a few tinctures), the THC-infused “beers” on the market are non-alcoholic, with the isolated THC added after the fermentation process. In California, producers cannot legally call these beverages “beer” or market them with any verbiage referring to beer styles, such as IPA, ale, lager, pilsner, etc.

To add to the confusion, there’s beers taking flavor inspiration from cannabis culture that contain no cannabis whatsoever, and there’s dubiously legal CBD beers. Toronto startup Province is even making a brew using cannabis stalks, stems, and roots, with entrepreneur Dooma Wendschuh telling The Guardian how early experiments “tasted like rotten broccoli.” Bong appétit, indeed.

Here’s the thing: Does anyone really want to drink canna-beer instead of regular beer? With sales of just $1.8 million in June 2018, the cannabis beverage market is a minuscule 0.7% slice of the overall legal market in California. While cannabis is indeed the healthier alternative, there’s a wide variety of drinkable THC options including sodas, teas, juice, and cold brew coffee on dispensary shelves. Plus, it’s not cost-effective as a beer replacement. The price of one 10 mg bottle of weed brew can run $10.

To determine if so-called weed beer is worth it, I enlisted the help of local Santa Cruz, California, brewmaster Dan Satterthwaite, co-founder of New Bohemia; Shanty Shack Brewing Co-owner Brandon Padilla; and Shanty Shack Sales and Marketing Director Brittany Crass. Together, we blind-tasted five THC-infused beverages available in California to see how they stack up against real beer.

When I first met Lagunitas Brewing Co. brewmaster Jeremy Marshall at a Hi-Fi Hops party in San Francisco last March, he pulled a baggie of green leafy material from the pocket of his leather jacket. At first glance, Jeremy’s stash of hops looked like a bag of dank buds, which I would have expected in keeping with Lagunitas’ reputation as the most herb-loving brewery out there. As I take a good whiff of the hop terps, Marshall explains the process behind Hi-Fi.

“We were trying to make a non-alcoholic beer that actually tasted good. We realized why non-alcoholic beer tasted shitty, it’s because they cook all of the alcohol out of it and that destroys all of the flavors.”

Lagunitas had an epiphany: In order to make a tasty non-alcoholic beer, it couldn’t be a beer at all.

“Hop Water was born out of the idea of, ‘Let’s just brew a hop-forward IPA and forget the malt,’” Marshall said.

Lagunitas shares home turf with one of the biggest cannabis brands in California, CannaCraft of Santa Rosa. The company cross-pollinated Lagunitas’ Hop Water with CannaCraft’s THC brand AbsoluteXtracts, and Hi-Fi Hops was born.

“We were hanging out with people at CannaCraft when it was very organically decided to infuse [Hop Water with THC].”

This beer-inspired, gluten-free, zero-calorie, THC-infused sparkling water debuted as Hi-Fi Hops in July 2018, garnering praise as a “stoney, hoppy LaCroix.”

THC: 10 milligrams THC per bottle; or a CBD version with 5 mg THC and 5 mg CBDAroma: Guava, passion fruit, pineappleFlavor: Super light weed and tropical fruit undertones, low bitterness, no grain flavor, very dryMouthfeel: Simple body, slightly oilyOverall: According to the brewers, this was more of a “fruit spritzer,” with Brittany exclaiming that, “it doesn’t taste like a beer, but it’s good.” Light, sparkling, and dry, there’s notes of pine, mint and tropical fruit. There’s none of the typical malt or yeast flavors associated with beer, and no foamy head on top.Where to Look for It:

High Style launched in early 2019, and is now in 31 retail locations. Marketing vice president Charlie Reed said the technical challenge is mixing THC, which is an oil, with water.

Research and development led to “nano-emulsification,” a process whereby droplets of cannabis oil are broken down to lilliputian sizes (emulsified), increasing overall surface area, and allowing for better absorption in the body. High Style added a terpene blend to “provide a consistent, uplifting experience,” drinking a High Style with 10 mg of THC should result in a mellow buzz within 15 to 30 minutes after consumption.

THC: 10 milligrams per bottleAroma: Herbal, hoppyFlavor: Weed and wheat, vegetal, very dry, low bitternessMouthfeel: Lots of carbonation, finishes without much residue on the tongueOverall: This hazy, golden blonde brew was low on body with little to no head retention. With plenty of fizz, it’s crisp, dry, and a little weedy. While it doesn’t quite taste like beer, Brandon says, “It’s awesome for guys who quit drinking.”Where to Look for It:

THC: 5 mg per canAroma: Light hoppy aroma, toasted grainFlavor: Malt and slight hops, “bready,” no cannabis taste, very dryMouthfeel: Medium carbonationOverall: While this golden-orange elixir tasted and smelled more like beer, it was somewhat “phenolic” meaning there was a “plastic” undertone. “It’s the most beer-like but not the best flavor,” said Brandon, and I found it to be bitter and oxidized.Where to Look for It:

THC: 5 mg per canAroma: Sweet and malty, some hints of green apple or ciderFlavor: Corn, similar to a lager, blandMouthfeel: Not much carbonation, pretty flat, bitter, and herbalOverall: This attempt at imitating a light, lager-style beer was possibly hampered by a “too-hot ferment,” that turned the flavor into something unpleasant.Where to Look for It:

THC: 5 mg per canAroma: Bitter popcornFlavor: Cooked corn, butterscotch, butteryMouthfeel: SlickOverall: This hazy, golden beer came in a very hard-to-open can. Once liberated, the brew revealed itself as bitter-and-burnt tasting, with an unpleasant flavor that lingered afterwards.Where to Look for It:

Setting aside the troubling paradox of whether or not arguably the world’s healthiest inebriant, cannabis, should be disguised as destructive yet socially acceptable, alcohol, while being co-opted by some of the biggest for-profit companies in existence—for any of this to work, the beverages need to mimic beer exactly, and that’s practically impossible without the mouthfeel provided by alcohol. Sadly, none of these cannabis beers taste as good as regular beer, although the High Style came closest. Still, Hi-Fi Hops is successful precisely because it doesn’t try too hard, making it the most drinkable of the bunch by far.

Due to the limitations in how these brews can be made, it’s very difficult to craft a beverage with the body, aroma and flavor of an IPA, lager, or pilsner. Even with state-of-the-art proprietary techniques to remove the alcohol, you’re still left with a beverage that’s got no body and ultimately no soul. One of my expert tasters suggested that “dry-hopping,” or adding more hops after the initial fermentation, might be a way to improve the flavor for this type of product, but a better idea came from Brittany, who said, “they should just stop.” Much like margarine, Tofurky, or decaf, sometimes imitations are pointless, especially when excellent beer and weed are abundant.

It’s much more satisfying to pair a fat joint of a favorite strain with a complementary beer, or take matters into your own hands. Brew your own beer at home, replace the hops with cannabis flowers, and invite me over for a taste of the real thing.

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