Cannabis and hops (the flowering cones that lend aromas, flavors and bitterness to beer) are cousins in the Cannabaceae plant family. They have similar fragrances but a notable difference: Cannabis contains THC, the psychoactive component that creates the sensation of being high.
Thus, hops and cannabis have stayed in their separate government-mandated lanes, one legal, the other not. Combining alcohol and THC is also illegal. As recreational cannabis is allowed in more states, however, brewers have started to merge the plants.
“It’s kind of the birth and the start of this whole area,” says Keith Villa, founder of Blue Moon Brewing Co. “It’s a situation that comes around once in a lifetime.”
Last year, Villa retired as brewmaster from Miller Coors and launched Ceria Beverages with his wife, Jodi. The brand produces nonalcoholic beers that deliver doses of THC, which take effect as fast as alcohol.
Beyond Villa’s efforts, breweries have taken multiple approaches to cannabis-inspired beer. Some have infused IPAs with non-intoxicating CBD, the plant derivative popular in healthcare products. Others evoke cannabis with hemp extracts, highly pungent hop varietals or organic compounds called terpenes, which give plants their characteristic aromas.
420 Series G13 IPA
SweetWater Brewing Co., GA
A blend of odorous organic compounds, a k a terpenes, plus pine-like Simcoe and Columbus hops give this golden IPA its super-weedy aroma. No high included.
George Washington’s Secret Stash
Dad & Dude’s Breweria, CO
Grainwave Belgian-Style White Ale
Ceria Brewing Co., CO
The Hemperor HPA
New Belgium Brewing, CO
Government-approved hemp hearts (seeds) and intensely aromatic hop varietals are used to create this dank IPA with a stickily sweet, lightly bitter finish.
The Waldos’ Special Ale Lagunitas
Brewing Co., CA
The Waldos were 1970s California high school students who coined the phrase “420,” code for smoking pot. They’re immortalized in this sweetly potent triple IPA that delivers a deeply earthy dankness. Lagunitas also produces Hi-Fi Hops, a THC-infused hoppy sparkling water that’s sold in California dispensaries.