coalition brewing cbd beerDecember 15, 2021
This was one of my first questions when I met with brewer Elan Walsky, the co-owner of Coalition Brewing in Portland, Oregon. Coalition makes a line of beers infused with CBD, one of many compounds found in marijuana and hemp (two strains of cannabis) that make the plants unique. Walsky grinned and told me no. I knew this would be the answer, but it’s an obligatory question while drinking a CBD IPA. I was visiting Coalition not only to partake in its CBD beers, but also to understand why they’re so difficult to make, whether I’ll ever be able to legally buy one on store shelves — and most importantly, why brewers so badly want to make them.
Creating the Hemperor HPA was far more difficult for New Belgium than it was for the company to create any of its other beers. “This beer is two, three years in the making,” Claeys said. “Compared to a normal process of making a beer and bringing it to market, this was at least double the length of time we’re used to.” Claeys said restrictive legislation convoluted the process. New Belgium used the beer release as an educational opportunity for the industry. The brewery partnered with Willie Nelson’s GCH Inc., an organization dedicated to decriminalizing hemp and restoring its status as an incredibly diverse agricultural resource.
Brewers and growers are not the only ones trying to reintroduce hemp as a crop: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently introduced a measure that would declassify hemp as a Schedule I drug. McConnell’s motivation likely isn’t supporting experimental brewing — he represents Kentucky, the second-largest producer of hemp in the United States. “We’re surprised by some of our bedfellows,” Claeys said, laughing.
There are ways to brew with parts of a cannabis plant without including CBD or THC, thus allowing brewers to skirt the myriad legal hold-ups plaguing cannabis beers. New Belgium is likely the most well-known brewery doing exactly that. The Colorado-based brewery was inspired to take a stab at a hemp beer after talking to people they knew in the local industrial hemp business.
Giving brewers unfettered access to cannabis won’t happen overnight. Breweries will need to win over beer aficionados and convince them to care about policy. It will be difficult, so the path to a more viable CBD beer industry may first be beers that use non-CBD hemp.
“I can’t give you too many details about what we’re doing, but we’re using a proprietary CBD product,” Walsky said. “It’s natural CBD but it doesn’t fall under the Controlled Substances Act. … So we’re using a proprietary product that allows us to remain compliant.” Walsky said that Coalition has exclusive use of this product, and he said many other breweries experimenting with CBD beers are taking a risk by simply hoping to slide under the regulatory radar or, worst case, get a slap on the wrist. Of making sure Coalition’s CBD beers stay in compliance, Walsky grinned and said, “We probably put our lawyers’ kids through college four times over.”
Coalition may quickly have more competition in the near future. For now, it’s solidified its place in Oregon, and is approaching the venture with an attitude beer lovers can appreciate. “We have to make a tasty beer first,” says Boyle. “And it’s been at every level of bar. The high-end bars, the local bars, the dive bars. Beer is a great equalizer.”
A look at all of Coalition’s CBD beers. The Two Flowers IPA and Herbs of a Feather sour are available year-round. Molly McHugh.
The biggest hurdle to that is a lack of research. While there is more known about how THC and alcohol interact, less is known about CBD.
Coalition’s regional beer ambassador Phil Boyle says the company’s interest in making a CBD beer stems from a very specific kind of dinner party in September 2016. “Luck would have it that we were invited to a cannabis industry event, an invite-only THC-infused dinner,” Boyle said. “We consumed something like 2,500 milligrams of THC,” Walsky confessed.
Victoria Pustynsky, who runs a consulting business in Portland, recently created Aurora Elixirs, a CBD-infused tonic. Pustynsky worked in the wine and spirits industry for more than 12 years when she decided to take her expertise and move into the weed market. “There are so many similarities [between the alcohol and weed industries]. It’s regulated by the same agencies in many cases, it’s a three-tier system, highly localized, state run, and it’s this agricultural product that gets created into this recreational product,” she told me as we chatted at the Portland Hatch Innovation, a coworking center in the Green Mile, the stretch of dispensaries and weed-related business along Sandy Boulevard in northeast Portland.
He added that in addition to the biological similarities between the plants, the craft brewing and CBD farming industries are also similar. For one, they deal with some of the same federal and state regulatory bodies, and a familiarity with navigating both has proved helpful. On a more basic level, craft beer drinkers and CBD users tend to have similar ideas about what products they prefer: high quality, locally sourced, environmentally and agriculturally sustainable.
Tom Hogue, the congressional liaison for the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), tried to explain the labyrinth of regulations. “There are three layers — at least two, but potentially three,” he said. “Federal law, state law, and you may have local ordinances.”
Coalition couldn’t — or wouldn’t — tell me everything about how it makes its CBD beers. “The product that we use allows us to stay in full compliance, so we’ve kind of been spearheading [the commercial CBD beer business] in Oregon,” Walsky said. When the DEA stated that CBD, as a cannabis extract, falls under the Controlled Substances Act, it forced Coalition to reformulate. After experimenting with various batches, Coalition released Two Flowers IPA, its first CBD beer, in December 2016.
“The push to innovate and do something different and kind of separate yourself from the crowd is more intense than ever,” Weaver said. It is true that craft brewers increasingly need to stand out from their competition. Still, Weaver believes in CBD as more than a headline-generating fad. The big names investing in cannabis beer suggest that this is more than a momentary interest. Heineken-owned Lagunitas and Wiz Khalifa are both producing or looking into beer made with cannabis. Blue Moon creator Keith Villa is releasing a line of THC-infused nonalcoholic beers .
On a sunny April 20, Coalition held its inaugural CBD Beer Fest. The patio space was crowded, and a line for beer spanned the side of the building and spilled into the parking lot. A representative from True Terpenes running an informational station beckoned patrons to smell terpenes and learn more about their medicinal effects. A barbecue truck grilled meat in the parking lot, sending up delicious-smelling smoke, and everyone had one to two beers in hand. Many people were probably there to hear about the state of CBD regulation, but everyone was certainly there to drink the beer.
“We started doing some R&D off site and landed on a liquid we really liked and we brought it to the TTB and they were like, ‘Heck no, almost the entire hemp plant can’t be used,’” said New Belgium spokesperson Jesse Claeys. “We think hemp can bring this whole new world of brewing ingredients to the hoppy beer segment, and that’s really popular with craft brew makers.”
CBD, or cannabidiol, is not a hallucinogen; it’s the part of weed that gives you, in colloquial terms, a body high. CBD can reduce pain, and relieve both anxiety and insomnia. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive part of cannabis that affects the brain instead of the body. Brewers are largely uninterested in THC (the legal difficulties in combining alcohol and hallucinogens are too many), but the interest in CBD is a natural progression from the introduction of hops. Hemp and hops, I was told time and time again while talking to brewers, are “cousins.” Biologically, the two are incredibly similar, and CBD has familiar yet exciting new effects when infused in beer. “They’re the most closely related plants in the family cannabaceae , genetically speaking,” says Walsky. “So from a practical standpoint, it means they’re producing a lot of the same terpenes, or flavor and aromatic compounds.”
According to Boyle, the cannabis and beer industries share many of the same hallmarks. They each focus on craft, community, innovation, region, and agriculture, and they are both regulated by the OLCC, and both are children of the laws that governed Prohibition in the 1920s. When they began their research into making a CBD beer, Boyle observes, “We learned of the close biological similarities of these "Two Flowers" (name of our IPA beer) with both hops and cannabis coming from the same genus Cannabaceae.”
Future of Cannabis Infused Beers:
When asked how they craft the recipe for a CBD infused beer, Boyle responds with a chuckle. “We just come up with an idea that we think will work.” On a more serious note, they seek out those hops that will create the flavor profile they want for a given beer, whether an IPA, sour beer, pale ale, or stout. For example, in their seasonal Lemon and Basil Sour beer, lemon and basil contain limonene and myrcene respectively, two terpenes also present in cannabis. They don’t focus on different CBD strains as they use a proprietary CBD – effectively, a single strain.
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Emma Chasen, cannabis educator and consultant, offers her observations regarding the similarities between hops and cannabis, including the chemical compounds found inside each of their respective plant matrixes. “Myrcene, for example, is a terpene abundantly found in both hops and cannabis. It has quite an earthy, sweet aroma and is typically responsible for the sedative experience one feels after drinking a lot of beer or consuming a lot of cannabis.” She adds why CBD is the obvious choice for infusion into beer. “CBD has an ability to create a calming, relaxing experience without intoxication. The alcohol, in this case, intoxicates and the CBD helps to keep people feeling calm and happy.”
Later this summer, they debuted a CBD Hazy IPA infused with Tangie Terpenes “Certified” done in collaboration with CBD Certified/East Fork Cultivars and True Terpenes. Nathan Howard, Co-founder and President of East Fork Cultivars elaborated on this collaboration. “This beer is a celebration of Cannabidiol education and a nod to East Fork's profound education initiative, CBD Certified. Over the past year East Fork Cultivars has been delivering comprehensive CBD education via CBD Certified to thousands of cannabis and hemp professionals, the general public, and to CBD leaders like Coalition Brewing. Certified Hazy IPA is also intended to highlight the incredible synergy between craft beer and the burgeoning craft hemp and craft cannabis movement.”
In addition, Coalition Brewing debuted a CBD radler at the 2018 Portland Radler Festival and will offer a Bourbon Barrel aged Double IPA infused with CBD and Terpenes at the 2018 Holiday Ale Festival. Also, they plan to host a CBD Night Market where will highlight a CBD beer. (Check out their website for details on upcoming events.)
Coalition Brewing continues to work closely with their regulatory partners and the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), and Boyle remains confident and excited they can continue making their CBD beers. (Note: Until cannabis is removed as a Schedule 1 drug, breweries cannot produce a THC beer. Some breweries such Province Brands of Canada and San Diego based Two Roots Brewing avoid the complications of combining alcohol and cannabis by manufacturing a line of non-alcoholic cannabis beers available in dispensaries.)
As reported by Forbes , “In 2015 and 2016, Aurora, CO based Dad & Dude’s Brewery offered tastings of General Washington’s Secret Stash, a cannabis-infused beer, at the Great American Beer Festival—to consistent long lines.”
Coalition Brewing’s CBD Beer Lineup:
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Throughout Portland, one can find other occasional craft CBD beers offerings such as a CBD beer available on tap during the 32nd Annual Oregon Brewers Festival and Breakside Brewing featured a CBD IPA during an after party held as part of Feast Portland. Exactly how this trend will play out in the shot-term remains uncertain. For example, Breweries such as Dad & Dudes Breweria, and Long Trail Brewing (VT) have been ordered to cease making their CBD Beers with no sign when they will be able to resume production. Also, Black Hammer Brewing (CA) was informed they could not make their CBD beer until the brewery gets CBD added to their list of approved ingredients.
Since hosting their first Two Flowers CBD dinner over two years ago, Coalition Brewing participated in similar events such as Arcane Revelry’s private CBD infused brunch, held in November 2017. As Boyle observes, “chefs get excited at these events as they find it fun to play with stuff they normally don’t get to play with such as different terpene profiles and CBD infused beers.”
Coalition Brewing chose to showcase their full range of CBD beers on 4/20 during their inaugural CBD Beer Festival. In addition to their year round Two Flowers IBA, this festival featured four seasonal CBD beers ranging from a light Mango sour to the deep velvety Special Brownies Stout along with a range of beers brewed using non-cannabis derived terpenes from True Terpenes. On June 15, 2018, they launched their first release of Two Flowers IPA in 16-ounce cans available only at the brewery tasting room.
This development promoted Portland based Coalition Brewing to explore brewing CBD-infused beer. In September 2016, Phil Boyle, Beer Ambassador for Coalition Brewing, and head brewer Elan Walsky were invited to the Canna Soirée, a cannabis industry event hosted by Cascade High. At that event, they met Bill Stewart, a chemical engineer with Half Baked Labs. Working with Stewart, they developed a proprietary method for introducing the CBD into the beer so that integrity of the CBD remains intact.
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With industrial giants such as Constellation Brands, maker of Corona beer, entering the cannabis space, beer aficionados can expect to see in the foreseeable future a range of CBD beers coming to market. These products will range from the craft to the commercial, thus satisfying a wide range of tastes and budgets.
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