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Crossfaded: Cannabis and Craft Beer

Since Trudeau was elected Prime Minister with the legalization of cannabis as part of his platform, I think everyone in this country has been wondering about what that will mean when it actually happens.  As a craft brewer, the closer we get to October 17, I am finding myself more and more frequently asked two questions:  What will be the impact of cannabis on craft beer? And…are you going to put weed in your beer?

Let’s start with the first question. A friend of mine who is in marketing has been telling me for years that craft beer doesn’t compete for beer dollars with big beer.  We compete for throat space with wine, rum, scotch, orange juice and Pepsi.  And anything else liquid.  Well, cannabis further complicates that, because next week, alcohol will no longer be the only socially accepted consciousness-altering drug that is legal for recreational use in this country.

We will now be competing for the buzz space.

From my perspective, craft beer is at an advantage compared to big beer, in that we are already more than just an alcohol delivery mechanism.  Generally speaking, our approach to consumers has been focused on quality and not quantity.  So I’m not really too concerned about competing for the buzz space.  People can choose the buzz they want, and still enjoy the social nature of craft beer, specifically it’s capacity to be paired with food, and to be dissected in terms of colour, flavour, aroma and mouthfeel.

We also have the advantage of a genetic link between hops and cannabis, and I think we will have a very close relationship on an industry level with cannabis.  We can see in the U.S. where it has been legal in several states for some time now, that the industry there is aligning itself with the wider “craft” lifestyle that attracts craft beer drinkers.  Craft cannabis is definitely a thing, and as a thing I think we will have a lot in common.  The craft cannabis industry will focus like we do on increasing quality, explaining the craft behind their products and creating deep and lasting relationships with consumers.

Like craft beer, the stories of craft cannabis will be important.  We will have the opportunity to intertwine their stories with our stories; to embrace cannabis as complimentary rather than a competitor. And to help them out – they will face the same challenges that we have in terms of building craft brands.  Creating a high quality product is one thing, but as we know, figuring out how to make it known how great your product is can be challenging.

There are different stories coming out of the U.S. about the impact of cannabis on craft beer sales. Although almost certainly linked to a decline in mainstream beer sales, the jury is still out on craft beer sales. Many believe that there won’t be an impact, because craft beer consumers are sensation seekers, and the “hunt” is part of the craft beer experience.  They tend to be less risk-averse than mainstream beer drinkers, so more likely to try cannabis, but less likely to consider it a substitute for craft beer.

Moving on to question 2: Will we put weed in our beer? The answer: No.  Now, I’m sure someone will, and there will certainly be interesting innovations in this space that we should all be watching.  Of course there will be breweries who add hemp, terpenes, and CBD to their beers.  Lately there has been news of a new company in Denver planning to brew non-alcoholic craft beverages containing THC, the key psychoactive chemical in cannabis. They are claiming that their products will be designed to deliver a consistent user experience with the same onset time as alcohol. I won’t lie.  I thought about it, I looked into it, and I got my chemical engineering hat on and even got a little bit excited about the technical challenge of getting the hydrophobic (that is, not water soluble) components of cannabis into our (very much water based) beer.

Where I ended up at was asking myself why.  Why would I want to mix alcohol and cannabis? And would adding cannabis to my beer make it better beer?  The main driver for me was the social ritual.  The ritual of “having a pint” with friends – going out to enjoy a beer in a cool space and experiencing craft beer socially, is something I think cannabis is going to have a tough time competing with.  I’m very interested in observing how we as a society transition smoking a joint from something you do out behind the garage and you don’t really disclose, to something as normalized as meeting friends after work for a beer.  I thought that putting cannabis in our beer might help create a new social ritual.

At Boxing Rock, we’ve always shied away from putting ingredients into our beer for the gimmick factor.  We believe that if you put something into a beer, it should enhance the flavour in some way.  You should be able to taste it, and it should be an exploration of flavour, aroma, colour and mouthfeel that the special ingredient contributes to.  So…cannabis didn’t pass the test; at least not yet. We do see an opportunity to pair the terpenes or the “fragrant oils that give cannabis it’s aromatic diversity” with complimentary hop flavours; and probably that all goes along with food pairings too… We will have a wealth of options to play with for years to come.

I’m going to show my somewhat square side here…Here is something I learned while researching for this blog post.  Apparently mixing beer and cannabis is said to provide an exquisite high that cannot be obtained by taking just one of these ingredients.  Apparently it is called “the crossfade”.  I feel like that sounds worth exploring.  (Probably a beer name or two in that.)

Advantage craft beer. We can still claim the ritual of having a pint.  We can invite cannabis to be part of the craft community, to come to the table with us instead of building a wall.  We can pair our craft beer with craft cannabis and make new partnerships and experiences for people.

Cheers to stepping into the crossfade.


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