Shipyard Brewing Co. released a nonalcoholic version of Pumpkinhead infused with THC last week, but rather than ruminate on how the new elixir might change craft beer, I thought of a bad joke.
After a couple of Pumpkinheads with THC, you’ll want a whole pie ring on your glass instead of just the cinnamon and sugar.
Jokes aside – and they are endless – Shipyard’s new “Pumpkinhead THC Elixir,” only available at dispensaries in Maine, represents yet another reason for breweries to take the massive cannabis-infused beverage industry seriously. Now it’s becoming increasingly clear that craft beer should see cannabis-infused beverage makers as partners, not competitors.
The global cannabis beverage market could reach nearly $3 billion by 2025, according to the San Francisco-based market research and consulting firm Grand View Research, and the Goliaths of the beer industry have already made their move to capture a piece of it. Anheuser-Bush has partnered with the cannabis company Tilray Inc., while Constellation Brands – owner of Corona and Modelo – has invested billions of dollars in the Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth.
Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead THC Elixir is the first cannabis beverage produced by a brewery in the Northeast. It likely won’t be the last.
In a not-so-distant future, we may even have tap lines at local pubs devoted to these THC concoctions, according to Worcester native Ned Fussell, who co-founded one California’s largest cannabis companies, CannaCraft, in 2014.
“And it’s not crazy to think cannabis beverages would be available at supermarkets in the next five years,” Fussell told me.
Among CannaCraft’s more than 200 products is a cannabis beverage made last year in collaboration with Lagunitas Brewing Co. – now owned by Heineken – called “Hi-Fi Hops.” Fussell, who after leaving Worcester learned to grow marijuana on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, said CannaCraft first worked with Lagunitas on an IPA with alcohol that it infused with terpenes, the non-psychoactive compounds in cannabis. But California’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) shut the collab down on guidance from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which legally prohibits making beer that includes both alcohol and THC.
“We were trying to figure out a way to continue working with Lagunitas. If we don’t ferment the beer, and there’s no alcohol, then the ABC can’t regulate what we do with it, so we made as close as we could to an IPA in terms of the brew and how it’s made,” Fussell said.
Hi-Fi Hops ended up tasting like something closer to hopped-sparkling water than beer, he said. Unlike with most edibles, you feel the effects of Hi-Fi Hops faster because your drink it. It uses water-soluble THC and CBD, in doses as low as 5 milligrams, which enter your bloodstream without needing to be digested. The high comes on faster – in as little as 10 minutes for some people – and lasts for a shorter time. The beverage is only available in California and Colorado, but if you want to get an idea for how it tastes, you can try Lagunitas Hop, its nonalcoholic hoppy, citrusy spring water.
In Massachusetts, the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission made it clear in 2018 that even though cannabis had just become legal for retail sales here, breweries cannot legally produce or sell any alcoholic beverages containing THC or CBD. Like in California, though, non-acholic cannabis beverages are fair game. Dispensaries in Worcester are already selling the cannabis-infused seltzer, Achieve, released last month by the Georgetown-based company LEVIA.
So when can we expect a non-alcohol cannabis-infused Be Hoppy? Not anytime soon, if ever, said David Fields, managing partner of Wormtown Brewery. Apart from being skeptical of the cannabis industry in general, Fields doesn’t think it would taste great.
His official statement: “Our team is always creative and inspired to explore new and innovative flavors and experiences. Right now, we have our hands full with a seltzer launch and getting our barrel-aging and wild fermentation and spirits efforts to where we want them. So definitely, you never know.”
Although Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead THC Elixir feels a little gimmicky to me, I’m in favor of more legal collaborations between breweries and marijuana companies. I also embrace the opportunity to take a break from the nasty effects of alcohol, the hangover and extra carbs, while enjoying the added benefits of cannabis, including as a natural pain reliever that rarely leads to addiction.
And in the hands of a talented brewer, grains and hops and water could still be made into something delicious, even without the yeast and fermentation.
At the same time, I hope it never gets to a point where breweries one day start feeling pressure to jump into the market of cannabis beverages to stay alive and relevant. It happened with hard seltzers and felt forced for a while.
Hard seltzers were more of a threatening adversary, though. Cannabis beverages feel more like that friendly dude at a Phish concert, smiling, passing you a joint.
“I don’t think they are directly competitive with craft beer, but as cannabis-infused beverages become widely available and distributed, just to alcohol in general,” Fussell said. “People are realizing alcohol consumption is not super sustainable.”