California breweries testing the boundaries of beer are turning to pot, but not in an effort to get their customers crossfaded (that heady mix of high and drunk). Instead, brewers like San Francisco’s Local Brewing Co. are incorporating marijuana’s pungent aroma — without its psychoactive properties — into their beer through cannabis terpenes.
Local Brewing co-founder Regan Long calls her cross-pollination effort “In The Family,” a wet-hopped extra pale ale with terpenes (organic compounds found mostly in plants) derived from a cannabis strain called Jack Frost. With the beer’s name, she aims to make a point: Cannabis flowers and hop flowers are, biologically speaking, all in the family. In the plant world, they might as well be kissing cousins.
To gather the hops, Long drove north to her native Oregon, rushing back with fresh, not-yet dried or pelletized Strata hops from Goschie Farms. “You can only brew wet hop beers right after harvest,” she explains. “When you brew in that period, you get these really volatile, delicate oils coming off the hop flowers, that don’t really exist in hop pellets or in the drying process.”
Wet hops, Long hoped, would pair best with the cannabis component. For that, she turned to Oakland’s Blue River Extracts, who derived the terpenes. These fragrant compounds produced by the cannabis flower’s glands aren’t to be confused with the psychoactive THC that gets users high; other plants, like rosemary, mint, basil, and other coniferous plants like hop flowers, produce terpenes, too.
When Local releases In the Family at its Bluxome Street taproom today, Long will fully illustrate the pot-hop connection with a photography exhibition created by Christopher Romaine. His close-up shots of cannabis have appeared in High Times, and here, he’s put the oily leaves of pot and marijuana side-by-side.
Local Brewing isn’t the first to mine the connection between the two plants. Another terpene-laden beer on sale in San Francisco is Toke Back Mountain, a collaboration between the SoMa brewery Black Hammer, the local pot producer Level Blends, and Castro District bar Cafe Flore, which has positioned itself as a future marijuana cafe. Unlike Local’s beer, Toke Back Mountain was flavored with terpenes, but also contained CBD, or cannabidiol, a component of Marijuana which doesn’t produce the high of THC but is associated with a variety of health effects like inflammation reduction.
A more mainstream example of the genre came earlier this summer from Lagunitas, the Petaluma brewery which is now 100 percent owned by Heineken International. For the San Francisco beer bar Toronado’s 30th anniversary, Lagunitas brewed a beer with cannnabis terpenes to heighten its hoppy and dank flavor — it contained terpenes courtesy of California’s CannaCraft, known for its AbsoluteXtracts line of vaporizers and cartridges. Lagunitas’ limited release, called SuperCritical Ale, generated a buzz, and could potentially be reprised. Bringing it full circle, AbsoluteXtracts released a pot-oil cartridge for its vaporizers made with hop terpenes derived from the brewery’s stash of hops to coincide with the release.
Tasting In the Family, Long calls the hop-pot terpene combination “pine-y and dank” but also “very balanced.” While terpenes might not be balanced in a fruit-forward wine or a sweet, THC-laced cookie, “dank” and “pine-y” are attributes that beer, particularly the hopped-up West Coast IPAs of the past decade, have cultivated.
That could be instructive to the “cannabis cuisine” chefs busy lacing their tasting menus with pot, or the edibles manufacturers tinkering with Whole Foods-quality weed snacks. With both, the result is often that non-stoners can only eat two courses or half a brownie before needing a nap. But now that cannabis has entered the mainstream, perhaps chefs will turn to it like any other flavorful herb.