Culture » What Ales me

With legal weed comes the potential for a new craft beverage industry


In 1779, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter that rain falling on vineyards that will one day bear grapes to make wine was proof that God loves us.

Like many Founding Fathers, Franklin enjoyed a drink. He was also a prominent hemp farmer, whose pioneering newspapers were printed on hemp paper. He probably wrote that letter about rain and wine and God on hemp parchment.

Where am I going with this? Alcohol and cannabis are about as American of a pairing as apple pie and ice cream, peanut butter and jam, and Cheech and Chong.

New York is on the cusp of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, which raises the prospect of a marriage between the local cannabis and craft beverage markets.
The Food and Drug Administration still prohibits cannabis-laced alcoholic drinks, but that hasn’t stopped booze makers from . . . experimenting.

In other states where pot is legal, craft breweries are pumping out new drinks that ditch the alcohol but add the cannabis. Closer to home, Constellation Brands has invested more than $4 billion in Canopy Growth, a Canadian cannabis company. Two years ago, the company put out its first beverage, a flavored sparkling water dosed with CBD, called “Quatreau.”

Paul Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association, said a new cannabis market, including cannabis beverages, could benefit the state’s craft scene. He would like to see the industry mirror the 2013 Farm Brewery law, which helped usher in a craft beer boom.

“It’s long overdue for this to be legal in New York state, and it is an agricultural product,” Leone said.

In 2018, California’s Lagunitas Brewing Company launched Hi-Fi Hops, an IPA-inspired non-alcoholic beer that comes laced with either 10 milligrams of THC, or 5 milligrams THC and 5 milligrams CBD.

Likewise, in March, Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, launched Pumpkinhead THC Elixir, a non-alcoholic pumpkin ale with 5 milligrams of THC, in collaboration with Novel Beverage of Scarborough, Maine.

“It’s an alternative product for adults, and that can be an alternative to drinking alcohol, but it also can be an alternative for smoking cannabis,” said Matt Hawes, founder and CEO of Novel Beverage. “It’s a new delivery method that is very socially acceptable, it’s very comfortable to us, it doesn’t have these known health disadvantages like smoking may have, and they’re dosed to be approachable, so a wide-range of consumers can enjoy them.”

While Pumpkinhead will only be available in Maine due to federal restrictions on transporting THC products over state lines, Hawes is hoping to be able to form contracts in other states where cannabis is legal to produce it and similar offerings on a broader scale.

“We do have a plan to make an expansion into New York when that becomes an opportunity to us,” Hawes said.

Katharina Jackson, a bartender at Lux Lounge and Swan Dive, has long used
cannabis to treat chronic pain. The practice has led her to experiment with CBD- and THC-infused cocktails. Her favorite was an Old Fashioned, made with Wild Turkey 101 and a dose of CBD-infused coconut oil.

Her approach is not as much making a drink that guarantees a cross-faded experience, but to complement cocktails with the unique flavor notes of cannabis.

“I try to think about not so much a drink that gets you high, but one that incorporates the flavors appropriately,” Jackson said.

It is a premise she believes could serve as a whole new market. Different mocktails could be used to complement the flavors of different cannabis strains, all set in a new variety of taprooms focused on buds instead of suds.

“You can taste a flight of different ones, and have it be more interesting than a ginger CBD, THC tonic,” Jackson said. “It has different flavors, different herbs, different textures. These beverages can be just as interesting as craft cocktails.”

*We aren’t suggesting you do anything still technically illegal. No, no, no. We wouldn’t do THAT! All we’re saying is if you’re gonna smoke your favorite strain of weed with a beer, you ought to know how to do it right. NOTE: Be responsible; alcohol and THC react differently for everyone.

Skunk Black IPA from Three Heads Brewing/Sour Diesel:
A legacy strain of weed common on New York streets for decades, Sour Diesel imparts skunky, slightly earthy tones reminiscent of its petroleum namesake. Skunk Black IPA packs a punch of similarly aromatic floral hops and a subdued kiss of roasted malt tucked away on the back-end.

Stay Out of Malibu! from Aurora Brewing Company/Strawberry Cough:
Strawberry Cough is a relatively intense strain, known for both its pronounced perfume of fresh berries and profoundly uplifting effect. It’s a perfect marriage with Stay Out of Malibu!, a decadent Berliner Weiss laced with layers of Earl Grey tea, cardamom, and pomegranate. Ideal for relaxing in the nice, quiet little beach community in your head.

Grodziskie from Young Lion Brewing/Gorilla Glue
Grodziskie, also known as Grätzer, is a barely extant style of beer lovingly referred to as “Polish champagne.” Smoked malt adds a note of campfire to the finish of this low-alcohol wheat ale, akin to the more common German Rauchbier. This odd, easy-going beer pairs well with Gorilla Glue, a high-octane hybrid strain known for its heavy relaxation qualities.

Griddle Cakes from Rohrbach Brewing/OG Kush
A surreal time in pre-pandemic 2020 saw me drinking two different blueberry pancake beers in the same week. Griddle Cakes has since become a staple beer of mine. A lovely ménage of berries and maple pairs well with OG Kush, a strain perfectly suited for a lazy Sunday brunch.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.