Marijuana and Beer
by Len Jefferies
Beer may be the star of the Great American Beer Festival, but for some of the pilgrims who
have traveled to Denver to taste the latest from storied brewers, there’s another draw: legal
Five hours before the show floor opened at the Colorado Convention Center there was a rush
at Euflora, the nearest of 11 recreational cannabis dispensaries within a mile of the facility.
Brewers and attendees of the show were shopping for pot-laced gummies and strains of weed
with names like Great White Shark and Island Sweet Skunk. During last year’s GABF, says
store manager Josh Sansburn, sales increased 20-30%.
Colorado is one of the epicenters for the craft beer movement. The state is home to more than
200 breweries. And it was the first state in the country to legalize recreational pot. So it’s not
entirely surprising that the two are connected here.
There is no such thing as a commercial “pot beer” for sale — that’s prohibited by law. But at
the GABF, one brewer walked right up to the line, offering a cannabis-infused beer (made with
legal hemp oil).
Long before marijuana was legal in some states, craft beer and pot have had at least loose ties
to each other. Lagunitas Brewing Company, in 2005, had its brewer’s license suspended after
police made marijuana arrests at the brewery in an event that has come to be known as the St.
Patrick’s Day Massacre. The company, to this day, winks at the incident with its Undercover
Shut-Down Ale. And marijuana appreciation remains a key part of the company’s culture today.
In 2014, the company produced 400,420 barrels of beer. This year it will brew 600,420.
(“Everything ends in 420 around here,” says Ron Lindenbusch, who calls himself Lagunitas’
“beer weasel” – aka chief marketing officer.
Oskar Blues, meanwhile, named its Session IPA “Pinner” – slang for a tightly rolled joint with
small amounts of pot. To further drive home the message, the can is decorated with sayings
that include “Can I Be Blunt” and “Sip Sip Give.” And Sweetwater’s flagship beer is named 420.
It’s a game of cat and mouse with regulators, though, who say “drugs, drug terms or slang
associated with drugs” are forbidden in beer labeling. Michigan’s Dark Horse Brewing Co.
found out the hard way when it was forced to change the name of its “Smells Like Weed IPA” to
“Smells Like A Safety Meeting.” (Though, as with Pinner, the FDA apparently wasn’t up to
speed on lingo, failing to realize a “safety meeting” is code for “we’ll be smoking marijuana at
On the GABF floor, Dad & Dude’s Breweria is offering tastings of a cannabis-infused beers to
show goers. It’s a beer that has many of the characteristics of a typical IPA, but it carries a
much sweeter finish. The THC is stripped from the hemp used in production, so imbibers won’t
get high, but Indica Double IPA is made with cannabidoil, which is extracted from legal hemp.
(Co-founder Mason Hembree says the cannabidoil actually doesn’t impact the flavor of the
beer at all.)
“Finding a legal hemp oil was difficult,” says Hembree. “Locally cultivated cannabis is not legal
for brewers, yet.”
Home brewers in Colorado, of course, have already made THC-infused beers. And a Craft
Beer and Cannabis/Hash Pairing seminar was scheduled at Green Labs, an workspace for
marijuana-related startups, that offered three different beer and hash courses.
Despite it's legal status in CO, Marijuana has many of the same limitations as alcohol: You
have to be 21 to purchase or consume it, you can’t drive under the influence, it’s illegal to give
to minors and you can’t just light up in public, much like you can’t crack open a cold one while
strolling the sidewalk. The main difference is, you won’t find Colorado-grown weed filling store
shelves anywhere else in the world (it’s also illegal to take across state lines), whereas
Colorado homegrown craft brews from the likes of Left Hand Brewing Co., New Belgium
Brewing and Odell Brewing Company have established a prominent retail presence all over the
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