Whether it’s a delicious terpene-rich IPA or a THC-oil Belgian ale boasting no hangover, cannabis-friendly states like California and Colorado are leading the way when it comes to weed-infused beer.
It’s a Canadian company, however, that plans on launching the world’s first beer brewed entirely from the cannabis plant.
“First people thought we were crazy. Then they asked us how we were doing it,” Dooma Wendschuh told the Straight by phone. Wendschuh is the CEO of Province Brands of Canada (PBC), a premium beer and spirits company recently awarded with $300,000 in funding from the Government of Ontario.
The Toronto-based start-up has developed a patent-pending process for converting large components of the cannabis plant into an aqueous solution as a base for producing fermented beverages, including premium beer products.
“We’re basically using the stocks, stems, and roots of the cannabis plant, which is a waste stream, and turning that into a fantastic tasting beer,” she said.
“Beyond that, we take our waste streams and we can commercialize those, as well.”
Wendschuh says one of the reasons his team was able to secure the grant, an early and slightly out of character political vote of support, was because the company doubles as a viable waste reduction system. Health Canada heavily regulates the disposal of unused cannabis product, much in the same way medical waste is treated, which can be a costly and environmentally unfriendly process.
By using largely discarded portions of the plant and repurposing byproducts removed during the brewing process, like ethanol or sugar for resale, PBC is setting a new standard for waste reduction.
“There’s a lot we can do with our technology. It allows us to take something that’s effectively useless and turn it into something that not only tastes delicious and will hopefully be a healthy, safer alternative to alcohol, and also something that will make the world a healthier, safer place” said Wendschuh.
PBC is collaborating with Loyalist College’s Applied Research Centre for Natural Products and Medical Cannabis (ARC) on a research project awarded through the Colleges Applied Research and Development Fund (CARDF), administered by Ontario Centres of Excellence.
The year-long research collaboration will enable PBC to further develop their existing prototypes and commercially scale up. So far, the company has been working around regulatory limitations by using hemp, or by working in jurisdictions where cannabis is legal. Loyalist is the only Canadian College approved by Health Canada to conduct research on medical cannabis, and one of few facilities in Ontario approved to conduct cannabis research under the Federal Narcotic Control Regulations.
So far, PBC has developed two alcohol-free prototypes. The flagship product, the world’s first cannabis-brewed beer, is an imperial pilsner, and, the second, a blonde ale infused with cannabis oil.
“The blonde ale is a lot like what many other people will have in the industry, but the other is really unique,” says Wendschuh, adding that cannabionoid intoxication, regardless of the method, doesn’t present the same health risks as alcohol in terms of liver disease, cancer, depression, or simply the hangover.
Each 12-ounce serving of PBC will contain seven milligrams of THC and CBD, the two common compounds found in cannabis, and is purposefully low-dose to "encourage responsible consumption."
Wendschuh says the alcohol industry’s steep decline across the developing world creates an interesting opportunity for the cannabis sector—potentially creating space for beverages to take the lead in the cannabis format wars (the race to become the most popular consumption method).
“Everybody is already used to drinking psychoactives,” he says.
“There are three legal psychoactives in the world right now: coffee, alcohol, and tobacco. Two are consumed as beverages and the third nobody does anymore. Beverages won and they’re going to keep winning.”
The company plans to build a commercial brewery in Ontario in anticipation of legalization, but is far from the only player working its way into the beer market.
Constellation Brands Inc., the iconic alcohol brand responsible for Corona and Modelo, was one of the first companies to partner with a cannabis company when they invested $245 million in exchange for a 9.9 percent stake in Canopy Growth Corp., a Canadian medical cannabis producer, in 2017.
MedReleaf, the LP recently acquired by Aurora Cannabis in a record-breaking $3.2 billion deal, has also invested in a cannabis-inspired beer already in the Canadian market. The San Rafael ’71 4:20 Pale Ale, developed in partnership with Amsterdam breweries, is a weed-free preview of recreational products set to hit shelves when edibles become legal.
Wendschuh said the potential for success in combining two already-thriving industries became obvious to him when companies like Constellation Brands entered the cannabis space, but doesn't think cannabis beer can or should replace the existing craft movement.
“Canada has a vibrant and thriving craft beer ecosystem and our goal is not to run that ecosystem out of business, but to join it with a new type of craft beer,” says Wendschuh.
“We value authenticity. It’s not about the complex chemistry, chemicals or mass production. Our ingredients are cannabis, hops, and water...and a little bit of brewer's yeast. It’s really that simple for us.”