The Relationship Between Cannabis & Beer
By: Jeremy Marshall, Brewmonster
Both average folks and scientists know about the similarities between hops and weed. Many times, back in the days of intimate tours, folks would smell either a dry hop or kettle hops being weighed out and comment that they thought they caught a whiff of a skunk. The pungent aroma is due to potent methyl mercaptans or sulphur containing thiols. Hops such as Columbus, Summit and Apollo are rich in methyl mercaptans and smell eerily like a Kush or Grand Daddy Purple (or some of the more indica leaning strains, what Ron would call “night-time weed”).
If we back up before the original Waldos collaboration brew, and even before the Saint Patrick’s Day Massacre bust of 2005 that resulted in Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale, and keep going before human beings to about 25 million years ago (this is after dinosaurs y’all, so just so we’re all together, it goes dinosaurs, weed, hops, humans then Twinkies. No, dinosaurs did not get baked and eat Twinkies, or they haven’t...yet...so, it’s coming...). Contained in the genetic record of hops and cannabis we found out (ok not us, but super smart nerds) that before 25 million years ago, there was only weed, and humulus (hops) evolved out of weed to chase riparian zones (creek beds) whereas cannabis remained perfectly content to stay in the dry savannahs which do not get moisture in the winter. Ask any hop farmer about how much water hops require, and the responses are staggering. Likewise, ask a hemp farmer if they’ve ever even watered their plants and many don’t really worry about it, leaving it to Mother Nature. Most of the world’s hops are irrigated and Germany is usually one dry growing season away from a disaster since it has less irrigation than other comparable hop growing regions.
Here is a quick snapshot of the hops and weed family tree, showing why they are often referred to as “cousins:”
Credit to the fine folks at Wikipedia for the above image, and I will be giving them another donation since I have pilfered it yet again. As you can see, cannabis and humulus are two genera of the relatively small family of Cannabaceae (what a fun word!). Anyone who clicks on that link may note that the taxonomic rank of order (the next one above family) is Rosera, or the rose order (interesting to romantic nerds) and it also states the flowers are “not showy” because these plants are pollinated by the wind. However, I’ve seen High Times, and beg to differ, the flowers are indeed showy to stony humans!
Now of course we must mention the terpenes, because, “it’s all about the terps, brah.” Yes, people actually say things like this. I promise, and it wasn’t me, although I do agree with this statement. And one more: “The nose knows.” This refers to the human beings’ most elaborate sensory machinery: the sense of smell. According to this article, there are at least 30 common terpenes between weed and hops. You will also note the article starts with a killer photo and it’s great to see Lagunitas Waldos inspiring newer generations of weed-friendly craft brewers all the way over in the Midwest. Terpenes are very mysterious and numerous. Hops tend to have a large amount of myrcene and varying amounts of other terpenes that “define” the hop whereas cannabis has less myrcene and varies more in its terpene profile from one strain to the other. Whether or not one person likes a strain or not often comes down to the terpene expression. Eventually we will find out that there are probably 300-400 or more terpenes that we haven’t pin-pointed yet because they are present in super small amounts, or are so volatile they are easily lost. You can think of hop aroma as the spirit that inhabits a fresh beer, and therefore able to pass through a sealed beer over time like a ghost through a wall. Here and here are some cool close-up photographs of the sticky icky resinous parts of each plant, that appear to be analogous terpene factories, but where weed makes cannabinoids, hops make alpha & beta acids.
Can you tell which is which? Yes, you can, I believe in you. These glands contain all the brewing and/or medicinal value as well as all the terpenes. So it’s not just that hippies smell like BO and like pot, and some hops smell like hippies. It’s not just that folks on the lot scene also like hoppy IPA’s. There are very real reasons and connections that run pretty deep. Now let’s fast forward to the Waldos to complete this dank factor story!
I’m not going to go deep into the history other than to say that five high school buddies, named Larry, Steve, Jeff, Dave and Mark would gather at San Rafael High School at 4:20. Why 4:20? Well, apparently that was “just how much time it took to grab all your shit from your locker and be at a certain place after you were done with your shit.” The rather amazing tie into beer and Lagunitas besides the wonderful relationship between hops and weed that everybody now thoroughly understands, was that the spot they would meet was beneath the statue of Louis Pasteur, the scientist who discovered yeast and fermentation. Other than that, these slackers would smoke weed and lean against a wall (thus someone named them the Waldos), everyone smokes weed, even in the late 1970’s, so it didn’t take long until the Waldos’ 4:20 rhetoric went the 1970’s version of viral. One of the Waldos’ dads worked with the Grateful Dead. He threw out a little of his son’s 4:20 lingo and boom, it’s touring a magical hippie circus all over the world.
The first Waldos brew was 2011, after Lagunitas had installed the first German brewhouse, still here today and referred to as the 80 barrel. The five Waldos connected with Lagunitas through Ron and we’re brought to the brewery in one of our first official collaboration brews. Waldo Dave videotaped the entire exchange on an actual camera—that's how long ago this was. I have that DVD kicking around somewhere (somewhere...). The Waldos sniffed all of our most stanky, sticky and dank hops and made their selection in collaboration with Lagunitas. The early iterations of Waldos featured a different malt and hop bill each year. The current version of Waldos that is very high ABV (over 11.5%) first appeared in 2016 with loads of Columbus, Citra and Mosaic hops. In 2015, Waldos still featured lesser-known dank hops like HBC344, which never really took off and got a name due to poor agronomics. Fun fact: almost every version of Waldos before 2016 had Simcoe in it, which is one of Lagunitas’ most favorite hops, also known as YCR-14, and the original dancing hippie meets cat peeing on a Christmas tree (not plugged in, that’s a different hop).
Lagunitas’ regard for cannabis began with the founders and their lifestyle, made its first ill-fated appearance as a beer with The Kronik, which the folks at the ATF (now called the TTB) became hip to through a young intern, so we slapped Censored on it and re-submitted as a joke, and the ATF accepted! Equally ironic was the fact that Censored wasn’t particularly dank or icky-sticky. It quickly became a safe-haven beer for folks who did not like all the hops in all of our IPAs. Besides Kronik and Waldos, we made minor nods to cannabis like Daytime (=sativa) and NightTime (=indica), releasing one of the very first session IPAs in Daytime.
The relationship didn’t really pick up speed again until 2017, when legal medicinal cannabis was accelerating in the Sonoma County. It was in 2017 that the highly regarded SuperCritical Ale was released, essentially adding cannabis terpenes (no psychoactive compounds, smell only) to beer. *Our lawyer is making us add: Lagunitas doesn’t make any beer that has cannabis or its derivatives in it based on guidance from the TTB & other agencies. We revived SuperCritical Ale as a dank hoppy beer without any terpenes, earlier this year. Thankyouverymuch.* The name SuperCritical refers to the property of CO2 where temperature and pressures afford solvent like properties, and the fact that CO2 extraction is used by both the hops and the cannabis industries because it leaves no solvent behind (the CO2 is either re-used or dissipates).
Simultaneously, our friends at CannaCraft helped Lagunitas add extract, distill and add hop terpenes from Lagunitas’ hops and cannabis oil to vape carts for the Hop Cannon and Stereoterpical cartridges. It was a classic 80’s movie identity switch.
In 2018, Lagunitas wanted to up the ante to the cannabis collaborations and decided to attempt infusing Lagunitas HOP (Hoppy Refresher) with nano-emulsified THC & CBD. And thus, in June of 2018, HiFi Hops was born and became the first cannabis beverage from a beer producer in history within the nascent category. After all the trouble in 2005, being the first regional craft brewery to be shut-down due to weed and with the country headed towards full federal legalization, decriminalization and/or re-classification, it sure does feel great to have been on the right side of history.