With Canada poised to begin recreational cannabis sales, the race is on to develop an adult beverage that can compete with beer, wine, and spirits to win over the hearts, minds, and wallets of Canadian consumers, as well as those in U.S. states with adult-use cannabis laws.
Although breweries are already developing and selling cannabis-infused beer (and “near beer”), we’re talking about a new kind of adult beverage — one that uses a brewing process which substitutes cannabis for ingredients traditionally used in brewing beer, such as barley.
At least one company is doing just that. Province Brands in Ontario, Canada is working to develop new enzymes and fermentation techniques that will result in not only a potent brew but one that has a flavor that satisfies.
The aim of the research project is to create a product with a high that is roughly equivalent to a single beer. So far the company’s experiments have produced a brew with about 6.5mg of THC.
Interestingly, in an interview with The Guardian, Dooma Wendschuh of Province Brands claims that the product being developed is brewed from what is now considered a byproduct of marijuana production, the stalks, stems, and roots of the cannabis plant.
Constellation Brands, North America’s first publicly traded cannabis company, is a multi-billion-dollar firm known for brands such as Corona beer. Last year, the Constellation Brands announced that it would be partnering with Canopy Growth to research the possibilities of developing a cannabis brew. According to a report in The Drink Business, Canopy Growth has already secured around $300 million.
According to the report, Wendsuch claims that the fact that Constellation was the first Fortune 500 company to invest in the cannabis space, rather than a tobacco firm, is proof that a large market exists for cannabis beverages.
“We started our company in 2016 when it was not known whether alcohol-free beverages which intoxicate using cannabis or its phytocannabinoids would ever be legalized in Canada,” said Wendschuh. “The government, just a few months ago, made it clear they’d allow [these types of products], and I’d suspect that’s what made Constellation Brands step up.”
Wendschuh is originally from Miami. He moved to Toronto in 2016 to capitalize on Canada’s pending plans for legalization by creating a cannabis-powered alternative to alcohol. “The idea came from thinking, can we create something that can serve the role that alcohol serves in our society, and can we do that using this monumental sea change that is happening in our world right now? I don’t think there was anywhere else in the world where we could do this business.”
Wendschuh did have some doubts about whether or not cannabis could be used in brewing. First attempts at doing so failed miserably. “The things that we would come up with just tasted horrible. They tasted like rotten broccoli,” Wendschuh told The Guardian.
But with some help from other experts in the field, Wendschuh says he eventually hit on the right combination of hops, water, yeast, and cannabis.
Although the process does produce a brew which contains alcohol, the alcohol is removed, resulting in a non-alcoholic cannabis brew with a high that is similar to marijuana edibles.
Wendschuh hopes that by using a variety of strains, he can produce a variety of brews each with a distinct flavor, similar to how craft breweries currently produce a variety of beer flavors.
“The flavor is dry, savory, less sweet than a typical beer flavor,” and hits you very quickly, says Wendschuh, who points out that a fast-acting buzz is not common in marijuana edibles.
Wendschuh and Province hope that their cannabis brew will be a disruptive product which will take market share away from “buds” and edibles. The company seems fairly confident that it can do so and is currently planning to invest CAD$50 million into building a first-of-its-kind facility for brewing cannabis beverages.
Although the Canadian cannabis market is expected to launch in mid-October, edibles are not expected to become legal until a year later. That gives companies such as Province, Constellation, and Canopy Growth plenty of time get this right.
Experts in cannabis markets are estimating that marijuana-related products and services could eventually be worth between CAD$12 billion and CAD$22 billion in Canada.