Marijuana bud showing up in craft beer brews
March 28, 2014
Since Amendment 64 passed in Colorado in 2012, and with the advent of recreational marijuana sales this year, aspiring entrepreneurs have been putting pot in everything from cookies and candies to tea and coffee, but marijuana-infused beers are a long way from landing in the market. Beer recipes in the commercial brewing world are regulated by the federal government, which precludes the pros from cranking out dank dunkels and skunked stouts. That, however, hasn't stopped a few enterprising home brewers from pursuing the holy grail of buzzes, the precarious marriage of beer and bud.
Weed beer is a bit off the wall, and marijuana is a potentially expensive ingredient to be working with. I was able to find one book on the topic, a 53-page tome called "Marijuana Beer: How to Make Your Own Hi-Brew Beer," by Ed Rosenthal, which is out of print and going for almost $150 per copy on Amazon. That's definitely out of my price range, so I tried a different route and hunted down a friendly brewer who was willing to share the secrets of success when attempting a marijuana brew.
There are two ways to isomerize the cannabanoids in marijuana, he said, using alcohol or using heat. For more than 100 years, people have been using various forms of ethanol to create tinctures, or extracts, with marijuana. They soak the flowers and trimmed leaves in the booze, and the alcohol rearranges the atoms in the cannabanoids to create the compound that produces a high, THC. Heating cured marijuana buds in oil or another substrate has the same isomerizing effect, thus creating THC-infused bases for cooking or baking. The trick is not to heat the marijuana above about 370 degrees, as the THC vaporizes at that point, effectively ruining your weed, my brewer friend said.
Because of the low vaporization point of THC, marijuana cannot be used in the boil when making beer or the extended heat will render it useless. This brewer recommended weed as a dry-hopping ingredient, added after primary fermentation when the beer is moved from one carboy to another and taken off the yeast. The marijuana buds can be tied up in a mesh bag or cheesecloth or thrown straight into the carboy and strained out when the beer is bottled.
Here’s the kicker: It takes a fairly high level of alcohol to isomerize the THC, which means you’re brewing a pretty heavy beer, and to keep that high alcohol level from overpowering the effects of the weed, you have to use a lot of marijuana in your beer. We’re talking around an ounce of pot per gallon of beer brewed — not a cheap prospect unless you’re growing and curing your own cannabis.
Here's the kicker: It takes a fairly high level of alcohol to isomerize the THC, which means you're brewing a pretty heavy beer, and to keep that high alcohol level from overpowering the effects of the weed, you have to use a lot of marijuana in your beer. We're talking around an ounce of pot per gallon of beer brewed — not a cheap prospect unless you're growing and curing your own cannabis.
The taste profile of the final product depends on which strain of marijuana you use and the style of beer you're brewing, my brewing friend said. The flavor will parallel the aroma of the pot strain, so the beer should be built around the strain you have on hand. Take a big whiff of your reefer, and ponder which style of beer you think would pair best with it. For instance, he said, New York City Diesel went really well in an imperial porter, whereas Shiskaberry was a better match with a barleywine.
And when you're cranking out a 9 percent alcohol by volume brew, you may have a bit of a hard time evaluating the final buzz. With one beer, you'll probably get a mellow body high, but with two or more, the effects of the alcohol will start drowning out the buzz from the THC, he said.
So why even bother stewing this greenish swill? It's simply another medium for your high. As my brewer friend said, "A man should be in charge of his own buzz," and if you have the time and resources, it's a fun ingredient to play around with.
Because it's federally illegal, you won't be finding marijuana beer on a tap pole anywhere anytime soon, but if you know a few brewers or aspire to brew your own concoctions, you might be able to get your hands on a bottle.