Cannabis’ closest botanical cousin, the hop plant, has been an integral part of the beer-brewing process for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The hop plant is characterised by a tangy, fragrant taste and aroma, which is often compared to that of cannabis. Thus, some brewers now experiment with using cannabis along with hops.
Cannabis beer, or “cannabeer”, is a modern fusion of the two worlds of cannabis and alcohol. If you’re at all familiar with botany and taxonomy, then the reason for this is obvious. Botanically, cannabis and hops are closely related, and botanists and taxonomists alike believe that these two plants share a common ancestor.
This relationshipbetween the two has begun to spark interest in the cannabis enthusiast who alsolikes a home brewed beer. From this interest, cannabis beer was spawned andit’s now becoming a trend all over the world.
The basics: How beer is made
After the wort has boiled and cooled, it is transferred to fermenters to allow the sugars to transmute into alcohol (The Rocketeer) Simply put, the process of brewing beer involves taking a starchy source material (typically a cereal grain such as barley), converting this source into a sugary substance known as wort, and fermenting the sugary wort until the sugars (at least partially) turn to alcohol. The fermentation process is affected by the addition of yeast, which produces enzymes that convert sugars into ethanol.
In the initial stage of the process, crushed, maltedcereal grains (known as ‘grist’) are mashed with hot water (known to brewers as‘liquor’) in a large container known as a mash tun. Malted grains aregerminated by immersion in water, but are prevented from germinating fully byexposing them to hot air.
The malting process triggers the development of enzymes required to transform the starches into sugars. After 1-2 hours of ‘mashing’, the starches are mostly converted to sugars, and the water (which now contains the dissolved sugars) is filtered off. This mixture of water and dissolved sugars is the wort.
Next, the wort is placed into a kettle (traditionallycopper) and boiled for around one hour. This allows the water to evaporate offand the sugars to become concentrated. This stage also ensures that residualenzymes left over from the mashing stage are destroyed.
During the boiling stage, hops are added to thekettle. This may occur at any point during the boil, and may be repeated onceor more at various stages. The hops impart bitterness, fragrance and flavour tothe brew: the longer they boil, the more bitter the end result, but flavour andfragrance is sacrificed. Once hops are added to the mixture, it is known as‘hopped wort’.
After boiling, the hopped wort is cooled and placed ina large vat known as a fermenter, and yeast is introduced. Thus, the process offermentation can begin. The process may take as little as a week, or as long asseveral months, depending on the variety of yeast used and the alcohol contentof the end result.
The beer is often fermented more than once, in aseries of two or more fermenters. As well as converting the sugars present intoethanol, the process allows the fine particulate matter held in suspension tosettle. Once fermentation is complete, the yeast also settles, so that the endproduct is clear.
After the fermentation process is complete, more sugaris added to the brew; the leftover yeast remaining in the beer begins to reactwith it, releasing bubbles of carbon dioxide—the source of the carbonation infizzy drinks. This stage of the brewing process is known as ‘priming’ or‘conditioning’, and is usually the final process performed prior to bottling.
After the sugar is added, the brew is left for arounda week to allow the majority of the carbonation to dissipate—otherwise, ifbottled too early, excess carbonation could cause pressure to build up andbottles to distort or burst.
Using hops in the brewing process
Prior to the introduction ofhops, a blend of herbs known as ‘gruit’ was the primary flavouring agent used in beer brewing. It is important to note that hops are used primarilyas a flavour and stability enhancer; their presence is not essential to thebeer brewing process, and many beers throughout history have been brewed usingalternative flavourings.
As well as providing flavour and aroma, hops are known to exert a selective antibacterial effect, which allows the activity of yeast to occur unhinderedbut inhibits the actions of unwanted bacteria. When hops first began to be usedextensively in brewing, it was soon noted that brews made with hops were lessprone to spoilage than other beers, due to this unusual property of the plant.
Hop resins contain two main forms of natural acid,known as alpha and beta acids, and hopsthemselves are classified according to the percentage of alpha acid theycontain.
Alpha acids have a mild antibacterial effect, whichselectively favours the activity of yeast in the fermentation process, andcontribute to the bitterness of the beer. While beta acids do not contribute tothe bitterness or overall flavour of the brew, they do contribute aroma, andhops high in beta acids are often added to the wort at the end of the boil.
There are striking similarities between the hop plant and the cannabis plant, and their respective growing methods and characteristics. Cannabis and hops are both dioecious plant species, meaning that they usually develop into separate male and female plants—although in rare cases, plants may be monoecious, with separate male and female flowers on the same plant.
Only the female hop flowers are used to flavour beer, and just as with cannabis, the presence of seeds is undesirable; thus, the male plants are culled—or if the hops are propagated vegetatively, male plants are not grown at all.
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Flavouring alternatives in beer brewing
Gruit, thetraditional herbal blend used to flavour beer, typically included wild herbscommon in northern Europe such as sweet gale (Myrica gale), mugwort (Artemisiavulgaris), heather (Calluna vulgaris), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), andyarrow (Achillea millefolium).
Some gruit blends also included smaller quantities ofblack henbane, juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, aniseed, nutmeg, andcinnamon. As well as providing flavour, it is now known that some gruitingredients boasted antibacterial properties of their own.
During the 1990s, the USA and Europe experienced a revival in enthusiasm for craft beers brewed in independent microbreweries; along with this came a renewed interest in unhopped beers and ales brewed with gruit blends or ingredients.
European examples include Gageleer (also using sweet gale) from Proefbrouwerij in Belgium; and Fraoch (flavoured withsweet gale, ginger and heather flowers) and Alba (using pine twigs and sprucebuds) from Williams Bros in Scotland.
As the craft beer movement gained popularity, so toodid the trend for home-brewing. Thus, in the privacy of their own homes, craftbeer enthusiasts who also enjoyed cannabis soon began to experiment withcombining the two. Now, you can find various recipes that have been created bydedicated home-brewing enthusiasts online.
Beer brewed with hemp is already commercially available
Beer brewed with hemp may be sold anywhere in the U.S., provided that it tests negative for THC; various hemp beers have at some point been available, including O’Fallon Hemp Hop Rye, Lagunitas Waldos’ Special Ale, SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale, and Harvest Moon Organic Hemp Ale.
In order to win the approval of the federal governmentfor nationwide sale, the marketing and styling of a hemp beer brand must notreference or glamorise cannabis. In Washington, a locally-brewed beer known as Joint Effort has been quietly growing in popularity—first sold ontap in July 2013. In October that year, Joint Effort began bottling their beersand it is now available in over eighty locations throughout the state.
Joint Effort, created by Redhook Ale Brewery andHilliard’s Beer, is embellished with the tag-line ‘a dubious collaborationbetween two buds’. In bars that carry the brew on draft, pull handles are madefrom bongs purchased from local head shops. The flavour and aroma is alsointended to evoke that of cannabis, and is reported to do so quite effectively.
However, due to the unashamed cannabis-relatedmarketing, the beverage has been rejected for nationwide sale by the Alcoholand Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
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Can cannabis beer be made psychoactive?
Home-brewers across the world, particularly in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, have experimented with adding cannabis to beer, with varying degrees of success. Accurate details are difficult to find, as many forums can give imprecise and misleading advice. Most agree that prior to adding the cannabis, the dried bud should be soaked in cool filtered water to remove chlorophyll and water-soluble tars, which can negatively impact the overall flavour.
Some sources state that cannabis should be added tothe wort at the boiling stage (although this may cause much of the terpenes tobe stripped), while others hold that adding cannabis at flameout (immediatelyafter the wort is removed from the heat source) ensures full flavour andmaximum THC extraction. Others maintain that adding dried cannabis buds afterthe wort has cooled is more effective (similarly to how beer can be ‘dry-hopped’, allowingmaximum flavour and aroma to develop).
Most home-brewers seem to agree that cannabis should be added once initial fermentation has ended, and the sugars present have mostly transformed into ethanol. This appears to be the most logical approach, as it most effectively enables the cannabinoids present to be extracted, and for the beer to become psychoactive. Some specify that cannabis should be added when the beer is added to the second fermenter, allowing a week or more for the cannabinoids to become extracted.
Which beers are best brewed with cannabis?
According to various reports, the best styles toaccommodate experimentation with cannabis include Imperial IPAs, barley wines,stouts and pale ales. Styles like these are usually relatively high in alcohol;ideally, an alcohol content of 6.5% to 8% ABV will allow the THC and othercannabinoids to be extracted. Some home-brewers will take the alcohol contentas high as 10% ABV, to create an end product with serious kick.
Cannabis barley wines are particularly popular withhome-brewers, and yield end results that are packed with flavour, alcohol, andTHC. However, the flavours may be overwhelming to all but the most adventurousbeer drinkers. Generally, IPAs and pale ales are more forgiving to the untutoredpalate, and provided that a good malt backbone is present, the hop and cannabisflavours should not be too overpowering.
Most home-brewers experiment several times to developcannabis-infused beers that match up to requirements. Cannabis has unique andcomplex flavours that are not immediately appreciated by everyone, and that canbe hard to blend with subtlety. However, when successful, cannabis beers can beexcellent in flavour and aroma, and provide a distinct effect of both cannabisand alcohol.
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Brewing cannabis beer with ‘green dragon’ extract
If the priority is brewing an end result that packs apowerful THC punch, it is possible to utilise a different technique. Instead ofadding cannabis directly to the wort, in this method, cannabis is infused inhigh strength alcohol such as vodka to make a substance commonly known as‘green dragon’ extract. The extract is added to the beer at the end of thebrewing process, prior to the ‘priming’ or conditioning stage.
The conditioning stage usually involves use of apriming solution comprised of sugar and water, which is added directly to thewort. When creating cannabis-infused beers using this method, it is reportedlybest to add the cannabis extract to the priming solution before adding theresulting mixture to the wort.
When adding the mixture to the wort, care must betaken to stir smoothly and avoid splashing—too much disturbance to the surfaceof the brew once fermentation is complete can cause oxidation and staling. Oncethe mixture has been slowly stirred into the wort, the blend is left for arounda week, to allow carbonation to occur.
It is preferable to make the green dragon extract asclose as possible to the time of brewing, as storing it for too long can causeit to lose potency and take on an intensely bitter flavour. Many erroneouslybelieve that ethanol tinctures of cannabis should be left for up to a month tofully extract the cannabinoids; however, this just allows the chlorophyll andplant tars to be extracted.
Instead, a quick-wash method is preferable, wherebythe cannabis is only allowed to steep in the alcohol for a maximum of thirtyminutes before being strained and separated. The alcohol can then be evaporatedoff by heating the mixture until it achieves a syrupy consistency. It is notadvised to fully evaporate off the alcohol, as the green dragon will mix moreeasily into the brew when it is still liquid.
Determining the correct quantity of green dragonextract to add to the brew can be tricky. If too much alcohol is added to thewort, it can actually cause the yeast to die, and the process of priming willbe affected. For some species of wild yeast, die-off may begin when the overallalcohol content of the wort is as low as 5%; for Sacchaomyces cerevisiae, the speciesmost commonly used in brewing, alcohol content may be as high as 17%.
As long as attention is paid to the strength of thegreen dragon extract, it should be easy to avoid reaching such high alcoholcontent. Typically, it seems that a concentration of up to 0.5g of cannabis perfinished bottle of beer is optimum, to ensure a well-rounded buzz from bothcannabis and alcohol.
Recipes for home-brewed cannabis beer
For absolute beginners, and those wishing to steerclear of the deeper vagaries of home-brewing, the simplest technique involvespurchasing a basic home-brew kit (such as a Mr Beer Kit) and following theinstructions. Then, add dried cannabis flowers one week prior to bottling.
For those who have more advanced knowledge of brewing,there are various recipes available. People that are new to brewing oftenutilise a process known as ‘extract brewing’—with this method, the brewer canskip the stage of mashing whole grains to produce wort. Instead, malt extractsand hops are added to water and heated to produce wort; this process isconsiderably simpler and requires less equipment and skill.
The more advanced brewers, who prefer to maintain a‘purist’ approach to brewing, are more likely to utilise the all-grain methodof brewing described in the opening section of this article. Below is a recipeto produce five gallons, adapted both for one for the extract brewing methodand another for the all-grain method.
- 1lbs caramel 20lmalt
- 3lbs extra lightdry malt extract
- 4lbs pale maltextract
- 6oz hops (Brewer’syeast)
- 1-3oz cannabis(1oz of fine quality, up to 3oz of lower quality or trim)
- 10lbs Belgian palemalt
- 1lbs Belgianbiscuit
- 1/2 lbs of caramel20l
- 1oz hops 10-12%AABW
- 3oz hops 4-6% AABW
- Wyeast American AleYeast 1056
- 1oz fine qualitycannabis
This recipe holds that the best time to add thecannabis is when the beer is transferred from the first to the secondfermenter, along with an ounce of hops—essentially a dry-hop method. The beershould also be conditioned for one to two weeks prior to bottling.
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Should you mix cannabis with alcohol?
It is pretty commonplace among individuals to mixcannabis and alcohol. There are plenty of people who enjoy a beer with a joint,and so long as it is kept at that, it can be a great experience. However, scientific inquiry into the consumption of both substances together saysthat both substances enhance the effects of the other.
All this means is that it’s good to moderate usagewhen you are using both. Using too much alcohol and weed together can ruin theevening, where you are too stoned and too drunk to enjoy anything. So, when youare brewing your cannabis beer, it is good to keep that in mind.
If you consider yourself at all a cannabis or beer enthusiast, this would be an enjoyable project to get your hands into. It would be even cooler if you were growing your own cannabis and your own hops at home!
Have you tried making your own cannabeer? If so, what methods worked the best for you and what would your advice be for those brewing cannabis beer for the first time? We would love to hear form you in the comments!