Weed-infused drinks are a staple of the edibles market. But thanks to new innovations in weed tech, THC drinks are looking to move beyond traditional cannabis circles, and replace your booze, seltzer, or hard iced tea with a cannabinoid-infused version.
There are plenty of fruity drinks and sodas on the recreational market that, like other historic edibles, are formulated with overpowering flavors intended to mask the strong flavor of cannabis. But recently, with the development of both flavorless and strain-specific cannabis infusions, beverage manufacturers have the option for more subtlety—and thanks to some pretty cool tech, everything is being infused, even wine and beer.
A lack of federal legalization and the slow-moving regulatory process of state cannabis agencies means the actual mixing of alcohol and cannabis is prohibited in a single product (though that has never stopped people from DIY-ing). These products instead attempt to mirror the flavors of traditionally alcoholic drinks, but with weed as the intoxicating ingredient.
Nonalcoholic beers and wines have a reputation for being gross or unsatisfying, but thanks to technological advances in that industry, that’s changing too. And that means there’s room for a new class of drinks for people who are enthusiastic about the effects of weed and love the flavors and complexity of wine and spirits. Surprisingly, these alcohol-free, cannabinoid-infused versions can taste very close to “the real thing.”
We asked the beverage experts who craft cannabis “beer” and “wine” more about the process, so you’ll know before you imbibe (and, hopefully, enjoy the experience).
How “weed wine” is made
Jamie Evans, a certified specialist of wine who goes by the moniker “the Herb Somm,” is a Bay Area-based beverage expert with over 10 years in the wine industry and multiple cookbooks to her name. She took a desire to marry the NorCal worlds of weed and wine into her own hands in developing Herbacée Sparkling Rosier, a cannabis-infused, wine-like drink similar to a French Rosé.
Evans tells Lifehacker the process of making weed wines begins with the de-alcoholization of real wine. “This process presents challenges because it removes some of the natural aromas and flavors of the wine,” she notes. “To deliver a wine-like drinking experience, these aromas and flavors must be added back in, which can be a tricky process, especially if you’re trying to create primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas/flavors like traditional wine.”
To keep the focus on the wine-inspired and well-balanced taste, instead of selecting a weed-flavored additive—which pros refer to as an emulsion—Evans and others making alcohol-inspired goodies opt for flavorless cannabis concentrates, in which THC has been isolated and collected through distillation.
While many cannabis drinks lean on cannabis flavor, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want a Provence style “rosier” to taste like bud. Evans designed this drink to let the wine inspiration take center stage. “For beginners, this beverage is approachable, presenting a mild euphoric experience, similar to drinking a glass of traditional wine or beer,” she says. “For the more experienced cannabis consumer, Herbacée is also sessionable [that is, you can drink more than one], offering a higher potency based on your preference.”
The taste is never going to be exactly the same. While it’s true that Herbacée tastes like wine, you’ll also likely know right away there’s no booze present, thanks to the subtleties of flavor Evans enumerates above. “Like traditional wine, you’ll be able to pick out different fruit and floral notes. You’ll also perceive bright acidity, delivering a wine-like experience. If you’re someone who enjoys wine but looking to cut back on alcohol, this product is for you.”
How “weed beer” is made
Beer has its billions of fans around the world, and the aromatic similarities of cannabis and hops makes them natural friends in flavortown. But brewers can’t just toss some piff in their mix and allow THC to mingle with alcohol—for now.
Brewmaster Keith Villa, PhD, creator of Blue Moon beer and, more recently, Ceria Infused beer, knew that the demand for palatable nonalcoholic beer was unmet by people with his level of expertise. He told us Ceria Infused beer started with the mission of making a flavorful craft beer, regardless of the ABV. “The difficulty was coming up with a great tasting 0.0 percent alcohol-free beer,” he says. “Many non-alcoholic beers don’t do the category any favors because they simply don’t taste like beer. Some were sweet, others were watery.”
Completely booze-free beer is not the same as the NA beer you find on the shelf, according to Villa. “Non-alcoholic (NA) beer still contains trace amounts of alcohol, while AF beer does not,” he says. It’s a critical difference when it comes to creating an actually alcohol-free infused “beer.”
Just like Jamie Evans’ weed wine, Villa and his crew went with lower doses of THC on purpose. “Grainwave is a Belgian White Ale microdosed with 5 mg of THC,” he notes. “Our Indiewave West Coast style IPA contains 10 mg of THC combined with 10 mg of CBD for a much more mellow buzz.”
The intent was to honor beer’s more subtle buzz, in comparison to liquor’s punch of ABV. “We believe in microdosing,” Villa says. “By reducing the dose, consumers can enjoy more than one beer at a time and still function socially. The trouble with high dose cannabis beverages: They’re likely to lead to what we call ‘couch lock’—one drink and you’re done for the night.”
For now, Villa isn’t favoring weed-heavy flavors, as he is focused on getting the taste of a cold one just right. “Rather than use a particular strain of cannabis, we use purified distillate from a variety of strains,” he says. “We isolate the THC and CBD from buds and trim, which avoids creating a beer with a dank cannabis taste or smell.“
The science of infused beverages
Cannabis infusion tech company Vertosa works with more than 80 clients, including Vita Coco, Pabst, and MXXN, to create additives that go into all sorts of drinks, and it’s the tech Vertosa uses that allows creators like Evans and Villa to create this new space in the market.
Vertosa’s CEO Benjamin Larson talked us through the process after a quick peek at their Oakland lab, which processes a wealth of cannabis concentrate into the emulsion that brands deploy in their drinks.
“Advances in nanoemulsion technology (the ability to break oil droplets down really, really small and make them stable in water) have enabled a new breed of fast-acting edibles, including novel products like infused beverages,” Larson says. “Faster onsets and higher rates of absorption allow low-dose products to shine by creating a more efficacious, consistent, and controllable experience for consumers of all types.” This means you are getting higher faster, but over a longer period of time, creating a more alcohol-like effect than the wallop of smoking a joint.
Larson thinks this is the key to converting booze fans into weed-fans. “ The beverage format is especially normalized, and not only is it more acceptable in social settings, it’s more approachable for curious first-timers,” he says. “Sipping on an infused beverage allows you to slowly dose a cannabis experience and you begin feeling the effects while still consuming the products.”
Using ultrasonic probes, Vertosa makes weed oil into a type of “soap” that allows it to completely mix with water based products—i.e., beverages. Every drink is tested for factors like potency decline, oxidation, and anything else that could make the experience unpredictable, as reliability is the ultimate goal of most cannabis tech being developed right now.
With technology increasingly meaning we can have everything we want—and nothing we don’t—in a drink, it’s interesting to imagine the possibilities, especially if federal legalization ever opens the door for products that mix alcohol and cannabis. Until then, weed beers and wines—minus the alcohol—are, for the adventurous, worth exploring.
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