If you’ve been following the news you’ve likely noticed a number of big beer companies jumping into the cannabis space. There’s Molson Coors, Constellation, AB Inbev, and even Heineken, through their subsidiary Lagunitas. There are also smaller companies like Two Roots and Hill Street, who will be brewing non-alcoholic beer the old fashion way from barley and then infusing that beer with a marijuana oil and other ingredients to ensure that oil stays in the final product solution (oil and water don’t mix).
Anyone can make an “infused beverage” or infuse a non-alcoholic beer, according to Dooma Wendschuh, CEO and co-founder of Province Brands, a cannabis beverage company based out of Canada. However, Province Brands have taken this process a step further: Their unique, patent-pending technology can brew a beer from the cannabis plant itself, which is something they were told was unachievable.
Province Brands employs the traditional way of brewing beer, but ferments the cannabis plant, instead of grains like barley, and does so without adding any sugar or other chemicals. Simply, water, cannabis, hops, and yeast.
In this interview Wendschuh shares his inspiration behind the idea of cannabis-brewed beer, gives us the inside scoop on the brewing process, and when he anticipates the cannabis beers to become available on the market.
With Province working to become the world's first cannabis brewery, can you tell me about the inspiration behind your lightbulb moment — brewing beer from cannabis?
The lightbulb moment? Well a few years ago I took my parents to a dispensary in a U.S. state where cannabis was legal. They were so excited to buy legal cannabis. “This will be just like being back in Berkeley,” my father said (he and my mother received their graduate degrees from Berkeley in the late 60’s early 70’s). They bought some marijuana flower and a vaporizer and they were so excited.
But when we got home, you should have seen the mess. I mean my father had no idea how to roll a joint — it had been 30 years. The thing looked like a tootsie roll. And my mother could not figure out how the vaporizer worked (“What does this button do?”). In the end we just ended up eating the infused chocolates and had a great time. And that’s when I realized, and I know this will sound silly to a lot of the folks reading this publication, but cannabis can be complicated. Not just the means of ingestion, but all the strain names and all the complicated product categories — things like shatter, wax, rosin, et cetera.
If we were going to make this mainstream, we needed to find a way to make it simple. Everyone knows how to eat and drink. And between those two, it seems that drinking is the preferred means of consumption for psychoactive substances. When you think about it there are three legal psychoactives in our world — caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. Two of these three are consumed as a beverage and the third no one does anymore. So beverages seemed like the natural choice. Just making another beverage and infusing it with a cannabis oil was not going to cut it. It would never deliver that authenticity which cannabis consumers crave. To do that we had to do something totally new. We had to find a way to brew from the cannabis plant.
Did you have prior experience in the alcohol or cannabis industries?
While I have had previous experience in the cannabis industry, my co-founders and I didn’t know anything about making a beer. We had a lot to learn. When we started the company, we traveled around and met with some of the top master brewers from around the world — only to have them tell us that what we wanted was impossible. Beer is brewed from barley and the carbohydrates in the barley grains are what create the sugars that the yeast needs in order to ferment and create those amazing beer flavors. Cannabis doesn’t have any free carbohydrates — so what are we going to ferment?
My co-founders and I didn’t like being told that this was impossible so we put together a team of some of the world’s top research scientists and asked them to help us do the impossible. And I’m proud to say we’ve done it. Province is now patent pending on the world’s first beers brewed from cannabis.
So what does the production cycle look like, from plant to bottle? Can you talk us through the process?
Our patent claims and methods are published now, so folks are welcome to go look them up, but aside from what’s public record, a lot of what we do is confidential and trade secret. There’s not too much I can say here except to give a very high level overview.
Step 1: Our beer begins its life as a cannabis plant — either a premium food grade hemp plant, or a premium marijuana plant. We pretty much only use hemp for making our alcohol product Cambridge Bay Imperial Pilsner. We use marijuana for making our marijuana beers, which will be alcohol-free and will intoxicate using marijuana and its phytocannabinoids.
Step 2: Harvest the plant. We don’t use the flower of the plant to make our beer. In some cases we might use some of the leaves but we do not use leaves for all of our beers. The rest of the plant is what we ferment to produce our premium products.
Step 3: We chop the cannabis into smaller pieces.
Step 4: We “mash” the cannabis using our patent-pending mashing process.
Step 5: We ferment the cannabis using the finest yeast. Hops is added for flavoring. If it’s a marijuana beer, the alcohol is removed before it goes to market. In the case of our premium Cambridge Bay Imperial Pilsner which is brewed from hemp, it contains no marijuana and no appreciable amount of phytocannabinoids and has a 7 percent ABV.
Step 6: The beer is then packaged and is ready for sale.
I don’t know a great deal about brewing, but I do know it includes a lot of sugar and carbohydrates — do you use high quantities of both to produce a palatable taste, since cannabis can have quite a bitter flavor? How can you best describe the flavor of your beverage?
One of the problems which most infused beverage makers face is flavor. Most cannabis beverages receive their psychoactive effect by infusing a marijuana oil into the beverage. There are different ways to prepare cannabis oil, but the majority of the oils out there in the market have a very bitter flavor, which can be overpowering when added to a beverage. This is why many cannabis beverages have just so many calories, or use artificial sweeteners like aspartame.
Because we brew our beer from the cannabis plant we don’t have this problem. As a result, we don’t need to add any sugar or sweeteners to improve our flavor. We also don’t need to add any sugar to effectuate fermentation. Our beer is fermented from the cannabis plant itself. The plant provides all the carbohydrates we need. So our ingredient list is pretty short: water, cannabis, hops, yeast. That’s all it takes to make one of our premium beers. Our beers are dry — as opposed to sweet — and have a rich nutty flavor from the cannabis. It tastes just phenomenal.
Can you add additional flavors? If so what do you think will go best with cannabis beer?
We absolutely can add additional flavors, but one of the things we’re most proud of is that we’ve made a beer the traditional way without adding any flavorings aside from hops. We’ve mastered a new fermentation process, and the mastery comes from doing more with less. Anyone can make something taste good with enough sugars and flavoring. That’s easy. What we’re doing, that’s hard.
What will be the aging process of these beverages? Do they have a long shelf life?
Our beers ferment for varying times depending on the style. Generally ales will ferment in less time than lagers. So far, our longest fermentation is our Cambridge Bay Imperial Pilsner, which ferments for almost a month. Our beers will initially have a shelf life similar to a premium quality craft beer. We are looking into purchasing a pasteurizer to enable us to extend the shelf life for international shipping, and so forth.
How do you see your cannabis beers being positioned in the cannabis industry and what demographic do you think this will appeal to?
Everybody loves beer, but beer has gotten a bad rap lately. It’s one of the most caloric alcoholic beverages out there and because they’re brewed from barley, beers will contain gluten — and no one seems to like gluten these days. Our beers brewed from cannabis are designed to be a healthier alternative to traditional beers. They’re gluten-free and much lower in calories than a beer brewed from barley, whether it contains alcohol or not. Our beverages are premium, so they’re not cheap. But they’re really positioned to appeal to those who are willing to spend a bit more for a higher quality, truly authentic, and less harmful choice.
What are the main challenges Province Brands faces? And how soon do you see your cannabis beers becoming available on the market?
Let me tell you… Everything is as challenge. There are days when I want to give up. We’re trying to do so many things that have never been done before, and we're trying to do them all at once. Brew a beer from cannabis instead of grains? Impossible. Make it hit you as quickly as alcohol? Nearly impossible. Raise capital for and create a cannabis company in a country where marijuana beverages are not even legal? Nearly impossible. We’re making a habit out of doing what everyone told us could not be done.
But one thing we can’t do is control the government. We expect regulations for cannabis beverages to be published around October 2019 and for beverages to be allowed for sale shortly after that.
In the interim, whilst your patent is pending for your cannabis brewed beer, you've signed a Letter of Intent with the Canadian Hemp Farmers Alliance, so what does this mean for Province Brands?
This is a very big deal for Province Brands of Canada, and we couldn’t be more excited. We’ve not been worried at all about supply of brewing materials for our forthcoming marijuana products. There really aren’t a lot of folks who can utilize the parts of the marijuana product we use to make our product. So supply isn’t an issue for most of our products. But we are planning to launch a beer made from hemp called Cambridge Bay Imperial Pilsner — and hemp is fairly expensive. This deal locks in a supply of hemp for that product at a reasonable price.
How soon will your hemp beer be on the market and where will they be sold? Will there be a variety of different flavors? If so what is your favorite?
Our single beer brewed from hemp is called Cambridge Bay Imperial Pilsner. We’re just figuring out how to get it produced at scale while our brewery is under construction and as soon as we’ve got that figured out we’ll put it on the market. It only comes in one flavor (pilsner), but our marijuana beers will be available in a variety of styles.