Recent studies have shown that CBD helps our bodies process alcohol more efficiently. So, when MERRY JANE heard that Coalition Brewing is unveiling Oregon’s first commercially produced cannabidiol (CBD) hemp-infused beer, we had to visit their Portland tasting room for a celebratory sip or two. Actually, it was more like three frosty glasses of Two Flowers IPA, named after the fusion of “kissing cousins” hops and cannabis. Coalition’s co-owner and head brewer Elan Walsky, joined by regional beer ambassador Phil Boyle and Half Baked Labs’ William J. Stewart, were kind enough to walk us through the process of how their delicious CBD and suds came to be.
MERRY JANE: What inspired the creation of this beer?
Phil Boyle: We’ve been interested in creating this beer for a while, but when we heard the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved a formula and label for a Colorado brewery’s CBD-infused beer, theoretically allowing it to be distributed nationwide, we knew we had to get started. As luck would have it, we were invited to the CannaSociety Soirée, a farm-to-table, multi-course, cannabis-infused dinner party….
And that’s where you met William Stewart?
Elan Walsky: Yes, we met Bill at the event and from the outset it was clear that he was the man. With his background in chemical engineering and extensive experience in cooking with cannabis, Bill was vital in educating our brewing team about the various forms and uses of hemp. In addition to illuminating the biological similarities between hops and cannabis, such as their shared terpene profiles, Bill assisted us in the early flavor development of Two Flowers. It was a challenge working with ingredients that were foreign to us. Our goal was to showcase elements of both plants, and how they can be brought together to form a cohesive, delicious whole. Bill’s extensive knowledge and trained palate was a great help.
After attending the soirée, how long did it take to create the infused brew?
William J. Stewart: We got together, along with Josh Taylor of Oregon’s Cannabis Concierge, about three days later for a tasting party. I brought a variety of extractions and hemp products like toasted hemp hearts, hemp sugar, and hemp juice, so they could taste, smell, and combine them with various beers to inspire potential recipes. They started the pilot brew less than a week later. One of the best things about working with Coalition is that, when they get an idea for a new product, they try it out right away. Elan does a masterful job combining flavors and aromas.
I genuinely enjoyed Two Flowers IPA. For me, the effects were lovely and subtle and I didn’t feel tired or heavy after having a few, like I do with a lot of other beers. What effects have other people described?
PB: Please note that this is anecdotal evidence, and Coalition is NOT making any specific health claims or claims about the effects. We encourage people to try it for themselves and research information about the medicinal benefits of CBD to form their own opinions.
One friend described it as having a few beers in the hot tub; I would say that is not far off. Another described the sensation as “elevating” the natural calming properties of hops and alcohol. Several people have said that it seems to lessen the negative effects of drinking alcohol, including reducing hangover.
I noticed this cool, subtle green hue to the head of the beer. It was super smooth, tasty, really fun. You’re the pro, though. How would you describe its tasting notes?
EW: The base style is a West Coast IPA—light, crisp, bitter, and refreshing. Hemp juice adds a grassy bitterness that mirrors and augments the natural bitterness of hops. We selected hops renowned for their citrus qualities to reflect the citrus terpenes present in the CBD oil that’s infused in this beer. The result is nothing short of delicious! A light grassy bitterness greets your tongue, giving way to notes of citrus with a clean, dry, and refreshing finish (6% ABV 55 IBUs).
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What ingredients are you using to create Two Flowers IPA?
PB: We are lucky to be located in the bountiful Pacific Northwest, where we’re able to source all our ingredients locally. It begins with crystal-clear water from the Bull Run Watershed, an important source for both the beer and cannabis industries. Grains come from Great Western Malting in Vancouver, utilizing barley grown in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Our yeast is grown locally by Imperial Yeast Lab in Portland, and our hops come from Woodburn and Yakima Valley. Even our brewing equipment was fabricated locally by JVNW! Since we have a local connection to our suppliers, we are able to build personal relationships, gain more information about their products, and collaborate. We’re proud to be making beer from raw materials that are the embodiment of the Pacific Northwest.
Coalition’s educational coasters, front and back. Image via Coalition Brewing
Why do hemp-derived CBD and beer work together so well?
EW: There is a natural synergy between hemp and hops, and between the craft beer and craft cannabis industries. Biologically speaking, hops and hemp are closely related. Taxonomically, they are both the species Cannabaceae with the separate genus Humulus (hops) and Cannabis (hemp). They share many genetic similarities, which, in practical terms, mean both plants produce many of the same terpenes. A common tasting note for IPAs is to describe them as smelling and tasting like cannabis. It’s no surprise since they share terpene profiles. In addition, alpha-acid, the bittering component of hops, is actually a cannabinoid. It’s not psychoactive, but similar in structure to both CBD and THC, all of which are derived from a precursor molecule called isoprene.
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From your point of view, in addition to the biological similarities, what else do the craft beer and craft cannabis industries have in common?
EW: Cannabis is experiencing rapid commercial growth, analogous to the craft beer boom. As more producers enter the market, it’s important they embrace the spirit of collaboration and friendly competition that is a hallmark of the craft beer industry. In addition, both fall under the regulatory purview of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) and likely the TTB, once it’s federally legal. Fingers crossed.
How’s it been working with the OLCC?
PB: We recognize it’s important to have an open dialogue with the OLCC. They look to industry leaders on the best ways to move forward. This project highlights that both industries can coexist and work together while informing the public and potentially influencing legislation and practices that can be beneficial to all involved. This emerging cannabis industry has many hallmarks of its own with a focus on community, innovation, and a positive impact on the local economy. We are excited that beer, once again, is giving us the opportunity and platform to break down barriers.
Of the emerging CBD beers on the market, do you feel there's something that differentiates Two Flowers IPA from the rest?
EW: While Coalition is producing Oregon’s first commercially available CBD beer, it was not the nation’s first. Coalition is the first to truly integrate both hops and hemp, showcasing the agricultural, biological, and industrial synergy of these plants. We didn’t want to create a gimmick product by simply putting CBD oil into an existing beer. In order to showcase the close connections of hops and hemp, we used a few unique processes. In addition to CBD oil, which provides the effective dose and terpene profile, we also use hemp juice as a flavor addition. Hemp juice is a bit like wheat grass, adding a grassy, bitter note that augments and elevates the natural bitterness of hops. We also attempt to mirror some of the citrusy terpene notes of the CBD by selecting Cascade and Centennial hops, both renowned for their citrus qualities. The hemp juice is added to the hop back post-boil. Then, CBD oil is added post-fermentation and dry hopping, made miscible in alcohol [strong beer] to ensure proper dilution and distribution of the CBD throughout the tank.
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What’s ahead for Coalition Brewing and CBD?
PB: We’d like to make a series, encompassing different styles and recipes such as sours and saisons. We’re working with suppliers and people in the industry to source new strains, materials and practices to be showcased in the beers. We’d like to, at some point, do direct strain matching of particular hops and particular strains of CBD. There will also be a strong educational component to the project. We’ll be providing materials to bars and staff that will have facts about CBD and the beer. Plus, we’ll be holding a number of events around town where people can learn more about the beer from the brewing side and the cannabis side as well as overall information about CBD. Education is key to dispel misinformation and make people more comfortable about imbibing CBD and beer.