December 14, 2021

Cannabis and Beer: A match made in hops heaven

It’s true what you’ve heard: cannabis and hops are, in fact, cousins. There’s been lots of hype around the two plants teaming up—both in infused beverages and taste pairings. If you enjoy cannabis and craft brews, it turns out there’s a reason for that. They’re perfectly matched, like peanut butter and jelly, wine and cheese, and hot dogs and baseball games.

Connection between Cannabis & Hops

Just like a hoppy IPA, you’ll probably have noticed that hops have a tangy, fragrant taste and smell that can be compared to cannabis. There are significant similarities between the hop plant and the cannabis plant, most notably how they are grown, cultivated, and their characteristics. Cannabis and hops are both dioecious plant species, which means they usually develop into separate male and female plants. In rare cases, plants may be monoecious—with separate male and female flowers on the same plant.

Like cannabis cultivated for consumption, only the female hop flowers are used to flavor beer. Why, might you ask? Nobody wants seeds in their cannabis or their beer, so male cannabis plants are culled—or if the hops are propagated vegetatively, male plants are not grown at all.

Cannabis & Beer: Flavor Profiles

When you visit a brewery, the brewers will often describe their beers with flavor call-outs, noting citrus undertones, sour mouth-feel, and fruity flavors. Brewers will often infuse their beer with citrus and other additives like chocolate or coffee, but as it turns out, the terpenes in hops also naturally produce complementary flavors. You might be surprised to hear that these same terpenes also produce similar flavor profiles in cannabis.

What are terpenes?

Yep, cannabis has terpenes just like hops. Terpenes are the compounds that are responsible for the flavor and aroma of cannabis plants and, in fact, interact with the cannabinoids to create the effects on your body.

Terpenes are formed inside the cannabis trichomes, the hair-like or sugary appendages that form on the outside of the cannabis flowers. Trichomes give your cannabis flower that sticky feeling. Because trichomes house the terpenes and cannabinoids, cultivators will often opt to grow strains with a heavy density of trichomes for dry flowers and concentrates.

The terpene profiles of cannabis strains are often incorporated into the strain names. For example, Sour Diesel has a sour undertone, while Chocolate Thunder has a sweet, earthy aroma like that of chocolate. If you’re looking to pair your favorite craft brew with a cannabis strain, strains that have complementary terpene profiles (i.e., woody, coffee, tropical, or citrus flavor) will make for perfect pairs.

Wait, so if cannabis and hops are cousins, why doesn’t hops get you high?

THC is the cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant that produces those groovy, psychoactive effects. Hops do not contain THC, and therefore, do not naturally produce either a mind or body high. The buzz that you get from drinking beer isn’t the hops; it’s the alcohol.

For cannabis-infused beer, those brews made or infused with THC can and will get you high (and typically do not contain any alcohol). Cannabis beers brewed or infused with CBD, a different cannabinoid, will not get you high but will give you the chilled-out feeling that CBD does (without the alcohol as well!).

Cannabis infused beer

Cannabis beer? Canna-beer? Beerijuana? Whatever you want to call it, it’s an interesting concept. Cannabis enthusiasts who enjoy home-brewed beer have been increasingly interested in this concept, which is now a global trend.

How do they brew it?

The brew basics are centuries old. It’s simple in theory but takes a fair amount of equipment, access to ingredients, and experience to get it right.

Step 1: Convert a starchy grain like barley (or another grain) into sugar. They call it wort, which sounds gross, and at this point kind of is—as in it’s not ready for tasting by any means.

Step 2: The wort is added to yeast and begins to make alcohol. Enzymes in the yeast convert sugar to a higher-grade substance. Almost ready for prime time!

Step 3: Hops and cannabis are added to the brewing process to add flavor. Both hops and cannabis have antibacterial properties, which help the yeast do its thing.

To make cannabis-infused beer, brewers simply substitute cannabis for hops; or, more often, mix the two.

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Conclusion: Happy hour or hoppy hour?

There’s been a recent trend to pair cannabis with dining experiences in the way that wines are often paired with gourmet dishes to enhance flavor. Hops and cannabis plants are very closely related and share a lot of the same terpene-driven flavor profiles. Next time you head to your favorite craft brewery to pick up an IPA or lager, ask the brewer about the flavor profile and notice how flavors might overlap with your favorite cannabis flower. Do you have similar tastes, or do you prefer wildly different flavors in each product?

So, whether you’re more of a beer drinker or prefer a little bit of cannabis to unwind, there seems to be no shortage of options, whether you’re in the mood for something hoppy or something with a little THC.

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