Did you know that the hops and cannabis are cousins? No wonder they go so well together…
Hops in Beer
Hops are just one of the ingredients that make beer so delicious. As a broad overview, hops can typically be added to a beer during two different phases of the brewing process: bittering or dry hopping. This has led to the division of hops generically into two categories from a brewer’s perspective: bittering and aromatic hops.
When bittering hops are included in the beer making process, they are boiled along with the grains (mash). During the boil, complex sugars are broken down from the grains to become edible for our yeast friends to make alcohol. Compounds called alpha-acids in bittering hops are also dissolved and isomerized into delicious bitter compounds. Fun fact, International Bittering Units (IBUs) are a direct measure of the dissolved isomerized alpha-acids in beer that come from bittering hops during the boil.
Dry hopping is the process of adding aromatic hops to the beer at the end of the brewing process. An already complete beer is taken to the next level with the addition of aromatic hops. Aromatic hops are typically more expensive than bittering hops, because they really bring the flavor to the party. This flavor or scent profile is where we find the most obvious overlap between our two cousins, hops and cannabis.
Terpenes are what provide hops and cannabis with their flavor and scent profiles. You can read a little more about terpenes profiles in cannabis in our blog post here. Both hops and cannabis are prominent factories of terpenes, deliciously scented compounds that smell of lemon (limonene), pine (alpha-pinene) and even lavender (linalool). Myrcene, an earthy scented terpene with sedative properties, is the most dominant terpene in both cannabis and hops, but it turns out myrcene can also be found in mangos, basil and lemongrass. Hops do not produce quite the array of terpenes as cannabis, however the some of the dominant profiles of terpenes found in the two cousin plants are strikingly similar. Without terpenes, beer would simply be a sugary watery mixture of yeast and alcohol. Also, without terpenes, cannabis would impact the body quite differently due to the entourage effect.
Uniting the two in harmony
So, what’s holding us back from making delicious cannabis beers already? Unfortunately, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) does not allow the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages blended with cannabis. However, with new cannabis products coming out on the market, perhaps consumers could make our own blends for now. Products like Ripple provide an interesting avenue to mix cannabis with beer, which is actually quite a tricky endeavor, since cannabinoids like THC and CBD are not naturally soluble in water or beer.
Lagunitas has taken a step towards pioneering the cannabis-beer front with their Hi-Fi Hops cannabis sparkling beverage. Finding the aromatic hops that match a cannabis terpene profile may be the most challenging part of creating a cannabis inspired beer, but it’s likely only a matter of time before it’s done. At this point, we’re not aware of any cannabis inspired beers on the market. Opportunity missed?