Scientists in a small Ontario laboratory are testing enzymes and experimenting with fermentation. Their techniques are not new, but their focus is a first. They are developing what is being described as the world’s first beer brewed from cannabis.
Most cannabis beers on the market are brewed from barley and infused with marijuana oil, according to Dooma Wendschuh of Province Brands, the Toronto startup behind the product. “That’s not what we do. Our beer is brewed from the stalks, stem and roots of the cannabis plant.”
It is a story playing out across Canada as entrepreneurs race to secure a foothold in what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar market. The country will become the second in the world to legalise marijuana for recreational use on 17 October.
Edibles are expected to become legal a year later, paving the way for cannabis-infused products ranging from brownies to honey. At Canopy Growth, North America’s first publicly traded cannabis company, researchers are developing a line of cannabis-infused cocktails.
Pointing to Colorado, where the legalisation of marijuana has led to a boom in edibles, analysts estimate that marijuana-related products and services could eventually be worth between C$12bn and C$22bn (£7bn and £13bn) in Canada.
Wendschuh, who is from Miami, moved to Toronto in 2016 to capitalise on Canada’s pending plans for legalisation and to create an alternative to alcohol.
“The idea came from thinking, can we create something that can serve the role that alcohol serves in our society, and can we do that using this monumental sea change that is happening in our world right now?
“I don’t think there was anywhere else in the world where we could do this business. Canada is already leading the world in creating an industry around medical cannabis and we expect them to continue to lead the world in trading and industry around adult-use cannabis.”
There were initial doubts that cannabis could be brewed into beer. “The things that we would come up with just tasted horrible,” Wendschuh said. “They tasted like rotten broccoli.”
With the help of a chemist, he eventually hit on the right combination of hops, water, yeast – and cannabis. Any alcohol produced during the processing is removed, resulting in a non-alcoholic, gluten-free beer that offers a high.
“The flavour is dry, savoury, less sweet than a typical beer flavour,” he said. “The beer hits you very quickly, which is not common for a marijuana edible.”
The aim is to create a product that, when consumed, will be roughly equivalent to a single dose of alcohol. So far the company’s experimental products have averaged about 6.5mg THC a beer.
The recipe is the backbone of the company’s plans to build a a C$50m facility that Wendschuh hopes will be the world’s first cannabis brewery. The company plans to roll out a variety of beers using different flavours and strains of cannabis, mimicking breweries that produce lagers, stouts and ales.
As the beer is brewed from the stocks, stem and roots of the cannabis plant, it offers an alternate use for what is essentially a waste product for the industry. “We take them off the grower’s hands, saving them the cost of hiring a licensed disposal company to dispose of them,” said Wendschuh.
He believes his product will be safer and healthier than alcohol, but acknowledges that it comes with its own risks. “Marijuana is not good for you and our beers are not good for you,” he said. “You should not drink them five times a day, you should not drink them first thing when you wake up in the morning. We’re not saying that.”
Instead, he described his beer as a first step in upending an industry that has become ubiquitous. “If I could create an alternative to alcohol, that’s something that would change the world,” he said. “That’s something I’m very passionate about.”