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Expert Topic The Emergence of Hemp Derived Cannabinoid Beverages

At an increasing clip, brewers are getting into the CBD and THC beverage arena. This makes sense for a variety of reasons, even more so than brewers making hard seltzers. There is a direct relationship between cannabis and hops so many brewers feel comfortable working in the space, there is also a needed level of skill, science, and creativity in the cannabis beverage space that just does not exist with alcoholic flavored malt beverages.

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Jeff O’Neil, the founder of New York’s Industrial Arts Brewing Co. recently launched a line of what he calls “hemp derived cannabinoid beverages” under the Hybrid brand. It has joined a growing number of other beverage companies that are putting these drinks into the market, making the most out of changes to state laws and licensing that allows for the creation and distribution of them via shipping.

There is art and science that goes into these drinks and for brewers and others getting into the space, it is important to know the ins and outs. That information is also going to be important as these begin to rollout to a larger consumer base who might be starting their journey with THC and CBD.

“THC and CBD are the most popular of the cannabinoids for sort of opposing reasons,” he says. “But they work well in harmony together is what the research is showing. And the two products that we have are both very low, low dose THC and relatively higher in CBD.”

It is unfair, O’Neil says, to put these hemp derived cannabinoid beverages in the same category of beer, hard seltzers or FMBs, or even non-alcoholic beers.

“It’s not like alternating an alcoholic beer with a non-alcoholic beer, he says. “I’m appreciating that I’m staying hydrated when I drink these and also feeling a euphoria or relaxing feeling. And I am very happy when I wake up at five for whatever in the morning that I can hop out of bed.”

He says that a year ago he would have been talking about how much non-alcoholic beer he was drinking (and his brewery makes a line of NA offerings) but today he’s drinking the cannabis product more frequently than anything else, and if he is mixing drinks, it is usually hop water.

It was the brewery’s foray into NA beer that helped lead him down the newly discovered hemp derived cannabinoid beverages path. Much of that dealt with the level of technical sophistication the brewery had put into those beverages as well as other important elements, like being compliant with FDA regulations. O’Neil noted that his wife and partner is a PhD microbiologist and has core competency in food safety and some background working in drug development and food safety.

“We could no longer deny that it is not like a nonalcoholic beer style product. We realized that we were now doing something that was less under the purview of the TTB, or the State Liquor Authority.

To become qualified to make nonalcoholic beverages, there are hundreds of safety protocols to hit, he says, because there is an inherent risk when you drop below three or 2 percent alcohol. There are some pathogens that can make people really sick or worse, like listeria, or botulism.

“The FDA runs a really tight ship, and we had to up our game to pass a 400 point inspection,” O’Neil says. “That is far, far, far more rigorous than any scrutiny we’ve ever seen over alcoholic beverage production, which is conversation for another time.”

He says passing the FDA inspection is being treated as a strength that the brewery can now navigate the world outside of alcohol and to lean into these new categories “because they’re not going to stop coming up.”

For Hybrid O’Neil says New York State allows for five milligram doses, which he considers reasonable.

“If you do some quick math on, for instance, a pre-rolled one gram joint, which is the most sold item in in the adult use dispensary channel, a one gram joint has roughly 250 to 300 milligrams of THC in it, that gives you a reference point,” he says. “Each of our cans has five so 1/50 of a joint each, we’re talking 1 percent of the amount of active ingredient.”

That modest amount means it can be controlled and predictable. Once a drinker has had it once or twice, they can have a reasonable expectation of how it might affect them.

“I’ve found that this is a responsible way to be a be a member of society and also take an edge off here and there,” he says.

When building out Hybrid, O’Neil went with hop water flavors to infuse with the THC and CBD, including Simcoe, Mosaic, and Citra. He looked for flavors that would appeal to drinkers on different levels and to match terpenes in the hops with those in the cannabis.

“Every one of the different cannabis strains that are out there have a different profile of cannabinoids and terpenes and this is what interacts with your body in different ways,” he says. “So, we’re trying to see a parallel between being an IPA Brewer and a cannabis business. It’s hard not to hard to miss some of the parallels.”

The Mosaic flavor, for example, is blueberry and the brewery adds a bit lemon extract to that to get a tartness. It is also high in linalool, which is a whole different terpene that that helps you relax and “maybe lowers your body temperature and prepares you for sleep.”

While no cannabis product is currently qualified to be registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office, because it is still a schedule one drug, O’Neil sees that classification eventually changing.

“I am convinced that we’re going to get to a point where these kinds of beverages are normalized,” he says. “I don’t know how long it will take but we are n this brave new world where cannabis is being destigmatized so quickly. And you get that social buzz of having something in your hand being with other people and being able to be social. So I see a big significant place for these in a lot of people’s lives.”

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