Got Beer? Suds and Buds

We like to play along with the Motif Special Issue themes whenever we can, so here’s a deep dive into the link between beer marijuana (Cannabis sativa) and hops (Humulus lupulus).
The fun stuff is coming up, but first we need a bit of book learning. As Randy Mosher notes in his essential volume, Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide To the World’s Greatest Drink (pro tip: go to Amazon now and get a copy), “A climbing vine in the nettle family and closely related to marijuana, hops have been cultivated since ancient times, although they didn’t regularly find their way into beer until about 1,000 years ago. The parts useful in brewing are the cones, and despite the fact that many brewers call them flowers, they’re actually catkins or, botanically, strobiles … Inside the hop cone there is a small internal stem, or strig, holding the leafy parts of the cone together. All around the strig are tiny golden globules of the pungent waxy substance lupulin. This contains the bitter resins and aromatic oils so valued in beer.” Got that?
Here are a few more useful details: Popular Science says that pot and hop plants “have some similar organoleptic properties (taste and smell).” And: “The major bitter compound in hops, the so-called alpha acids, aka humulone, is a terpenoid (derived from terpenes, see page 25). The primary active ingredient in that dank you’re smoking, the tetrahydrocannabinoids, are also terpenoids.”
Ah, the dank. That word pops up to describe the pungent characteristics of the ever-evolving high-quality hops – and in beer names, including Founders’ ReDANKulous, a limited edition imperial red IPA (which is distributed locally in the summer), and a bevy of other too-bad-we-can’t-get-’em-’round-here brews with delightfully groan-worthy punny handles: Dankosaurus, Project Dank, El Dankerino, Are You Afraid of the Dank?, Tiny Dankster, Dank Williams, Dankenstein, Heart of Dankness, DankeChain, Rodney Dankerfield, Dank Side of the Moon, Dawn of the Dank, Dank You Very Much, Dank Sinatra, Danky Kong – and (believe it or not) many more.
A couple of beermakers maximize their terpenoids by adding THC-free hemp seeds to their hoppy concoctions: Uinta’s Dubhe (pronounced doo-bee) is an imperial black IPA and Humboldt Brewing Company makes Humboldt Brown (formerly Hemp Ale); both beers can be found in RI.
And some breweries boast a few not-so-subtle nods to a cannabis connection. Otter Creek’s motto is “From Our Stash To Your Glass.” The Vermont beermaker’s names, labels and descriptions are laced with wink-wink entendres/visuals: Steampipe, Joint Custody, Double Dose IPA, and the “chronically crushable” Over Easy (and there are copious wisps and clouds of smoke wafting across the branding). Dale Katechis, the founder of Oskar Blues, explained the origins of the newish Pinner Throwback IPA to The Cannabist: “When we were growing up, pinners were small joints. So as a smaller ABV beer came into play, as we associated the aroma and hop characteristics of cannabis, the name made sense.” The rhetorical question on the can underlines the re(e)ference: “Can I be blunt?” And Lagunitas’ seasonal Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale commemorates a 2005 raid at one of the brewery’s Petaluma, California, weekly open houses – which began at 4:20pm (of course).
We’ll give the last words to Ron Lindenbusch, Lagunitas’ chief marketing officer. In a story in the January issue of Beer Advocate – “Recreational Marijuana Finds Traction in Shadow of Craft Brewing” – he mused, “I look forward to the day we can legally smoke pot and drink craft beer together, in moderation. As far as society’s problems go, both are relatively harmless.”
’Nuff said!
P.S.: Waaaay back in September, we wrote about the state’s frustrating beer laws. Two bills were recently introduced at the state house that aim to remove the 72-ounce-per-visit limit on growler sales and greenlight pint sales at brewery taprooms. Stay tuned for more.