‘Learning from the past’

An excerpt from ‘Brewing with Cannabis: Using THC and CBD in Beer’


Editor’s note: Did you know the Ford Motor Company once built a car using hemp, soybeans and other agricultural crops? And that they were exploring ways to get off fossil fuels by using biofuel derived from hemp plants? And that this was happening in the late-1930s/early-’40s?

Yes, the history of cannabis is loaded with tidbits, false starts, politics and megalomaniacs. From William Randolph Hearst, the egotistical publisher whose newspapers launched the cannabis smear campaign to keep hemp from being a competitor to the timber industry, to Harry J. Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — personally appointed to the position by Andrew Mellon, his uncle by marriage. In addition to being the then-Secretary of the Treasury, Mellon’s business was banks, and Mellon Bank was the majority owner of Gulf Oil Corporation, which was supplying the burgeoning auto industry with gasoline. Why are we still using fossil fuels when one of the first automakers explored biofuel 80 years ago? As the saying goes: Follow the money.

Keith Villa’s new book, Brewing with Cannabis: Using THC and CBD in Beer (Brewers Publications), opens with these kinds of stories to better understand the present and future uses of cannabis, particularly as it relates to the brewing process. 

Below is an excerpt from Brewing with Cannabis, with permission from Brewers Publications. Find it now wherever beer and brewing books are sold. And check back here in two weeks for an interview with Villa on the wait for cannabis research.


In addition to being home to one of the first legal recreational marijuana markets in the U.S., Colorado is also home to the headquarters of the American Homebrewers Association and the Brewers Association. Interestingly, American homebrewers were some of the first innovators to experiment with marijuana beers (Ed Rosenthal, Marijuana Beer). These early adopters were most likely aware of the illegality of marijuana but forged ahead with putting it into small-batch homebrews, showing that beers containing active THC can be made successfully.

In contrast to homebrewers, commercial craft brewers can only operate if they have a brewing permit issued by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), an agency of the Department of the Treasury, and so are very aware that they could lose their permit and livelihood if they brew with anything that is illegal under federal laws. However, this is not to insinuate that today’s craft brewers are standing by idle, waiting for federal legalization. Although this topic will be covered in other chapters, many craft breweries have either produced beers with cannabis terpenes to mimic the smell of marijuana (e.g., Hemperor Pale Ale by New Belgium Brewing Company), brewed with CBD (e.g., George Washington’s Secret Stash by Dad’s and Dude’s Breweria), or produced non-alcoholic beers with psychoactive THC (e.g., Grainwave by CERIA Brewing Company).

It should be noted that non-alcoholic beers avoid excess federal scrutiny by not having alcohol, which allows brewers to experiment with cannabis in a limited way. Craft brewers have pioneered efforts in this area and will continue to forge new paths as more and more states move to fully legalize marijuana. However, it is necessary to provide a warning in regard to combining cannabinoids with alcohol in any concentration. The functionality of cannabinoids will be discussed further in chapter five, but it is enough to note here that it is very clear cannabinoids cause known and unknown reactions in the human body. For example, THC will lead to intoxication; whereas CBD will lead to the calming of nausea and is used in the treatment of seizures in children with severe forms of epilepsy. Numerous other cannabinoids also cause reactions, independently or in conjunction with the effects of THC and CBD.

Since conclusive proof does not yet exist as to the actions and interactions of all of the cannabinoids in marijuana, brewers with interest in this area should keep in mind an event in the not too distant past where beverage manufacturers combined alcoholic beverages with caffeine. In 1999, when young people were experimenting with ways to keep the party going all night, they found that caffeinated energy drinks worked well when mixed with spirits, such as vodka, allowing them to stay buzzed without going to sleep. Soon after, brewers started to create “energy beers,” which were simple, ready-to-drink energy drinks with alcohol. The most popular among these was Four Loko, which, by 2008, came packaged in 24-ounce cans that “contained the equivalent of two Red Bulls and four normal beers.” As these powerful drinks became more popular, the press reported an alarming increase in blackouts and date rapes, and also hospitalizations caused by potentially lethal blood alcohol levels. Eventually, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration publicly clarified that alcoholic beverages with added caffeine are a public health concern and should be removed from the market.