Posts

SweetWater Founder Freddy Bensch // Photo: courtesy of SweetWater

Cannabis Culture: SweetWater’s 420 Strain Brews

The stigma surrounding marijuana consumption is settling down in North America, albeit at a glacial pace. As of this July, 33 states in the U.S. have broadly legalized or decriminalized cannabis in some form while its northern neighbors in Canada fully legalized its recreational use last fall. A competing trade embracing this change is the beer industry. As regulations on marijuana relax, breweries are looking for ways to fuse its properties with their products.

One of the craft breweries leading the way is based in a state rather resistant to cannabis legalization: Georgia. Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing Company has been a longtime proponent of the 420 lifestyle. Their flagship beer 420 Extra Pale Ale was first brewed 22 years ago on April 20, naturally. Last fall, they took things a step further by creating G13 IPA, the first of their marijuana strain-specific line of beers.

The brewers at SweetWater managed to accomplish a bit of a scientific feat. After several months of testing, they found a way to mimic the scent of the strain without compromising the taste of the beer. The beer itself wallops the nostrils with the dank scent of Willie Nelson’s tour bus yet tastes like a solid, quality IPA.

“[The brewers] didn’t want it to be a gimmick,” says Tucker Berta Sarkisian, SweetWater’s director of communications, of the 420 Strain concept. “It was a huge goal for the aroma to be there but for the beer to be phenomenal-tasting.”

The kicker? There isn’t a single trace of marijuana in this strain-specific line of beers that along with the G13 IPA includes Mango Kush Wheat Ale and come this fall, Chocolope Stout. No cannabidiol (CBD), no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), not even hemp. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

The secret to creating the precisely scented, strain-inspired beer is in the terpenes – unsaturated hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. Terpenes are in several plant organisms from lemongrass to pine needles, and of course, cannabis. Since terpenes lack psychoactive cannabinoids THC and CBD, they are U.S. government-approved and have the green light to be used in SweetWater’s 420 Strain series. Another key component in getting the strain-specific aroma in each beer was curating the right hops.

“The hop varieties chosen are of particular importance because they contain similar terpene profiles to those found in the strain-specific cannabis,” SweetWater Brewmaster Mark Medlin explains.

The marriage of the hops and strain-specific terpenes complement the resulting brew in more ways than one, thanks to genetics. The seemingly unlikely pairing of hops and cannabis is a natural combination when it comes to flavor because they are related. They have biological similarities derived from shared ancestry in the Cannabinaceae family. As a result, what the terpenes hops and cannabis have in common is what make the 420 Strain beers possible.

The second edition in SweetWater’s 420 Strain series is the surprisingly juicy Mango Kush, released this spring. Like the G13 IPA, the Mango Kush’s weed aroma hits you in the face upon popping the bottle cap as if you just entered a party at Snoop Dogg’s house. Once again, the brewers added the potent scent of the strain while maintaining the flavor of the ale. Neither the G13 IPA nor the Mango Kush taste like weed, and it’s likely the forthcoming Chocolope Stout will present a similar sensory experience.

But how did the brewmasters know what marijuana strain would pair well with each beer style? For example, why does G13 work with an IPA and not a pilsner or saison? Initially, they didn’t know.

“It was like playing a mad scientist in a lab experimenting and testing with recipes,” Sarkisian says. “They wanted the perfect aroma to complement the perfect flavor.”

In other words, a fair amount of trial-and-error went into the brewing process in order to find the right balance in each 420 Strain beer.

SweetWater’s 420 Strain G13 IPA and Mango Kush can be found at various liquor stores and tap houses throughout the DMV. Chocolope Stout debuts in mid-September as a limited release, and once their “mad scientists” get back to mixing terpenes, more strains will be on the way.

Learn more about the 420 Strain series and where to get the three brews locally at www.sweetwaterbrew.com.

Photo: Nicco Page

Red Bear Brewing Co. Open To All

At the grand opening of Red Bear Brewing Co. last month, patrons exploring the space echoed the same sentiment: NoMa’s new brewery has a philosophy of being open to all.

“It’s a place that really has something for everyone,” says Liz Cox, Red Bear’s taproom manager and veteran manager of the DC restaurant and bar landscape. “[Red Bear] erases that stigma of brewery culture.”

In other words, this isn’t just a bunch of white bearded guys sitting around drinking micro brews. This is an environment for people of all races, genders and sexual orientations.

Red Bear is the brainchild of three friends who were living in Seattle – Bryan Van Den Oever, Cameron Raspet and Simon Bee – all looking to change careers. Van Den Oever came from the healthcare world, Raspet has a military background and was a flight test engineer for Boeing, and Bee worked in property management.

“They wanted to do a nano-brewery but knew they shouldn’t in Seattle because it had the most brewpubs per capita,” Cox says. “They felt bringing the West Coast style to the East Coast would work and chose DC to get it started.”

Although all three owners are gay, they decided early on that Red Bear wasn’t going to be “a gay bar” but rather ultra-inclusive, encompassing more than just the LGBTQ community.

“We try to be disability-friendly, accessibly friendly, a safe space for women [and] people of color,” Cox says. “We even have a bartender who is an ASL interpreter and we are all trying to learn from him as well [to welcome the deaf community and students from nearby Gallaudet University]. The idea was to create a safe space for everyone.”

The trio also wants the establishment to embrace the outdoors and adventure, hence the brewery’s name. The bear is a central theme of the space, and the logo features an ursine figure and Washington state’s Mount Rainier in front of DC’s stars and stripes.

“Visually, our bar is very appealing, and we stick to the theme of bringing outdoors inside,” Cox says. “We have patio string lights out. Simon built a mountain range that lines the bar. The bar is very large and creates two zones; we call one the front yard and the other the back patio.”

Red Bear serves predominantly West Coast-style ales and beers from 24 tap lines in a 7,000-square-foot space.

“Simon is our brewmaster and classifies offerings in three styles,” Cox explains. “[There’s] the old, nostalgic-style beers such as an ESB, which you don’t find a lot of in DC as it’s a very West Coast, Pacific Northwest-style beer. There’s the beers you should enjoy drinking and then experimental beers.”

For example, the pub will be introducing a brut kölsch later this summer. Current on tap offerings include a Belgian wit called Marmalade Skies, Cammy Cam-Cam’s ESB, American porter DC Dirt, the pale ale Polar Bear, American amber Skookum Red Ale, American IPA Mystic Storm and American double IPA Twinsies. Seasonal offerings include Cupid’s Black Heart, a chocolate-strawberry bock, and Swampoodle, an imperial oatmeal Irish stout. In the months ahead, the bar will offer a hibiscus American wheat (Delicate Prissy Flower), cherry almond sour (Manhattan Project), rosemary saison (Something About Rosemary) and a NoMa-based SMaSH (Single Malt and Single Hops) brew.

As a brewpub, Red Bear is licensed to sell food and has a small kitchen that is currently being readied to open sometime this summer. In the meantime, the owners are bringing in pop-up food places such as Roaming Rooster and D’s Fish Truck to offer visitors some menu items.

“We also have a stage for live performances and a patio that will be up and going once it gets warmer,” Cox says. “And we’ll be building out our drop lines. We opened with eight beers and have 15 beer lines and two nitro beer lines.”

Red Bear also offers cider, cocktails, wine and a full liquor menu. At the grand opening, all three owners got their pick of one special element for the night, so the party included a drag queen (Kitti Chanel Fairfield), an ice sculpture and live music.

“We’re all about having a good time and everyone here is excited about what’s to come,” Cox says. “NoMa has a ton of people but not a lot of bars, and we want people to feel comfortable here.”

Learn more about Red Bear at www.redbear.beer and follow the brewery @redbearbrewing.

Red Bear Brewing Co.: 209 M St. NE, DC; 202-849-6130; www.redbear.beer