Interview Conducted by Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.
I know what you’re going to say. I know. Beer and hops in a cannabis magazine? Well, yes, I think beer has a place on the table in our discussion about cannabis, and especially terpenes. Most people likely know that hops and cannabis are cousins, and in fact, are two of the three members of the Cannabaceae family (the third being the hackberry). In cannabis, the diverse and complex aromas making up a characteristic plant’s bouquet are from the terpenes. Some brewers are now using botanically-derived terpenes in their beers, adding them in as flavoring agents, or to recreate a tribute to specific varieties of cannabis. Hops, too, contain terpenes, like humulene and myrcene, and while different varieties of hops may not have quite the complexity of their cannabis cousins, the resins and oils present in hops give rise to some of the best elixirs on Earth: India Pale Ales (IPAs). Thus, hoppy beers by definition are terpene-infused.
IPAs are in vogue. The permutations of hazy, bitter, juicy, fruity, and earthy are something to cherish. In recent times, the craft beer scene has exploded in Western Pennsylvania, with Pittsburgh brewery Dancing Gnome (DG) leading the charge. Pittsburgh was once a steel town, with mills along the rivers. It was industrial, and all of that industry took its toll on the environment and air. The New Pittsburgh, though, is all about terpenes. Wafting through the streets of more and more neighborhoods are the intertwining vapors of cannabis and beer.
Terpenes and Testing Magazine met up with Andrew Witchey and Mike Dunlay to discuss the synergy between cannabis and beer, and the interplay between the selection of different hops to elucidate diverse flavor profiles in the final product. Andrew is head alchemist at DG, brazenly choosing to brew predominantly hazy, juicy, hoppy beers. It’s said that alchemists sought a universal elixir of life, a description of seemingly any DG creation. Take it from me…I know about these things, and the magnetism that emanates from those stools around the perimeter of the taps is seductive.
Andrew wanted to brew beers that were hop forward to showcase the delicious oils and resins contained in the plants. Previously, hops were most commonly used just for bittering, without much focus on the hop oils. But today, consumers often crave something different. “We brew hoppy beers, because, to us, they are the best drinking beers, and are what we prefer” Andrew explained. “It’s all about flavor and aroma derivation.”
Some people don’t like hoppy beers. When your palate is used to the macrobrewery, something dank and resinous might not provide the experience you’re looking for. For the guys at DG, it’s all about palate acceptance. “Your mouth needs time to adjust to new things”, Andrew discussed.
To my happiness, strong analytical principles are put into play at DG when creating a new beer. “We change one parameter at a time to evaluate how this alteration will affect the flavor and aroma. For us, it’s all about not being one-dimensional, but rather finding a harmonious balance,” Andrew explained. Mike followed: “But you need three real sips to get the full essence of the beer.”
These days, brewers are pushing the limits regarding what can be done with their beers. DG has gone so far as to dry-hop one of their beers (Stained Glass Ceilings) six times! This type of hop addition is done to really enhance the flavor and aroma of the beer, and to best showcase the nuances of the hops employed. The beer Headrush, on the other hand, was brewed with cannabis in mind. Using Centennial and Eureka hops, the latter of which contain none of the citrusy terpenes so pervasive in many of the DG beers, Andrew sought to create an earthy beer that smelled and tasted like cannabis.
By now, we’d imbibed a decent portfolio of DG beers. While each may have appeared the same to the neophyte, those three real sips cast that notion asunder. But what about cannabis? Is there a synergy between cannabis and hoppy beers? Can terpenes from the hops interact with cannabinoids? Myrcene is one of the most abundant terpenes in both cannabis and hops, and has been said to facilitate THC’s crossing of the blood-brain barrier, quickening the effects of the cannabis.One company has published their finding that they successfully extracted CBD from hops, a universally accepted plant. I asked Andrew and Mike about the connectivity between hoppy beer and cannabis. Mike discussed the parallels between the established beer and nascent cannabis industries, noting, from one artisan to others, “I appreciate the craft aspect of the cannabis industry.”
This is a point that cannot be understated. Just as DG tries to hone their artistry, the company Cresco Yeltrah, whose new dispensary location is just a few miles away from the brewery, exemplifies this attention to the details in the surging Pennsylvania cannabis market. The landscape here is changing, and it smells absolutely exquisite.