The Art and Soul of Craft Cannabis Beverages with Matt Vincent of Ska Brewing and Oh Hi Beverages

I can remember how it all started. I had been drinking a standard macrobeer, probably a malt liquor, and then a friend handed me a can saying, “try this.” Thus marked the historical timestamp of cracking open my very first India pale ale. It was late in the evening, but the sharp, palate cleaning taste and hoppy aroma pleasantly startled me. I remember thinking something like, “oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” or “where have you been all my life?” I found myself thinking about this beer, wondering how far I’d need to wander to find it?

The beer was Modus Hoperandi and the brewers hailed from Durango, Colorado’s Ska Brewing. Since that first IPA experience, it’s been love no matter how the hoppy deliciousness is framed. And maybe most importantly, that Ska experience led me to a respect and deep appreciation for the art and soul of craft beer.

So, imagine my surprise when I found in my email an invite to speak with Matt Vincent, the co-owner and the first head brewer of Ska Brewing? Matt partnered with some friends in the cannabis industry at Durango Organics to collaborate on the fusion of craft beer principles with cannabis-infused beverages. The result is Oh Hi Beverages.

Matt started brewing at age 19. “I was just a die-hard about it,” he added. “I couldn’t buy it, but I could make it! I got involved with Ska just after that. Cannabis was a big part of my life, and I kept wondering how to get weed in a can.”

Matt’s partners at Durango Organics introduced him to the world of cannabis beverages. So, they did the necessary product research to better understand what’s needed to get cannabinoids into a beverage format.

“There’s not a brewing process with the beverages that we make for Oh Hi,” Matt explained. “We worked with Stillwater Ingredients to learn about the process of water-solubilizing the distillate to make the THC-infused “Ripple,” a water-soluble powder.” (Somewhere Redd Foxx is smiling!).

Stillwater also helped Oh Hi with a liquid version of the formulation and also conducted tests of shelf-life. The flavor profiling of the beverages was done by the team at Oh Hi. “It’s not quite as much of an art as working with craft beer,” Matt added. “It’s more of a science. You don’t get the same caress that you get working a brewhouse as with flavor profiling.”

Oh Hi wanted to get terpenes in their products as well. “We did a lot of taste testing. At Ska, we’ll do pilot scale batches that we’ll try out on patrons, and then allow the beer to evolve over time until it’s ready for scale. That’s what we did with Oh Hi, starting with five-gallon batches. We just used cannabidiol at first because we weren’t yet licensed for THC.”

Oh Hi chose to design seltzers as their beverage of choice. While Matt believes that the alcoholic versions of seltzers may now be on the decline, they felt that a lot of people are drinking carbonated waters and seltzers and considered their own preferences. I reminisced about a product called New York Seltzer, and Matt said that this product came up in discussions about the direction of Oh Hi Beverages. “Sparkling water is a fast-growing category and we were looking to produce a beverage similar to the New York product,” Matt said. “You can call a beverage a seltzer if there’s sugar but we wanted a low sugar product. CBD isolate and THC distillate, once mixed to be water-soluble, are bitter, so we wanted to use natural sugar to help mask the bitterness. We avoided using masking agents as we wanted to keep the ingredient list as short as possible.”

For the specific flavor profiles, Oh Hi nominated their target flavors in part by what flavors they like and want to drink, as well as doing some product testing research for goods already at market. The Oh Hi products incorporate naturally derived terpenes (not extracted from cannabis). To date, the available product line includes a 10 mg THC Pomegranate (Matt says this is the best seller that won a cannabis cup in Colorado); a 5 mg x 5 mg (CBD:THC) Ginger Basil Limeade; Lemon-Lime; Grapefruit; and a new (currently secret) flavor coming in May.

The citrusy direction has demonstrated is allure to cannabis consumers, as described in a paper by sensory psychologist, Avery Gilbert, Ph.D., where volunteers inhaled the aromas from cannabis flowers, and related which they were most interested in purchasing. [1] The citrusy group of cultivars ranked higher (for these people, at least), and they indicated their willingness to pay more for those buds.

I asked Matt how he foresees cannabis beverages evolving in the industry, especially when some markets (like here in Pennsylvania) do not allow edibles/beverages?

“It’s hard to say how things will go. In theory, you would think that beverages would be a natural direction, but given their price point in a dispensary, they are kind of expensive. A single serving beverage may cost $6-10, thereby attracting slightly higher end clientele. It will take some time to educate people who are not cannabis customers now, or entry level people regarding the benefits of these beverages as a consumption form, such as the fact that they can easily be dosed.”

Matt pointed to other markets where beverages have taken hold like such as Massachusetts. “The beverage makers got in early,” he explained. “They could get the kid in the candy store reaction; people wanted to try everything. But beverages don’t get a lot of shelf space in Colorado.”

Lastly, I asked about any forthcoming cannabinoid-infused beers.

“We’ve kicked it around,” Matt reported, “but haven’t come up with any plans. We would like to do something Ska on the cannabis side with hops.”

It’s a delicious thing to see the blending of craft beer manufacturers and cannabis beverage producers, given the former’s focus on the art and the science of their creations, and the latter’s having providing an everyday, and yet alternative consumption form for cannabis-infused products. And given my own personal nostalgia with Ska Brewing, I’m keen to see how Matt and Company at Oh Hi meld the two worlds into lovely brews.



[1] Gilbert AN, DiVerdi JA. Consumer perceptions of strain differences in Cannabis aroma. PLoS One. 2018;13(2):e0192247. [journal impact factor = 3.24; times cited = 20]

About the author

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

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