Meet The Awesome Women Behind The Scenes of Hemp and Cannabis Beer

JUNE 23, 2018
Jessica Delfino

It’s pretty hard to come across nearly any kind of product that doesn’t have a hemp or cannabis element to it yet. Soap, clothing and textiles, foods and desserts, beauty products of all kinds, medicines, TV shows—even weddings are getting all sorts of danked up. Now, one of the more recent in a long line of offerings incorporating pot into their production is beer.

Due to red tape, government restrictions, misinformation and antiquated laws, it has been challenging to get beer a ticket to the toker’s ball. Mixing weed and alcohol can give some people the spins, and it definitely makes the federal government spin its wheels on how to keep the two apart. Like a barrier between forlorn lovers, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TBB) just won’t let the two substances unite. For example, in May, Massachusetts shuttered Down The Road Beer Co’s attempt to be the first in the state to brew a beer containing CBD.

Many beer companies get around the fact that beer and marijuana aren’t allowed to commingle in the same beverage by making a proprietary formula that includes certain parts of the hemp plant that their state does allow to be used in brewing. This may include seeds or oils, or in certain cases, such as Hemperor’s HPA, or “Hemp Pale Ale”, hemp hearts, which were approved for use in beer-making in the 2014 Farm Bill. Despite that, Hemperor HPA was banned by the state of Kansas.

Because hemp and hops have similar odors, companies have also found ways to play upon our senses using the natural skunky stink of hops and perhaps a bit of olfactory sleight of hand to make beers that smell like weed without using any actual cannabis. Other brewers, like Canada’s Province Brands, work around not letting their cannabis and alcohol touch by making non-alcoholic beer. This option may prove to be popular. Alcohol-free beer allows for a very simple ingredient list, offers low calories, boasts a booze-free, short-lived buzz and leaves little if no hangover.

The beer industry is increasingly becoming more and more a woman’s playground, welcoming women into the echelons of upper management. Many breweries are even at the brink of developing beer marketing campaigns targeting women for the first time ever. Heineken USA hired a woman to fill the role of CEO, becoming the first top brewing company to ever do so. It’s an exciting time for beer, women, women in beer, marijuana (and hemp) in beer, and women in marijuana (and hemp) in beer.

We talked to some women in marijuana and hemp beer about their work and what it’s like to be there at this exciting time. Katie Wallace, the Assistant Sustainability director at New Belgium Ale (which produces Hemperor HPA), a company which also happens to be employee-owned and founded by a woman, offered her insight, as did several women from Canada’s Province Brands. Province Brands is developing what could very well be the first legal beer brewed from cannabis. They filed a patent for the first beers brewed from the cannabis plant, and expect to see it released as early as Fall 2019. Here are some of the things they had to say about the pioneering work they are doing in this new frontier of “kind beer”.

Katie Wallace, 37, Fort Collins, Colorado-New Belgium Brewing Company

HT:  What is your specific role in working with The Hemperor HPA?

KW: My focus at the brewery is social and environmental responsibility. With every new beer innovation, you expect technical challenges, but the regulatory challenges around The Hemperor HPA inspired us to take action. My role is to help free hemp from these ill-informed laws, which would greatly benefit people, the planet, and provide our brewers with an exciting new ingredient to work with. I help the team understand the many benefits of hemp, and plug us into the other champions working to legalize the plant. We’ve worked with GCH [a company founded by Willie Nelson and his family], Vote Hemp, and many others doing powerful work behind the scenes. Our goal is to modernize outdated laws around industrial hemp production. It’s inspiring to work alongside these heroes and see the momentum that’s gaining around the new Farm Bill to finally legalize hemp.

What makes hemp beer different than regular beer?

Hemp hearts give the beer a nice, smooth consistency, and a spicy, slightly herbal tone. But the terpenes in the hemp flower and leaves is where we get the most interesting aromas. Much like hops (hops and cannabis are close cousins), hemp terpenes have a variety of flavors that are very interesting to brewers. As soon as cannabis was legalized in Colorado, our brewers started dreaming up ways to pair these plant cousins for a wildly different beer. Unfortunately, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the federal agency that approves all of our beer formulas, rejected our original recipe made with hemp due to the part of the plant we wanted to use. We learned this was because certain parts of the plant are still considered Schedule 1 by the federal government. Instead of throwing in the towel, though, we gathered terpenes from other plants that together mimic the flavor profile of hemp. We used those terpenes to make a super dank beer with hemp hearts, and we’re giving Vote Hemp $1 for each barrel of beer we sell to help legalize hemp.

Is the hemp beer industry a mostly male-oriented business?

Hemp beer is still so new, I’m not sure there’s an industry around it. But the craft beer industry is predominantly male. This is changing so rapidly, though. Most women I know love beer, and so many rad ladies are getting into the brewing one way or another. The Pink Boots Society is helping to elevate this, and they seem to be akin to the Mary Janes: (badass) Women of Weed.

Any final thoughts?

At this point we’re focused on raising awareness around industrialized hemp. It’s a versatile and sustainable crop that could be playing a much bigger role in our economy. While we are very happy with the way The Hemperor HPA turned out, we would love to brew this beer with the whole hemp flower that is currently classified as a narcotic despite its lack of psychoactive properties. A change in these laws could result in great benefits to agriculture, textile, food and cosmetic industries. Not to mention beer!

Jennifer Dianne Thomas, 34, New York – Province Brands Of Canada

HT: What is your specific role in working with cannabis beer and PB?

JDT: I am one of the founders of the company. I also serve the company as our Chief Legal Officer and the head of our legal and finance team.

How did you get started in your work with cannabis beer?

At Province Brands, we make beer and spirits brewed from cannabis or infused with cannabis. My speciality has always been working on legal matters for start-up and emerging growth companies in highly-regulated industries (like alcohol and tobacco). So transitioning into the marijuana industry was a natural fit. I initially ventured into the space a few years ago when I was working with private equity companies investing in cannabis and work with celebrity cannabis brands. When I connected with our CEO, Dooma Wendschuh, and caught wind of his brilliant idea to combine adult beverages and cannabis, the synergy with my experience was immediate and I began working with him to bring the dream of cannabis beer to life.

Do you personally use cannabis?
I love our products and try to be first in line when the products team needs a guinea pig.

Caitlin Millay Krapf, 37, Los Angeles, CA – Province Brands of Canada

HT: What is your specific role in working with cannabis beer and PB?

CMK: I’m VP of Human Resources and Organizational Development at Province Brands and lead our Productivity Team. That means I oversee everything related to HR and all of our Project Management.

Do you experience anything of a “grass ceiling” working with cannabis beer?

I’ve been extremely lucky at Province Brands. There was one point where I felt like an employee might not be listening to me because I was a woman. I brought my concern to Dooma and he said, “If that’s the case, he won’t last long at this company.” I worked everything out with the employee, but it was incredibly nice to have that immediate support.

What are some of the most exciting aspects of working with cannabis beer?

Personally, I love the mix of art and science. In another life, I actually went to college thinking I would major in Physics. I wound up a Film Studies major. I’ve always enjoyed the creative and the analytical. It’s incredibly fascinating to be able to work with both Ph.D. scientists doing incredible R&D, master brewers crafting the perfect flavor, and our Art and Marketing team that’s just doing breathtaking design work right now. It’s also great to be part of a team that’s really committed to quality and craftsmanship.

Do you know or have a guess of when cannabis beer will be legal in Canada?

The Canadian government has stated that edibles will be legalized within one year following the legalization of dried cannabis and cannabis oils, so the industry is anticipating that by Fall 2019, cannabis beer like ours will be on shelves – and we’ll be ready the moment that happens.