Cannabis-infused beverages—especially non-alcoholic ones—are increasingly appearing on the shelves of some beverage alcohol retailers across the U.S., with mixed results amid escalating Covid-19 challenges. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound from cannabis that doesn’t get users high, but is noted for its possible medicinal and therapeutic benefits.
New Jersey-based Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, which also has a location in Napa Valley, is seeing success with Kalo Hemp Infused Seltzer ($5 a 12-ounce can). Gary’s carries four different flavors of the offering: raspberry lime, pomegranate peach, lemon lavender, and strawberry lemon. “Non-alcoholic CBD beverages is a growing category, so the long-term potential is there,” says Gary’s director of innovation Mike Fisch.
CBD-infused non-alcoholic offerings are becoming popular because the alcoholic versions face strict federal regulations. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) considers CBD a controlled substance, and won’t approve beverage alcohol formulas including controlled substances. But it will continue to process applications for beverage alcohol containing ingredients derived from hemp seeds or hemp oil.
Potential changes to the legality of recreational marijuana use from coast to coast could have a significant impact on regulations. Proposals to legalize recreational marijuana were recently approved by voters in Arizona, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota.
In Massachusetts, where recreational marijuana is legal, Kappy’s Fine Wine & Spirits stocks Otto’s non-alcoholic CBD Cider ($5 an 11.2-ounce bottle). Kappy’s carries three of Otto’s flavor variants—Hopped Apple, Pear Rhubarb, and Pineapple Passion—and each bottle contains 30-mg. of CBD. Paul Lynott, general manager of the chain’s Norwell location, says CBD ciders were generating some interest early in the year before the onset of the pandemic. “When Covid-19 hit, the CBD thing kind of just fell off,” Lynott says. “They hit a wall. People went for more quantity over quality, like the 12-packs and 18-packs of beer.” Indeed, the public health crisis saw customers stocking up on big-name brands that offered familiarity, rather than exploring new sectors or products.
While CBD-infused offerings face constant challenges, some drinks brands have had success with THC-infused products. THC is different from CBD in that it contains psychoactive components. Arvada, Colorado-based Ceria Brewing launched Grainwave ($9 a 10-ounce can), a non-alcoholic Belgian-style white ale infused with 5-mg. of THC, in 2018. The product is available at recreational marijuana dispensaries across the Centennial State. Ceria also launched Indiewave (SRP $7-$9 a 12-ounce can), a cannabis-infused IPA comprising 10-mg. of THC and 10-mg. of CBD.
Still, brands continue to try to break into the CBD space. Several CBD-infused alcoholic beers have debuted in Oregon, Colorado, and California in recent years, but their life spans have been short. Aurora, Colorado-based Dad & Dude’s Breweria, for instance, launched George Washington’s Secret Stash, a CBD beer, in 2015, but the TTB reversed its position two years later, so the company was forced to halt production.
In light of this struggle, major beverage alcohol producers such as Constellation Brands, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken NV, and Molson Coors are heavily investing in research into cannabis-infused product development. The current focus is on developing cannabis-infused non-alcoholic beer, wine, or soft beverages. Depending on state laws, such concoctions could be found on the shelves of beverage alcohol retailers, cannabis dispensaries, and in online shops.
San Antonio, Texas-based Pabst Brewing Co. recently made its way into the cannabis-infused beverage space with Pabst Blue Ribbon Cannabis-Infused Seltzer ($24 a 4-pack of 12-ounce cans), which launched in California in October. Touting 5-mg. of THC and just 25 calories, the new offering is only available at licensed cannabis dispensaries in California or DTC online sales. In other action, Canada and New York-based Canopy Growth Corp. recently announced plans to launch THC-infused beverages in California and Illinois in 2021.
Smoke Wallin, CEO of Vertical Wellness, the CBD arm of cannabis operator Vertical Cos., sees a bright future for CBD drinks. Wallin has developed a line of yet-to-be-launched CBD-infused non-alcoholic beverages, and is also working on creating CBD-infused bitters and mixers for beverage alcohol. Wallin suggests that CBD will have its day once the Covid-19 pandemic comes to a halt.
“Cocktail bars and mixologists are experimenting with cocktails infused with CBD,” Wallin says. “Once we have nationwide re-opening of the bar sector, you’ll see a lot of experimentation at the cocktail level, whether CBD is already in the beverage or added in at the bar.”