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El Hempe, a new brand of terpene-infused agave tequila seltzers, recently announced that it’s launching soon in California and Oregon. 

This is just the latest weed twist we’ve seen on alcoholic beverages since people started adding actual cannabis-derived terpenes to beer years ago, or food-grade terps in hopes of creating a cannabis smell. As the new wave of energy around boozy seltzers hit, cannabis would also be ready to catch that train. But El Hempe looks to capitalize on some of the excitement without THC or CBD.

At the very least, El Hempe is a fun new take. They claim to be the terpene-infused alcoholic beverage that smells the most like weed, since the Lagunitas Supercritical smells like beer, albeit crazy beer.

El Hempe CEO Tony Bash said it’s the first non-cannabis, terpene-infused alcoholic beverage that replicates the nose of cannabis. Bash went on to note the ready-to-drink cocktail market is booming right now, “especially among younger drinkers, and tequila itself has experienced double-digit growth in popularity over the past decade.”

We jumped on the phone with Bash the evening of the announcement to hear how it all came to be. 

“It’s funny, I was in the cannabis industry for about six years prior to this. We were a copacker. We were manufacturing foods and beverages and all sorts of stuff, but we were also doing a ton of processing and we were extracting all these terpenes,” Bash told L.A. Weekly of his first glimpse at the possibilities terps have to offer. “And we were treating terpenes like a savory. The smells are amazing.”

He said he knew at the time there was another place for them. “The terpene industry is pretty small today, relatively speaking, but I think as the cannabis industry grows and people get used to those smells, people are getting really excited about them.”

We asked Bash if they’d be using cannabis-derived terpenes. He replied they didn’t want to run afoul of federal regulators, even if other people may have slipped under the radar of enforcement in years past. 

Bash went on to dive into the development cycle saying it took 14 months to get something that they felt comfortable saying it smells like weed when you pop open the can. 

“You know, working in cannabis we had all those cannabis terpenes, but you just hit it on the head – we couldn’t use those,” Bash said. “Trying to figure out how to get the right terpene mix with legal botanicals that have already been through or been used in food packing took us 14 months. I think we finished our 51st sampling about a month, month and a half ago.”

At that tasting, they narrowed it down to the Lemon-Lime OG Kush (5% abv), Mixed Berry OG Kush (5% abv) and Hibiscus Durban Poison (8% abv) for the launch. We asked Bash how stressful the first 50 tastings were, given the ethos of the company hinged on the whole weed thing. 

“It’s been interesting. There’s sort of this hierarchy of interests I think for consumers. You know the name El Hempe sort of signifies it’s a fun sort of take,” Bash said. “We actually have a tiny bit of hemp seed oil in the product.”

Bash argued that even if you’re a weed aficionado, tequila seltzer makes a ton of sense for people. 

El Hempe will launch in a few weeks in Los Angeles and Oregon. Keep an eye out!

LA Weekly