The state’s most popular pot beverage officially launched in LA this week with the whole Lagunitas team heading south down 101 from hop country in Petaluma to premiere their infused beverage line at West Hollywood’s MADE Gallery.
For better or worse, one of the country's fastest-growing breweries has long had a tale intertwined with cannabis. Its Petaluma brewery is a popular pitstop for cannabis industry folks heading to and from the Emerald Triangle not too far north, and in 1995, they started weekly pot parties commencing at 4:20. Unfortunately, the feds caught wind of the functions even before they could smell it in the parking lot, and one Thursday in 2005, Lagunitas got some visitors they weren’t expecting. The raid resulted in Lagunitas being closed for a month as punishment. A few years later the company would release its Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale as a nod to that dark day in company history.
Lagunitas’s next big cannabis-inspired effort came with the Waldos’ special ale in 2011. The Waldos created 4:20 at San Raphael High School in Marin County and it went on to become standard vernacular of shakedown street in the parking lots of Grateful Dead concerts. But things would really start getting wild once they started teaming up with Cannacraft.
Cannacraft is one of the most dynamic pot companies in the state. In 2017, they would provide Lagunitas with terpenes for the original SuperCritical Ale. While Thorn Street Brewery in San Diego was the first to pull the terps-in-beer trick, it’s likely Lagunitas’s SuperCritical has proven the most widely distributed. There wasn’t actually any weed in it, of course, but now, times have changed.
Lagunitas CEO Maria Stipp and Brewmaster Jeremy Marshall joined Cannacraft’s Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Tracey Mason at West Hollywood’s MADE Gallery for a private tasting event to discuss how the state’s now most popular THC-infused beverage came to be.
“If anybody knows anything about Lagunitas, they know cannabis is nothing new,” Tripp told the crowd. “It’s been a part of the company since, ever. And the question, really, was how do we bring that to life in the spirit of being relevant to the brand?”
Stipp spoke on the SuperCritical Ale, where Lagunitas dipped their toes in. When it became legal in California to produce a beverage that had THC, “We said why not?” said Stipp.
Now that they had a plan, they wondered what the product would actually look like. They knew there wouldn’t be any calories or hangovers, but what would it taste like? Marshall was the man for the job. Lagunitas's UC Davis-taught chief brewer came up with the hop refresher to serve as a base.
By the time Marshall had the base, Lagunitas’s relationship with Cannacraft had grown substantially. They imparted the THC-free ingredients they’d come up with to Cannacraft. “Then they put in the magic pixie dust and we came up with something called HiFi Hops,” said Stipp. “We had a goal to be high by July in 2018 and that’s actually something that happened.”
Stipp said the only thing slowing down HiFi Hops is the pace at which word of mouth can travel.
Mason took over to give Cannacraft’s perspective. The company was already a leader with brands like Absolute Extracts, one of the cleanest vape cartridges in California before anyone even cared, and Care by Design, a longtime champion in the full spectrum medical CBD oil marketplace. With the Lagunitas partnership, they now have “by far” the biggest THC-infused beverage in the world’s largest legal cannabis marketplace, as Mason sees it.
Mason says the collaboration has been smooth sailing due to Cannacraft sharing core values and a love of what the cannabis plant can do for you. The result, she said, is a perfect beverage with no calories or carbs.
“We’ve been brewing in Sonoma County since the 90s, we had no idea what was going on with the slow normalization, legalization of cannabis right in our own back yard,” Brewmaster Jeremy Marshall told the crowd.
“All we knew is that we got in deep doo-doo in 2005 over cannabis,” Marshall said, “We allowed people to smoke joints at our brewery for Thursday night parties and what we didn’t know is that we weren’t supposed to be doing that, so they sent in guys with machine guns to intimidate us and do all this stuff.”
It would go down in Lagunitas history as the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre, since the raid occurred on the holiday in 2005. They shut Lagunitas down for one month for disorderly house and moral turpitude (which Marshall maintains is a good name for a beer).
Marshall stated that while all the employees at Lagunitas were still 420 friendly, they had their tail between their legs a bit when it came to the weed thing. Eventually, Lagunitas and Cannacraft’s events teams networked and that got the ball rolling on the SuperCritical Ale.
“The SuperCritical Ale was the exchange of terpenes and that led to the idea we’d take the hop terpenes from our beer and put them in vape cartridges. SuperCritical led to the HiFi Hops.”
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Marshall describes the final product as drinking like a beer, to distinguish right off the bat that it’s not a beer. He had thought to compare it to Lacroix but quickly changed his mind. “It’s an IPA-inspired hoppy sparking water that has been infused by a bunch of folks at Cannacraft through a bunch of nerds.”
Marshall said Cannacraft’s nerds were key because THC and CBD don’t want to stick to water. “Beerlike things are a lot of water,” said Marshall. He was thrilled with the final results compared to what they’re seeing from most of the infused-beverage market.
“They’re a sweet sugary mess. Too many cannabis beverages are just not very good. So that fed into the inspiration behind HiFi Hops,” said Marshall.
Prior to this official LA launch, Lagunitas is already on shelves in over 230 dispensaries across the state and according to Mason, that number continues to grow by the day. HiFi Hops are currently available around greater Los Angeles in two versions, an all THC version with 10 MGs and a 1 to 1 ratio with 5MGs of THC and CBD.