Keith Villa made a name for himself as the craft brewer behind the popular Blue Moon Belgian White Ale. But a few months ago, he left his 32-year brewing career with MillerCoors to start a different beverage venture. One that involves everyone’s favorite plant: cannabis. Now, the former MillerCoors brewmaster is launching a new line of weed-infused drinks in Colorado.
Non-Alcoholic, THC-Infused Beer Is About To Hit Colorado
On Wednesday, ex-MillerCoors brewmaster Keith Villa revealed his new operation Ceria Beverages. Ceria is an Arvada, Colorado-based firm that is developing a line of three non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beers.
But Villa isn’t going it alone. He’s partnered Ceria with the breakthrough cannabinoid extract company ebbu. Ebbu specializes in creating effects-tailored cannabinoid extracts for use in recreational and medicinal cannabis-infused products.
According to ebbu CEO Jon Cooper, the company’s recent breakthroughs enable them to give customers and patients fine-grained control over the experience and sensations they want from cannabis. And Villa wants to leverage that capability for Ceria’s new cannabis craft beers.
The turn toward cannabis-infused beverages is more than just a career pivot for Villa. In fact, the former MillerCoors brewmaster behind Blue Moon said he voted against legal recreational cannabis in 2012, when Colorado voters passed Amendment 64.
After a couple of years, however, Villa came around to cannabis, realizing he had bought into the fearmongering about the drug. Now, he sees cannabis as a great alternative to alcohol. And he thinks the trend is catching on in Colorado.
“I’ve been seeing firsthand where consumers are drinking less and less beer,” said Villa. “This is an alternative to regular, alcoholic craft beer.”
The economic incentive is there, too. According to BDS analytics, cannabis beverage sales increased 26 percent in the first half of 2017, totaling $13 million in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
Cannabis plants, of course, are cousins of hops plants. “As a beer professional, it really opened up a lot of ideas,” Villa added.
Brewmaster Secretly Worked On Weed Beer At MillerCoors
Villa began looking into blending cannabis and beer while he was still working at MillerCoors. But he had to keep his concoctions secret and work on them off the clock.
Alcoholic substances are federally regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Those federal regulations make it illegal to introduce a Schedule I substance like marijuana into a legal alcoholic product. Indeed, miller could have lost his brewmaster’s license if anyone found out about his experiments.
That’s why Villa’s removing the alcohol from his weed-infused beers is more than just consideration for potential drinkers—alcohol and cannabis can sometimes make a gnarly duo. It’s also a legal necessity.
But, Villa admits, “It’s tough to make a good tasting non-alcoholic beer,” he admitted. And since retiring from MillerCoors after 32 years, Villa has been hard at work on test batches using a new brewing system.
So from Villa’s perspective, nothing too much has changed about what he does. Ceria will still specialize in creating craft brews. But it will send those products to ebbu, who will infuse them with cannabinoids and distribute them to Colorado dispensaries.
Meet The Beers This Brewmaster Is Infusing With Cannabis
Currently, Ceria has three types of beer in the works: an American-style light lager, an imperial IPA, and Villa’s specialty, a Belgian-style wheat. Lighter beers will have less THC per bottle, while the heavier stuff will offer THC in the 15-20 milligram range
Of course, Villa isn’t the first to come up with the idea of infusing cannabis in beverages or even in beer. But what makes his venture unique is its focus on the psychoactive cannabinoid THC.
Other “weed beers” typically use a hemp infusion to impart the taste of cannabis to alcoholic beer. But Villa thinks that’s not what customers are after.
“THC is what gives people that buzz, which is similar to the alcohol buzz that people get from beer, spirits and wine. A lot of consumers of cannabis look for that buzz,” Villa said.
Partnering with ebbu will allow Villa to create weed-infused beverages that offer customers highly-tailored experiences, from chill to upbeat and social.
Final Hit: Former MillerCoors Brewmaster Is Launching New Weed-Infused Drinks
Villa plans to label the products in a manner similar to the way ski slopes are ranked: by intensity. A green pot leaf will adorn low-THC beers for beginners. But the most potent drinks, offering “the ultimate experience,” will get a double black leaf.
Ceria is still working out all of the logistical details. But the firm expects their weed-infused beers to hit dispensaries by the end of the year.
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