Outbound Brewing is offering proof of concept to other hopeful producers of CBD beer — but it’s an uphill battle. 

CBD, the non-intoxicating cannabinoid of cannabis, is more popular than ever, showing up in everything from activewear to lip balm. CBD doesn’t produce any mind-altering effects and is federally legal (albeit with a few caveats), which means it is accessible to adults nation-wide who want to take advantage of cannabis’ non-intoxicating properties.

While not all CBD is created equal, infusing it into beverages for mind and body relaxation is a growing trend, with drinks like VYBES, Recess, and Beam in full swing. As of 2020, the craft beer industry has also made its first foray into the world of non-alcoholic CBD infusions. 

While most of the existing so-called weed beers replace alcohol with THC, swapping one mind-altering substance for the other, there is currently only one CBD only beer brand available in the United States: Outbound Brewing. There are several hemp beer brands in the UK, such as Hop & Hemp Brewing Co. and Green Times Brewing. There have been other companies that attempted to pioneer the CBD beer scene as early as 2017, like the Two Flowers IPA from Coalition Brewing and Medicator from Longtrail Brewing Co. (who now makes CBD seltzer), both with short runs and ultimately halting production or shutting down. 

What does CBD beer do?

First, the most pressing question: does CBD beer get you high?

No, it doesn’t get you high in the traditional weed sense. CBD doesn’t have the intoxicating effects associated with THC.

The major difference between CBD beer and THC beer is the effect that each produces. THC-infused beers induce the typical mind-altering feelings of being high, with the strength of the effects dependent on the dose and number of servings consumed. CBD infusions, on the other hand, will produce effects that are not mind-altering at all. Consumers report feelings of relaxation and mood improvement. 

CBD beer is expanding the reach of the cannabis-infused beer industry to include those who do not want the psychoactive effects of cannabis, but still want to enjoy the benefits (and taste) of infused beer. 

Does CBD beer have alcohol?

First and foremost, it’s worth noting that CBD-infused beer doesn’t have alcohol. In fact, neither style of cannabis-infused beer contains any alcohol. Production for both types of beverages is very similar, starting with the development of the non-alcoholic flavor base that will satisfy beer drinkers, most commonly achieved by de-alcoholizing a traditionally brewed beer. 

Once the alcohol is removed, a cannabis nano emulsification is infused into the liquid, which provides more than one benefit, as Lyden Henderson COO of Outbound Brewing explains: 

“[in addition to] suspending properly into a liquid, you also get a higher bioavailability and faster uptake time with nano emulsification. It’s actually an ideal delivery system for cannabis products. This improved delivery was an unintended benefit of a process originally designed to avoid separation between the beer and liquid cannabis solution.” 

In addition to production basics, THC and CBD beer both serve similar markets. One primary customer of cannabis beer is someone looking to minimize or eliminate alcohol consumption, while still enjoying a delicious and effective beverage. “Our ideal customer is anybody who is looking to enjoy fun flavored carbonated drinks, and interested in living a healthy lifestyle…[our products] are great for people who want to moderate their alcohol intake, including recovering alcoholics, or those with an allergy to alcohol,” says Lyden. 

Customers also want to enjoy the effects without smoking, as Henderson explains: “you can’t always smoke a joint or rip a bong in a social situation… but you can drink our beers in front of people.” By incorporating cannabis into an already socially intuitive format, it integrates easily into existing cultural norms: a beer before or after dinner, by the grill with friends, casually enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle and free of illicit implications. 

Getting around the red tape 

Like so many cannabis products, there is significant bureaucratic and legal red tape delaying the development and widespread availability of CBD beer. Henderson describes the CBD beverage world as “a little bit of the wild west” compared to the THC side, which has mandatory testing and is more regulated. THC-infused beers have a similar status as edibles, which can be legally bought and sold in select states where medicinal and recreational use is allowed. CBD beers, on the other hand, are stuck between two worlds.

The lack of clear legal status, higher price points than regular edibles, and the need for refrigerated storage present real challenges. 

“CBD can be sold as a dietary supplement, but infused in food or beverage, it is considered an adulterated product…we are expanding into unknown territory,” admits Henderson, noting that “the CBD industry as a whole is waiting with bated breath for the FDA to make legislative updates that were hinted at in press releases in February.”  

While the current legislative murkiness is problematic, Henderson is confident that “there is better opportunity with CBD [versus THC] in the short term” when thinking of a brand that can cross state lines:  

“CBD is a hot topic with a high level of interest. CBD products are flying off the shelves, so if you get a good brand that you can back with science, there’s a lot of opportunity for rapid growth.” 

What does it taste like

Nano emulsifications can be made relatively neutral, allowing the producer more control over the final flavor profiles. Below are the current offerings from Outbound Brewing with tasting notes for each one. 

  • Pale Haze: Pouring a hazy amber in the glass, it has a mild but pleasantly hoppy aroma. Crisp bubbles make a fine effervescent texture with flavors of citrus, flowers, and a hint of bitterness for a well-balanced brew that is neither too strong nor too weak. 
  • Grapefruit Haze: Pale and golden in color, aromas are citrusy and light. Small tight bubbles add to the overall refreshing quality of the lemon and grapefruit zestiness. The tangy finish makes for easy drinking. 
  • Blood Orange Haze: The tan brew shows herbal and earthy notes with deep aromas of blood orange peel. The texture is a piquant fizz that complements the juicy orange flesh flavors, with undertones of citrus zest and an earthy finish. 

Where to find CBD beer

Currently, Outbound Brewing seems to be the only manufacturer making CBD beer. Outbound Brewing is a non-alcoholic beer maker based out of San Diego, and their CBD-infused beer sold in southern California as well as Arizona and New Mexico. The exact availability is a bit hard to pin down given the shifting regulation, Charlie Reed, VP of Brand & Impact says “we are building out our retail footprint and are excited to be partnering with grocery, liquor, convenience and speciality stores soon as well as exploring opportunities with bars, restaurants.” 

Feature image by mnm.all/Unsplash

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