As the cannabis industry ramps up in California and other states in the aftermath of legalization, brewers are seizing an opportunity to collaborate on cannabis drink products to capitalize on this burgeoning and potentially lucrative sector.
At the forefront is Lagunitas Brewing Co. of Petaluma, which has partnered with CannaCraft of Santa Rosa to produce a THC-infused sparkling beverage. Announced last month, the new product, which hit the market Monday, is flying off the shelves at licensed California dispensaries, said Bill Silver, chief executive officer of CannaCraft, which produces vape cartridges, oils, drinks and edibles from cannabis bought from local growers.
“We had to limit the product to two per person so people wouldn’t be upset that we ran out,” said Brandon Levine, owner of the Mercy Wellness dispensary in Cotati in Sonoma County. “If not, we would have sold out in an hour.”
Even with the limit, Mercy Wellness has sold out of its first allotment of Lagunitas-branded Hi-Fi Hops, a hop-flavored tonic that comes in two varieties. One contains 10 mg of THC, a principal psychoactive chemical in cannabis, while the other version has 5 mg of THC and 5 mg of cannabidiol, or CBD, a cannabis compound that has been used to treat aches and pain. It sells for $8 for a 12-ounce can, which contains no alcohol.
“It’s definitely gotten a lot of exposure,” said Levine, whose dispensary has set up a text messaging system to alert customers when the next shipment will arrive. “We have even had some employees from Lagunitas call and try to pick some up.”
While Lagunitas has been the first notable brewer to enter the newly regulated space, it certainly will not be the last. Expected to follow soon is Constellation Brands Inc., the giant Victor, New York beverage company that owns San Diego craft brewer Ballast Point Brewing Co., as well as local wineries including Clos du Bois in Geyserville, Simi Winery in Healdsburg and Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa. Last year, it bought a 10 percent stake in a Canadian medical cannabis provider, a country where recreational use will become legal on Oct. 17.
Constellation Brands CEO Rob Sands was quizzed about Lagunitas’ foray into the cannabis drink space by a Wall Street analyst on June 29, and said his company would not be complacent.
“We are pretty interested in what they (Lagunitas) are doing and how they are doing it and we don’t intend to get caught and be coming from behind. So, I suppose, therefore, the answer to your question is yes, we are looking at it pretty carefully, and if we see that opportunity within the confines of what we can legally do, we will do it,” Sands said in a transcript of the conference call.
On Wednesday, Molson Coors Brewing Co. of Denver said its Canadian unit would work with a cannabis company to produce a nonalcoholic cannabis drink for the Canadian market.
The North Coast wine industry has been more reticent to enter the cannabis space, but that shouldn’t last long given the interest expressed privately by some vintners, said Rebecca Stamey-White, a San Francisco lawyer with local winery clients. She spoke Thursday at the second annual Wine & Weed Symposium at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country Hotel in Santa Rosa.
This story originally appeared in The Press Democrat.