Coalitions West Coast IPA with a sidecar of Space Fruit IPA for comparison
Coalition's West Coast IPA, with a sidecar of Space Fruit IPA for comparison. Brian Yaeger

Malted barley, water, and yeast have always needed hops to make beer magical. Now—as reported in this week's Cannabuzzthere’s an Oregon brewery packing a little extra magic with the help of the relative of the hop plant: weed. In the Cannabaceae family, the two star siblings are humulus (hops) and cannabis (cannabis). But this isn’t a puff piece about some new beer that’ll get you high.

Portland's Coalition Brewing has followed in the footsteps of Dads & Dudes Breweria from Aurora, Colorado, which released Sativa IPA and Indica DIPA as the first commercially brewed beers with CBD—pot’s non psychoactive ingredient since THC-infused beer is now and for the foreseeable future illegal. Down in California, Thorn Street Brewery’s OG HighPA Session IPA (which of course boasted 4.20 percent ABV) became the Golden State’s first commercial weed beer. So how’d Coalition beat all the breweries in Oregon to the punch? That’s what several other Oregon breweries licensed by the OLCC and TTB asked co-founder Elan Walsky.

During a presentation that was part of PDX Weed Week—like PDX Beer Week, of course that’s a thing—Walsky and the brewery’s sales and marketing manager Phillip Boyle explained that they simply had a couple lawyers make the right calls to ask how such an operation would go about brewing with hemp. (“Hello OLCC? I’m calling for a friend....”) To this day, breweries are required to apply for formula approval for any beer using the non-standard ingredients. That time Breakside brewed a beer with duck carcasses? That wasn’t done spur of the moment. So the fact that Coalition’s West Coast IPA, a 6 percent sipper infused with industrial hemp oil extracted using carbon dioxide, is dosed to offer 10 milligrams of CBD per serving isn’t a lark—it’s got the G-men’s thumbs-up. Incidentally, I was told by the roomful of doobie dweebs that, pharmacologically, you can’t really OD on CBD.

Coalition co-owner Elan Walsky talks terpenes
Coalition co-owner Elan Walsky talks terpenes.

But how does it taste? As the beer warms, the flavors absolutely start to shine through. It’s “dank,” yes, but also woody like sawdust and mushroom, pithy like lemon and tangerine peels, and finished with a touch of chai spices. “It’s all about working with terpenes and not just cramming CBD into the beer,” says Walsky. (Even if, anecdotally, that CBD may prevent or dull hangovers.)

Terpenes impart bud’s and hop’s aroma and flavor. So the purpose of Coalition’s beers—yes, we’ll soon see more of them—isn’t merely to pull a stunt, the way that some other bizarre ingredients do. The purpose is to layer a new dimension in the terpene-rich field of hop-forward beers. Some breweries use grapefruit peel or juice to embellish already citrus-throwing hops such as Cascade; in fact, Coalition has long brewed Space Fruit IPA with a mélange of five fruits. In this era of dank, resinous beers designed to emulate if not bongwater than something close to it, beers like West Coast IPA merely have a new bow in the quiver to play with the flavor profile. “That’s the endgame with this project,” says Walsky, who notes that the beer should start to show up on draft around town in a few weeks and in 500ml bottles in a few months. “As growers become more specialized, we’re going to be able to do similar projects to single-hop beers. And hopefully pair complementary hops.”

Brewers are already using Lemon Drop hops. Can brewing with Lemon Diesel or Lemon Kush be far away?