Philosophy of AF beers and cannabis discussed at CBC

Coverage of the US Craft Brewers Conference is supported by Rallings, Labels, Stickers and Packaging.

Photo © Brewers Association.

Leading-US brewer Garrett Oliver said that alcohol-free beers represented a philosophical and emotional challenge and not just a technical one for him as a brewer.

Speaking as part of the panel discussion Unpacking Craft NA: Pioneer’s Perspectives at last week’s Craft Brewers Conference, the Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster and author of The Brewmaster’s Table said that despite his initial scepticism regarding no-alcohol beer, he has embraced them and that the industry should as well.

“I think I come at this from maybe a different direction than a lot of people,” he explained.

“I believe in alcohol,” he said.“I believe in at in the same way that I believe in fat and salt. Which are things that if not taken in moderation will kill you. I don’t eat non-fat things. I don’t eschew salt. But you’ve got to be careful.”

He said that while the Brooklyn Brewery had entered the category four years ago, it was COVID that had seen him personally embrace the product.

“I told the people we’re working with I was the last person on Earth was going to have any interest whatsoever in consuming this product. I was very, very clear,” he said.

“I was also incorrect.

“During the pandemic, I definitely learned that there was a great utility in having non-alcoholic beer in the house and it’s actually been fun to try to chase this rabbit.”

Oliver explained that having embraced them, he has discovered an ongoing role he didn’t expect.

“I started running into a problem because at the end of the day, I’d be on my way to the gym. And my team would say ‘come have a beer’,” he explained.

“And I have to make a decision. I’m either going to have a beer with my team, or I’m going to go to the gym, but I can’t do both. Because I mean, I have discovered the hard way that if I have even a half a beer gym is the worst hour of my life.

“But now I can go to the bar, and I can have this beer. I have this nice overall experience with my team and it’s magic.”

Young drinkers see cannabis as healthier

While Oliver believes in alcohol, the conference heard younger consumers are avoiding it, even believing it to be more harmful than cannabis.

Oliver was joined on the panel by Keith Villa, formerly head brewer at MillerCoors’ Blue Moon Brewing Company and now brewmaster and co-founder of Colorado-based CERIA Brewing Company, maker of non-alcoholic and cannabis-infused beers.

Several US states have legalised marijuana, with the loosening of regulations creating opportunities for brewers. Villa said he’d seen statistics that showed more than 50 per cent of Americans think that cannabis is healthier than alcohol.

“Which is a scary thought to big brewers and alcohol producers,” he said.

“The majority of Americans believe that alcohol is less healthy than cannabis.

“That’s Americans in general; as you get younger and younger that percentage goes up and up to 70 per cent and 80 per cent of people will say ‘oh cannabis is healthy. It’s a plant. Alcohol is terrible for my liver’.”

He said it was this insight that led him to create his THC-infused range of alcohol-free beers.

“It’s another option for young people that we’re going to see.

“We’re going to see more and more beverages come out with cannabis, you’re going to see occasions with cannabis that used to be alcohol occasions, or maybe they’re different occasions.”

Villa said that as cannabis became legal, more people were willing to try it, though edibles – THC-infused foods – were often preferable to smoking. However, he feels that beverages were a more logical option.

“I want something more social because at the end of the day, at a wedding or a special event you can’t toast with a gummy,” he joked.

“Beverages just make sense to all of us,” he said. “Everybody in the western hemisphere, we were raised celebrating over beverages.”

“I don’t care if it’s the New World or Old World, beverages are what we drink and socialize with.

“And so it just makes sense to have this type of product, beer, and cannabis is another option.”

Villa’s THC-infused beers are available in Colorado and California and he’s seen strong increase in demand over the four years since he founded the company. He has also written Brewing With Cannabis: Using THC and CBD in Beer.

The Craft Brewers Conference finished last week.

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