Thorn Street Brewery is taking steps to become the first brewery in the country to package a beer flavored with marijuana. The microbrewer debuted its OG HighPA last month in its North Park tasting room, and the 4.20% ABV session IPA has already become a customer favorite.
3176 Thorn Street, North Park
Winky weed references aside, this beer will not get you high. "It doesn't have THC, it doesn't even have CBDs," says Thorn cofounder Dennis O'Connor, referring to the chemical compounds responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis. "It's just flavor and aroma." What it does contain are terpenes culled from marijuana plants by San Diego distilled cannabis company Jetty Extracts.
"Terpenes are compounds found in all plants and are responsible for their characteristic smells and flavors," says Jetty cofounder Matt Lee. "It's why an orange smells like an orange, hops like hops."
Biologically, hops and cannabis both are in the Cannabaceae family and contain similar terpenes, with different strains of both weeds valued for their aromas. There's even a subset of craft beers devoted to replicating marijuana's "dank" flavor using hops.
Lee points out that while there are only a few dozen varieties of hops, marijuana strains number over a thousand.
"We could open up thousands of different smells and aromas."
According to Thorn brewmaster Eric O'Connor, OG HighPA contains Mosaic, Citra, and Columbus hop varieties, but the dankness of its initial release contained terpenes from a marijuana strain known as Pineapple Express.
"It's kind of like pairing hops with essential oils," he explains, noting that while the hops combination of the beer won't change, he's been experimenting with other weed varieties provided by Jetty, such as Jack Frost and Girl Scout Cookies. He adds that Lee is working with him to identify the most beer-friendly: "Since it's never really been done before, we're just trying to figure out how to get it right."
The oils used by Thorn Street are actually a byproduct of Jetty's product line. Lee says the extraction process for Jetty's 80% pure THC oils removes the marijuana scent altogether, which would disappoint his customers.
"We found out a way to fraction off the terpenes through distillation prior to extraction," says Lee, "and then reintroduce them to the final product to get the smell back." When it occurred to Lee the terpene oils might also work well in beer, he says, "I approached Thorn Street first because they are my favorite brewery."
This happened to be at a time Thorn Street was submitting label approval for its first retail packaging. "We're going to do a mobile canning run," Dennis O'Connor says. "We've got five labels in there," including their core lineup: Thorn Street Pale, Relay IPA, Foreplay Belgian blonde, and Castaway coconut porter. Pending approval by the TTB, OG HighPA will be the fifth. "I have a good feeling," Dennis says.
So does Lee, who adds, "California has always taken pride in their beer and weed. It's been an honor to be one of the companies to finally really bridge the two industries."