Thoburn was allowed to make the beer after he gave enforcement officers the lab results showing that the Blueberry Dream terpenes he wanted to use contained no CBD or THC.
In a phone interview, Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesman for the liquor and cannabis board, said the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is the ultimate authority on ingredients and labels for alcohol. According to Carpenter, terpenes from cannabis are illegal under federal law, so they can’t be used in beer. He added, “What we have here isn’t bad faith. There’s a misconception that if it isn’t psychoactive, it’s not cannabis, but state law regulates derivatives.”
Another issue is the sale of cannabis products to businesses. According to Carpenter, the state-controlled cannabis market allows for certified sellers and growers to sell to consumers, but there isn’t a mechanism for cannabis growers or sellers to sell to business owners like brewers.
Thoburn said he anticipates continued contact with the state agency, but feels that ongoing dialogue will eventually settle this issue. He said, “They don’t know what terpenes are. They are good folks and it’s just a matter of education. We’re the first to do this and we’ll keep sending them information.”
Terpenes are essential oils naturally produced by plants like pines and citrus. They often have a strong odor that protects the plants from predators. The terpenes used in Mighty HighPA were extracted from a cannabis plant. In beer, cannabis terpenes can be used the same way that brewers use hops — for flavor and aroma. There are as many cannabis terpenes as there are strains of cannabis, so using them creates a world of possibilities for brewers.
In addition, global warming may affect beer production by impacting the grains most important to beer production — hops and barley. The Yakima Valley produces 75 percent of all hops used in the United States. A freakishly warm winter in 2015 frightened many in the industry. In the Pacific Northwest, brewers rely on a good harvest of hops to make their beer, particularly the hoppy IPAs that made this region world famous. Cannabis terpenes could be a viable alternative to hops if hops are negatively impacted by climate change.
When terpenes are extracted from the plant, they create a volatile and very potent oil. For this beer, only a few ounces of the Blueberry Dream terpene extract was added to the 465 gallon batch. Singleton explained, “They added it at the very last step to capture all the aroma. We used Denali and Meridian hops. They’re both citrusy and fruity. Denali has a lot of pineapple.” The blueberry, citrus, pine and dank flavors in Blueberry Dream (the cannabis extract) elevated the aroma of the beer.
Darren Whittington (Trap Door regular) and Michael Parsons (Trap Door co-owner and taproom general manager) dressed as Cheech and Chong to promote the beer, but don’t expect to experience a marijuana high from drinking a beer with cannabis terpenes. According to Shull, Singleton and Thoburn, drinking cannabis terpenes in beer has no psychoactive effect.
Making beer with cannabis terpenes is the Wild West of brewing. Trap Door Brewing isn’t going to build a business model based on use of this controversial substance, but they plan to continue experimenting. Shull explained, “It takes some courage. You have to be willing to take risks when you’re out in front. You always have a target on your back when you’re the first to do anything. The risk assessment we’ve made is that we’re going forward with this.”
Rachel Pinsky can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @couveeats.
If You Go
• What: Mighty HighPA.
• Where: Trap Door Brewing, 2315 Main St., Vancouver.
• Hours: 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
• Contact: 360-314-6966 or TrapDoorBrewing.com