Most people may not realize this, but marijuana and hops (the active flavor ingredient in beer) are related. It’s true: Humulus lupulus and Cannabis sativa are in the same plant family, Cannabaceae. Maybe you’ve noticed the many similarities between the two plants, including, to a degree, their appearance, smell, and taste.
So what about combining the two? With more cannabis-friendly laws on the books, it’s becoming more popular to infuse weed into everything, including alcohol. My father-in-law loves to brew his own beer—he made a delicious blood orange IPA for my wedding, for example.
With his help, I combined some homegrown weed with some homebrewing techniques to make a pomegranate-flavored ale that gives you a buzz in more ways than one. I did this with the help of the NOVA Decarboxylator from Ardent, a blender-sized device that gently heats cannabis to extract cannabinoids.
NOVA sent me the device to try, which I was curious about because many medical marijuana patients don’t like smoking or vaping (most doctors agree smoking anything is not healthy) but edibles are often prohibitively expensive. I’ve gone to pot shops advertising $40 for a rice crispy treat. If you’re taking weed medicinally, i.e. every day, even ten bucks for a medible cookie racks up. So I wanted to know more about ways people can decarboxylate at home, make their own munchies, and save themselves some dough.
A quick primer on decarboxylation: THC, the main extract in marijuana that gets you “high,” exists as an acid in the bud (THCA) until you apply heat to it. This is why if you just eat marijuana, it doesn’t do much of anything besides stick in your teeth. You either have to burn it or heat it to about 220 degrees Fahrenheit, which removes the carboxyl group, or decarboxylates it. Then, it can get you baked.
The NOVA has a simple interface—a push of the button is the first step to make anything from butter to tinctures to oils. But after some thought, I didn’t want to use it to make garden variety brownies or something. I decided to use it to make ten gallons of weed beer.
We loaded the NOVA up with about two ounces of uncured Afghany Goo buds and pushed the button. It only fits 14 grams at a time, so it took a few runs, but you don’t have to grind the weed up first. The only indication it was working was a red light and a faint, malty smell of ganja, so it’s very discreet and quiet. I was actually surprised—whenever I’ve cooked cannabis butter before, it stinks up the whole house. You could probably use this thing in an apartment complex or dorm and no one would notice.
When it was done, the buds went from a frosty green to a dullish brown-yellow. It looked gross, but that’s how we knew it had worked. A few days later, we started brewing.
First, we brought a huge tank of water, called a boil kettle, to a bubbling roar at 175º F, then siphoned it off into a five-gallon Gatorade cooler and stirred in a mixture of four different grains until it cooled down to 150º F. We left it like that for an hour, then did something called “sparging,” which is where you rinse the grains until a sweet, golden brown liquid called “wort” comes out.
A little more science: when you heat up the grains, it extracts the starches and turns them into sugars. Later, you add yeast, microscopic fungi that eat these sugars and poop out alcohol. Presto! You’ve got booze.
Related Story: 7 Super Simple Ways To Add Marijuana To Your Coffee
The grains are flavorful as it is, but to make it more complex, you want to add a few things. So the wort went back into the boil kettle, and this time we added hops pellets and, of course, our dank buds, wrapped in a muslin boiling bag. We let it simmer for another hour and then, with fifteen minutes left in the boil, we added a small amount of Irish moss, which filtered out any loose solid particles.
Once that was done, we cooled the mixture down to 75º F and transferred it to the fermenter, a big barrel type thing, which is when we added the yeast and a gallon of pomegranate juice. The fermenter was put in the bathroom in a place where it would be cool for the next few weeks as it fermented. By then, it was already bubbling, the CO2 escaping through a tube we dipped in a vodka glass so it wouldn’t become contaminated by bacteria.
The goal was to get the beer very dry, meaning as little sugar as possible. Later, my father-in-law ran it through a dry hop and cold crash process, adding another ounce of cannabis, this time just for flavor and aroma. He’d done this before with beer that he made for Thanksgiving, but because it wasn’t decarboxylated, that brew wasn’t psychoactive. Well, not from weed anyway. Still tasted great, though!
The cold crash makes all the floating bits in the beer settle to the bottom and also makes the yeast become dormant. It was run through a 1-micron filter before it was put in a keg.
Finally, after three weeks of waiting, it was time to try it. It was heavenly—beyond delicious. The pomegranate added a fruity flavor to the backbone, but no tartness, so I couldn’t really taste it. A slight citrus tinge made it sweeter than most beers, but not in a gross, Smirnoff Ice way.
But it definitely tasted like pot. Tangy, dank, delicious pot. There was a distinct hops flavor as well, but both were specific enough that I could tell them apart. What a blend.
I hadn’t smoked or drank all day and was completely sober when I took my first swig. It was about 6 PM and I had around four glasses, which was clearly overdoing it a little. These are the only notes (other than the flavor, mentioned above) I was able to achieve:
6:33 p.m. — Warming feeling
7:13 p.m. — Lightheaded, lucid, calm, happy, hopeful
8:01 p.m. — Uh. Barely coherente [sic]
8:17 p.m. — WTF
9:00 p.m. — holyshit.
I don’t remember much of the night after that. I woke up with a very weird hangover because I’m an idiot and didn’t drink enough water. I still felt faintly high, which made the hangover less painful than typical. I preferred it much more than a “normal” hangover.
The ABV of this beer was 9.6 percent, which is pretty high for your typical beer. (Because the weed used was homegrown, which is legal in my state, I don’t know the CBD/THC ratio, but I do know it was sativa, but that doesn’t mean much.) I should have taken it slower and probably only had about one glass, instead of four in the space of three hours. But I did enjoy it—the taste and the body-melting buzz—quite a lot.
The NOVA made the whole process much easier and more precise—in fact, it was the easiest part of the entire thing. A friend of mine used it to infuse vodka with weed. But next time, I might use it to make brownies instead.
Troy Farah is an independent journalist from California. His reporting has appeared in Undark, The Outline, VICE and others. His website is troyfarah.com