Can Recreational Weed Become the Next Craft Beer?

What social media can tells us about the dovetailing demand for weed and beer

Very soon PB&J might mean ‘pint of beer and joint.’

As craft beer converts proliferate, there seems to be an emerging interest in testing the taste in recreational marijuana too. As the  former chief marketing officer for Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser beer announced, the alcohol industry is setting its sights on the growing market of state-sanctioned marijuana.

Anheuser-Busch InBev isn’t the only brewer wanting to cash in on this green rush. Last month, Constellation Brands which markets Corona beer invested in a Canadian company called Growth Corp., which sells medical marijuana products.

“This is one of the fastest-growing categories globally,” Burggraeve told Bloomberg. “Why? Because people want it. When consumers want something, you ignore it at your peril.”

Today,  64  percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, compared to 12  percent in 1969. This growing acceptance for the herb, legally and in advocacy was initially predicted to cannibalize craft beer sales. But data shows that legalizing marijuana actually boosted craft beer sales. In the three years before legalization, per capita beer consumption was falling one percentage point faster than the national average, but in the three years after, per capita consumption trends were broadly in-line with the national average.

In fact, the practice of mixing cannabis and beer goes way back — home brewers have been infusing marijuana into their beer, illegally of course, for decades and in 1997 Frederick Brewing Company introduced Hempen Ale, the first legal hemp-infused microbrew beer, a Brown Ale made with hemp seeds. Recently, craft brewery Lagunitas teamed up with a cannabis vaping company to create SuperCritical, an IPA made with marijuana terpenes.

But is the industry pushing the wheels on an assumption that recreational weed and craft beer can be cousins? Can social media give us more hints about how promising the future looks for this blend?

In this post, we analyze why recreational weed might be the new craft beer by looking at:

  • Similarities between craft beer and weed
  • Changing sentiment towards marijuana
  • Geographies where both industries thrive together

Cut from the same crop

It’s no coincidence that Washington, Oregon and Colorado, three states with the most craft breweries, approved recreational marijuana. And California is getting there.  

“My personal belief is [that] the two cultures (craft beer and marijuana) overlap because of the rebellious nature you find in both. All of us craft brewers are fighting against the big beer companies…just let us (craft brewers) go about the business of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I find that people in the marijuana business have the same mindset,” said Mason Hembree, co-owner of Dad & Dude’s Breweria in Aurora, Colorado which brought cannabis-infused Sativa IPA and Indica Double IPA to the US market.

The similarities between hops and cannabis is genetic. The two plants belong to Cannabinaceae family and have similar aroma and flavor characteristics thanks to a key ingredient they share called terpenes.

But are consumers welcoming both hop and pot together? Social media says so.

Since 2010, the acceptance for recreational marijuana has grown, represented by the conversation volume on social media. The growing prevalence of medical marijuana might have something to do with it, thanks to the growing aversion to prescription drugs. As people start categorizing the herb as an alternative medicine, there has been a definitive shift in sentiment towards cannabis.

Medically speaking, people are more open to using cannabis as a method of treatment, embracing it instead of prescription drugs and diets.

How does it make you feel?

We can understand acceptance better by looking at shifting consumer sentiment towards marijuana use. In the recent years, marijuana legalization has been a topic of much debate and deliberation at both state and federal level.

According to surveys from Gallup, support for cannabis legalization rose from 12 percent in 1969 to 31 percent in 2000 and now, the majority (60 percent) of Americans support legalization. Although a full transformation in the mindset will happen gradually, we can already see a shift in sentiment.

Since 2011, the positive sentiment towards recreational weed has only grown. Currently eight states including Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine,  Nevada, Oregon and Washington and Washington DC have legalized recreational marijuana and an additional 15 states including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota might follow.

The parallels between recreational weed and craft beer has also to do with its patrons — skews male over the age of 35.

Craft beer and legal weed? Take me there

But the brewing industry was concerned that embracing legal weed would potentially upset beer sales — costing them most $2 billion in sales. But as studies suggestcraft beer sales have only increased in states like Washington, Oregon and Colorado that legalized weed.

Take Colorado for instance, legalizing recreational marijuana helped the state attract more tourists wanting to visit the state for its breweries and pot shops.

“Legal pot has certainly allowed craft brewers to come out of the closet in the last year and a half,” says Ricardo Baca, marijuana editor at The Denver Post and founder of the paper’s herb-themed blog, the Cannabist.

Colorado brewers have embraced legal marijuana and turned it to their advantage by advertising beers to appeal to the stoner culture. Colorado brewery Oskar Blues created a beer called ‘Pinner,’ slang for a small joint.

“We have felt an increase in the focus of Colorado being a destination because of the marijuana movement…Before, we saw people planning the vacation around brewery tours, but now it’s that and centered on smoking weed. So I think it’s been helping with tourism and making Colorado more of a destination,” said Chad Melis, marketing director at Oskar Blues to Food Republic.

There is still a long way to go until recreational weed is legal everywhere, but it’s clear that the movement is well underway.

Changing taste(buds)

It’s impossible to talk about the rise of craft beer without talking about the increasing variety of options. This, of course, means the proliferation of IPAs, stouts,saisons and more — but it also relates to flavor. For years, large breweries throughout the country have produced millions and millions of similar-tasting beers. But, recently, beer has undergone a renaissance, and smaller breweries have carved out niches for themselves by producing rare, bold and creative flavor profiles.

A part of this experimentation process comes with appreciating unique brews and supporting local breweries. According to the Brewers Association, the trade association representing small and independent craft brewers, craft brewers encompass 12.3 percent market share of the overall beer industry as of 2016.

This sizable market was not always the case — just six years ago, the number of craft breweries was less than 2/5 of what it was in 2016. The fast growth can be attributed to the rising consumer demand for unique flavors and support for local brewers.

As consumer tastes grow rich and varied, the demand for variety in consumables increase — explaining why brands are infusing weed in beers.

Conclusion

Hops and cannabis might be crop cousins but the beer and marijuana industries aren’t quite cordial, yet. But that might be changing — big beer making investments in the lush weed business might encourage smaller breweries to embrace and even innovate with the crop. But in order to do so, brands have to gauge market sentiment and demand. And as usual, social media provides a great window into consumer insights and demands.

More more on beer trends, check out our free CPG beverages report:

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