Given the intoxicating nature of both hops and cannabis, it should come as no surprise that they are closely related. Both of these species of Cannabaceae flowering plants are part of a larger group of multiple genera that collectively include over 150 species in total. While most in the family are actually trees, and quite distinct in their many characteristics from hops or weed, others are herbaceous plants. Cannabis and hops in particular have a kinship often overlooked, and almost always misunderstood.
Cannabaceae male plants tending to be taller and more vine-like, while the female plants tend to be smaller and produce less flowers. But, specifically in the case of cannabis, it’s the female plants that produce the necessary concentration of the “high”-inducing component THC. Through extensive cross-breeding and cloning of cannabis sativa and indica strains, the differences in intensity and high are marked and substantial.
The same can be said about hops, although not quite in the same way. Female hops contain the necessary materials used in brewing, but how they are used in the brewing process makes all the difference to the outcome. Hops continue to break down through oxidation, so the fresher the hops, the greater the resulting bitterness in the final product (see: IPAs), whereas cannabis can be preserved for years and retain it’s potency. Although cross-breeding the two for purposes of brewing does not necessarily result in a THC-filled hops monster, the reality is many brewers have tried and even succeeded in infusing beer with dry cannabis leaves. Home brewers in Colorado and Washington state (where recreational cannabis has been legalized) have stepped up experimenting with cross-breeding, dry-hopping, and even straight up brewing with massive amounts of both hops and cannabis flowers to create a pothead and craft beer enthusiast’s wet dream. To date, nothing has ever hit the market. And probably won’t. In my opinion that’s a good thing; the wonderful quenching sensation of a cold malty offering after the mouth cottons up due to a bong hit or a slow pull off a vape pen is one to be cherished. And why disrupt that perfect marriage?
Some think it’s worth the disruption, or at least worth marketing in a very crafty ways (any co-branding of hops and cannabis would never pass the regulation muster needed to get to market). Among them, Lagunitas Brewing Censored Rich Copper Ale, which was originally called “Kronik” before the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF) censored the name, the aptly named Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale, and Oskar Blue’s Pinner Throwback IPA.
What these beers and brewers all have in common—beyond cheeky marketing—is a shared respect for the history and connection of these two amazing plants, which most have no idea are sisters in the same family.
So the next time the clock strikes 4:20, or you sit down to read the annual cannabis issue of your favorite local alt-weekly, light a joint—but also pour a cold beer.