In the history of the world certain dates have come to hold more meaning than others; the fourth day of July is noted as the day the United States secured its freedom from the British, December 25th is recognized around the world as the day Christ was born and Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May annually. But, to a certain set of people, today – April 20 — is a holiday, too. Known as 420 Day, the day is unofficially set aside as a day to celebrate all things cannabis.
As laws criminalizing the use of marijuana fall around the country, cannabis culture is seeing a particularly strong surge in popularity. This rise in cannabis culture runs concurrent with the rise of craft beer culture leading to the crossing of the two with some interesting results.
But, let’s back up a bit and take a look at another interesting coincidence, cannabis and hops are actually closely related plants. In fact, back in 2002, a group of biologists looked at the characteristics of both plants and concluded that hops, Humulus lupulus and marijuana, Cannabis sativa share a common ancestral plant and are therefore part of the same genealogical family, Cannabinaceae.
Now, hops are a relatively new addition to the drink that we now call beer. It was not until 77 AD that hops are even mentioned in any historical text. And even then, the references to the plant were not connected to brewing. The first descriptions of the plant were more like botanical cataloging and were recorded by Pliney the Elder of the naturally occurring plant. The first written record of humans cultivating the plant does not appear until 736 AD nearly 660 years later. And it is another 82 years until the first known reference to hops being used in beer. Since the early 800s though, hops have come on strong and we simply would not think of a drink without them as beer.
Back to the intersection of beer and pot; because of the popularity of both substances it was inevitable that brewers would embrace cannabis culture. Often the connection between the two is conveyed with a wink and a nod through names that reference marijuana or its culture. A prime example of that is Oskar Blues’ Pinner Throwback IPA. The joke to the name of this beer is that a “pinner” is stoner slang for a small joint. Another, not-so-subtle reference comes in the name of SweetWater’s 420 Extra Pale Ale, a straight-on reference to stoner culture.
The connection between the two cultures is growing so strong that Leafly.com, a website that bills itself as, “…the world’s largest cannabis information resource,” has a Beer & Cannabis Flavor Pairing Guide. The guide includes information on how to pair strains of cannabis with particular styles of beer. For instance, a descriptively-named strain of marijuana called Agent Orange – so named for its orange flavors – might pair well with Belgian-style hefeweizen because of the frequent addition of orange peel to the brew.
Perhaps the closest mash-up of both beer and Maryjane cultures come in the form of beers that use parts of the marijuana plant as an ingredient. Humboldt Brewing Company of California brews their Brown Hemp Ale with, well, toasted hemp seeds. While hemp is cannabis, it does not have the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), so it is completely legal to produce and drink anywhere.
As more and more states legalize weed, you can bet that brewers will find ways to tap into its popularity. Toke on, dudes!