The beverage world was rocked Monday when Constellation Brands — the company behind Corona and Svedka — acquired a 9.9 percent stake in Ontario’s Canopy Growth Corp. The Canadian business specializes in high-quality cannabis and Constellation hopes to put their fragrant herb in everything from soda pop to coffee. While they have demonstrated no interest yet in putting it in alcoholic beverages, their actions do demonstrate that commercialization of marijuana is coming to your local watering hole.
Now, this is not going to happen overnight. Even though 61 percent of Americans now approve of legalizing marijuana (and much more so for medical purposes), the legislation in most states is far behind. But nationally it will happen, likely sooner than later, so those who serve any type of beverage in their establishment should be monitoring the situation very closely.
The first rule is to not panic. Earlier this year when the poll revealed Americans’ growing acceptance of marijuana, Wall Street analysts proclaimed that cannabis would soon pose a major threat to alcohol producers. Later, Cannabiz Consumer Group predicted the beer industry would lose 2 billion dollars in sales due to marijuana legalization.
While legalizing marijuana has ushered in drops in alcohol sales, there is easily enough room on the “vice market” for both of these products. Ultimately, they offer different flavor and physical experiences; bars and restaurants need not worry, especially if they adapt to changing tastes.
For some inspiration, all one needs to do is look west. California, Oregon, and Colorado are already serving marijuana — shaken or stirred — to thirsty customers. Author Warren Bobrow wrote a book on cannabis cocktails, and told Well+Good that it’s not really pot’s mind-altering properties that make it a good ingredient (most include CBD oil, which will have no psychoactive effects at all), but its diverse, herbal flavors. In many of the recommended recipes, mezcal and whiskey take front-seats because they pair well with marijuana’s earthy flavor.
Beer is of course not exempt either. If you’ve ever noticed that a beer smells pretty dank, you weren’t crazy. Hops also contain plant compounds, called terpenoids, that create distinct marijuana aromas. Lagunitas’ Supercritical, is an IPA that incorporates the aromatic compounds from marijuana, making a THC-less brew with unique flavor.
Though legalized weed is in the murky future for most restaurant and bar operations across the country, it is the “next frontier” for the beverage industry. It might not be time to decorate the bar with cannabis leaves, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to start brainstorming ideas and prepare for major changes in what we drink.