Ignorance is bliss until it’s the government that’s lacking perspective.
With recent dropping sales numbers, the marketing departments at Florida breweries have had to get creative. Enter terpenes, which are a major component of the aroma and taste of plants. There are easily over 15,000 terpenes that have already been identified and described, making them a very convenient direction to move in, in order to shake things up.
How the Government Feels About Terpenes
Terpene oil (the medium most commonly used for food and beverages) does not have any
independent psychoactive effects, meaning it won’t get you high. This fact is so well-
established that the FDA had already recognized them as “safe.” Terpenes are readily available for purchase from many reputable online shops, and are being used freely in everyday items such as yoga candles and hand creams. They even have numerous health benefits that vary by terpene type.
A Creative Edge
What some brewers are adding to their recipes are the terpenes that are integral to the aroma and flavor profile of the cannabis flower. They are not creating a stand-in for cannabis. In an interview with Miami New Times, CW Smith of Terpene Station explained that “The idea isn’t to create beers that smell or taste like weed, but instead provide a new depth of flavor you can’t get with just hops and adjuncts alone.” One that can’t be obtained with any blend of the typical beer components of hops, grain, water and yeast. It’s the same as using terpenes to create flavors like pineapple and vanilla milkshake using a Pineapple Express terpene and a special-edition Girl Scout Cookies terpene incorporated into a coconut porter.
In fact, the hops in beer and hemp plants are actually from the same botanical family,
Cannabinaceae. They even have some shared terpenes between them. One of which is the terpene that consistently shows up in high proportions in all strains of marijuana, myrcene. This is the leading contributor to the aroma of both hops and hemp.
Feds Warn Brewers to “Tread Lightly”
So, what exactly does the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) take issue with? This has eluded brewers so far, even those the TTB has sent cease and desist letters to; two of which being Devour Brewing in Boynton Beach and Invasive Species Brewing in Fort Lauderdale. TTB spokesperson Thomas Hogue, director of their Office of Congressional and Public Affairs, stated that, “If you've used an ingredient, like [cannabis-derived] terpenes oil, you would need to come to us for formula approval first, since that product isn’t recognized as a traditional beer ingredient.” They require that the companies halt all manufacture until the recipe is approved.
Though they acknowledge that terpenes themselves are not illegal, the TTB claim to find federal formula/recipe approvals necessary to ensure that brewers aren’t slipping THC or CBD into these cannabis-flavored drinks. So long as the test comes up negative for such substances, it’ll get a pass. According to Hogue, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will be making judgement calls for each case. This decision is particularly puzzling to brewers, considering that neither THC or CBD has any particular taste or scent to obscure.
The timing of this development also put a damper on what was supposed to be a novel
introduction to new cannabis terpene-flavored brews by multiple companies on April 20 (better know as “4/20” or “Weed Day”). Some breweries cancelled their parties, while others like the Invasive Species Celebrates 420 party went on as planned, without the anticipated flavor releases.
The subject of marijuana’s legality is still tentative in many states. Even those that allow it for medical use are busy hashing out the details on what limitations and regulations to impose. As of July this year, Washington D.C. and 9 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, but public opinion on the subject still seems split.