This article isn’t about beer. It’s about and entirely new class of adult beverages—cannabis brew

The alcohol industry has been getting some bad news over the past few years. The bad news is that since cannabis became legal in Colorado alcohol sales-—beer, especially—have fallen. And not just a little.

According to Aspen Times, recreational marijuana shops in Aspen sold $11.3 million worth of marijuana and other cannabis products in 2017. Liquor stores, on the other hand, only pulled in $10.5 million in sales. It was the first time in history that marijuana sales had topped liquor sales—anywhere.

The news is even more obvious on a national level. This past December, Georgia State University released a study which showed a 15 percent drop in alcohol sales in states allowing medical marijuana sales.

This has happened almost entirely without the existence of an actual adult cannabis beverage to displace beer. But this article isn’t about beer. It’s about and entirely new class of adult beverages—cannabis brews. Imagine how much wider the gap will grow when real, adult cannabis beverages become available.

Don’t Call It “Beer”

Recently, according to the Ottawa Citizen, the government of the Canadian province of Ontario pledged more than a quarter million dollars to Province Brands, a Toronto company working to develop what it says will be the world’s first beverage brewed using marijuana.

While the vast majority of cannabis drinks are currently made by adding cannabis extract into a heavily sweetened and flavored beverage, Province’s mission is to create a cannabis brew that is “highly intoxicating” but less harmful than alcohol—and more importantly, authentic.

“The very idea of craft beer is authenticity,” says Province chief executive Dooma Wendschuh. “I don’t see how you can be more authentic when making a beer about cannabis than to be made from cannabis.”

Last fall, another Canadian company venturing into the cannabis brew market, Canopy Growth, partnered with Constellation Brands, makers of Corona beer, Svedka vodka and Robert Mondavi wine. But Canopy won’t be making “beer” either, says Canopy CEO Bruce Linton. Instead, the company is working to create a clear cannabis distillate that can be used for a variety of beverages.

“We are not going to call it beer,” Linton says. “There will be a cannabis beverage selection, which will not be called something it’s not. Beer is beer, wine is wine, vodka is vodka. I’m not making those things. I’m displacing those things.”

One of the most common issues with cannabis-infused edibles and beverages is that they take some time to take effect—anywhere from 20 minutes up to an hour or more. To solve that problem, both Ceria and Canopy are working to develop drinks with rapid-onset effects. Linton says Canopy is working toward reducing that time to 12 minutes—about the time required for a beer to take effect.

Colorado-Style Cannabis Brews

Here in Colorado, Keith Villa, has a different plan. The brewmaster behind Blue Moon Belgian White Ale recently announced that his new company, Ceria Beverages, is developing non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused craft beers. (Yes, you can call these “beer.”)

“I’ve been seeing firsthand where consumers are drinking less and less beer,” and opting instead for wine, spirits, sparkling water or even cannabis,” Villa told The Cannabist.

Ceria’s process is simple. After brewing of a craft beer is complete, it undergoes a process that removes all the alcohol. Then the alcohol-free beer is infused with cannabis concentrates.

Ceria says its cannabis-infused beer line will consist of a variety of classes of craft beer infused with different formulations of cannabis to offer consumers a variety of flavors and effects.

Ceria plans to start selling its cannabis-infused beers in Colorado by the end of the year, according to The Cannabist. The company is also exploring the possibility of breaking into other markets such as California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon in 2019.

Big Alcohol Sees Big Money

Constellation Brands is not the only big alcohol company with an interest in the cannabis market. Molson Coors Brewing Co. (which has headquarters in both Colorado and Canada) is continuing to keep a close eye on legal cannabis’ impact on beer sales and pondering their response.

Molson Coors spokesman, Colin Wheeler, says, “As the legal landscape changes in Canada and evolves in the U.S., we are working actively to understand the impacts on our business, if any, and the range of appropriate responses in the interests of our company and our stakeholders.” It would be a safe bet to assume that both Constellation and Molson Coors are already putting some resources into research and development of both cannabis-infused beers and cannabis flower brews.

“We’ll take our time and get it right,” Wheeler added.

We can hardly wait.