Comment

Heineken's in-house expert drives cannabis strategy - Comment

Most popular

The beer category in 2018 - Review

The beer category in 2019 - just-drinks predicts

'Healthy alcohol - the trend to watch in 2019?

Is craft spirits approaching a reset moment?

MORE

What do international brewers know about cannabis? Not very much, it seems.

Heinekens Lagunitas craft brewer unveiled Hi-Fi Hops this week

Heineken's Lagunitas craft brewer unveiled Hi-Fi Hops this week

This paucity of knowledge would explain why Constellation Brands last year invested CAD245m (US$191m) in a cannabis manufacturer to help it bring a cannabis beverage to market. Meanwhile, Molson Coors is reportedly seeking similar help in its potential push into the category.

As for Heineken, it appears the Dutch brewer might know a thing or two about the drug that is shaping up to be a whole new pillar in the drinks industry.

Earlier this week, Heineken's Californian craft brewer, Lagunitas Brewing Co, announced the launch of a non-alcoholic IPA-style sparkling water called Hi-Fi Hops. The new product, available from the end of July and available in two variants, contains at least 5mg of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. That's enough, according to the marketing, to give anyone that drinks it the "chill of sun-grown cannabis".

Despite the relativity nondescript packaging, Hi-Fi Hops is a landmark launch in the drinks world, becoming the first THC-infused beverage to come out of a mainstream alcohol company. It certainly makes Heineken's full takeover of Lagunitas in May last year look like an even smarter deal - as rivals spend millions consulting with cannabis experts, Heineken already has one on its books.

Lagunitas is a well-known name across the US, giving its products a head-start in a nascent cannabis industry that lacks recognisable brands. Industry experts and players that I've spoken to in the past few months all recognise the importance of creating respectable cannabis branding in this new category.

The question is, though, did Heineken intend to use Lagunitas as its entry point into cannabis when it bought the craft brewer? Or, has the confluence of market conditions, the loosening of state laws and Lagunitas's innovative work just been a happy accident?

It would be difficult to argue that Heineken wasn't aware of its subsidiary's interest in marijuana. After all, Lagunitas takes as much delight in the drug as it does in brewing hops.

"It takes a lot of good weed to make great beer" Tony Magee said when he founded The Lagunitas Brewing Co in 1993, according to a quote on the company's website. The site also wistfully recounts the weekly '4:20' parties in the early days of the brewer (420 is a cannabis codeword dating back to the 1970s). Those parties ended in 2005 when, Magee, says the FBI busted in and shut his brewery down. A few years later, Lagunitas commemorated the government action in a pointedly bitter release called The Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale.

Hi-Fi Hops is an altogether far more serious proposition. It will only be available in California, where recreational cannabis use is fully legal (to move it across state lines remains a federal offence). But, as already mentioned, the range is a watershed in both the branding and production of cannabis drinks. Other big brewers will follow (in an interview with a marijuana trade magazine this week, ex-Molson Coors CEO Dan O'Neill said it is only a matter of time before all alcohol producers jump into cannabis), but Heineken will always be the first, with Lagunitas hoping to benefit from that first-mover status.

There is one company, however, that may yet deny the attractions of marijuana. Speaking to just-drinks this month, Anheuser-Busch CEO Carlos Brito said concerns over regulations mean he will play a wait-and-see game with cannabis beverages. He has a point - even in Canada, where cannabis has just been legalised federally, laws will differ from province to province. 

Launches such as Hi-Fi Hops, however, are changing the landscape. Perhaps Heineken's bold new move will convince Brito the time for waiting is over.

"There are lots of trends out there that people feel beer doesn't belong in" - just-drinks meets Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito


Related Content

Heineken's Lagunitas Brewing Co to launch THC-infused cannabis water

Heineken's Lagunitas Brewing Co to launch THC-infused cannabis water...

Brick Brewing in talks with cannabis firms over third-party beverage production - just-drinks EXCLUSIVE

Brick Brewing in talks with cannabis firms over third-party beverage production - just-drinks EXCLUS...

Who needs alcohol when Coca-Cola can have versatile cannabis? - Comment

Who needs alcohol when Coca-Cola can have versatile cannabis? - Comment...

Blue Moon founder Keith Villa unveils psychoactive cannabis drink Ceria

Blue Moon founder Keith Villa unveils psychoactive cannabis drink Ceria...

Oops! This article is copy protected.

Why can’t I copy the text on this page?

The ability to copy articles is specially reserved for people who are part of a group membership.

How do I become a group member?

To find out how you and your team can copy and share articles and save money as part of a group membership call Sean Clinton on
+44 (0)1527 573 736 or complete this form..



Forgot your password?