A client you’ve always wanted is having problems selling a cannabis product
Steve’s breakdown: Heineken is the company and Lagunitas is the beer brand with the cannabis. It’s been tough sailing but maybe you can help calm the seas. Read on . . .
WHITE PLAINS, NY & PETALUMA, CA: When Heineken took full control of Lagunitas Brewing Co earlier this year, the Dutch brewer’s management would have known full well what they were getting into: The two had already been in a 50/50 partnership for some months.
Which is why Heineken shouldn’t be surprised at the the news this week that Lagunitas has rolled out a new IPA brewer with components taken from cannabis. The brew, called Supercritical, is indicative of outspoken Lagunitas founder Tony Magee – not a man to let the sale of his brewery to a multinational crimp his maverick style.
Nor should it. Recreational marijuana is legal in California, and anyway Supercritical contains no THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. The only buzz you’ll get from this beer is from the alcohol content.
Also, Lagunitas isn’t exactly blazing a trail with cannabis beer. The cannabis plant is closely related to the hop plant, and brewers in the US have been experimenting with cannabis flavours for a while now. Indeed, brewers around the world have probably been doing it for centuries. Meanwhile, in the US, legalisation continues at speed, with eight states so far having passed legislation to allow its use as a recreational drug.
In light of all of this, Heineken’s response today to Supercritical was exactly right. The brewer said innovation and “going off the beaten path” is part of the Lagunitas DNA and one of the reasons why the company has been so successful. “That Lagunitas is now part of Heineken won’t change that,” a Heineken spokesperson said.
What the response did, however, was highlight how the multinational attitude towards cannabis beer has changed in just a few years.
In 2014, I interviewed Keith Villa. With a brewing PhD behind him, and as the creator of the US’s biggest selling craft beer Blue Moon, Villa was – and remains – an authority on the global beer scene. However, as an employee of Molson Coors (Blue Moon was built with Molson Coors money) he may have been advised that day to watch what he was saying.
At one point in our chat, Villa mentioned that he was doing some experiments with cannabis beer in his home state of Colorado, where the plant had just been legalised. For a keen scientist, this was not out of character for Villa, who has also experimented with chocolate beer, chicken beer and a host of other weird and wonderful flavours. Nevertheless, out of the corner of my eye, I could sense the two PRs that flanked Villa shift in their seats. It transpired shortly afterwards that Molson Coors wasn’t keen on Villa’s cannabis efforts garnering too many column inches.
Compare that reaction with Heineken’s today, and you can see how the subject of cannabis beer has progressed.
The conversation around marijuana is changing fast as states in the US prepare to follow the legalisation path and chase those taxable marijuana dollars. Indeed, the main concern for brewers around cannabis is what such legislation would mean for alcohol sales as consumers are given a new recreational option.
This is the real talking point around cannabis. I’d wager if I were to interview Villa today, he’d likely speak even more openly about his cannabis aspirations – and with Molson Coors’ blessing.