The cannabis beverage space is a fascinating one. Much like the craft beer movement, which grew from the work of a few hobbyists in the 1980s and 1990s into a multibillion dollar industry today, we’re seeing pioneers invent new product categories, take big chances, and create new consumer experiences.
In Colorado, Keith Villa is doing exactly that. After founding Blue Moon Brewing Company and retiring from MillerCoors after 32 years in the world of beer, he and his wife have launched CERIA – a line of non-alcoholic beverages that drink like beers, but contain 0.0% alcohol and are infused with THC and CBD. He brings a deep understanding of the alcohol industry and the science of brewing to this nascent field, and has created a new product designed to serve as a replacement for alcohol – buzz, taste, and all.
Today, Keith joins the podcast to share stories from his time at Blue Moon, including how he brewed the first pumpkin beer (and chicken beer, for that matter), the unique challenges in the cannabis beverage space, and talk about where he sees this industry going in the years to come.
- What brought Keith out of retirement to start CERIA – and how he began to experiment with CBD and THC-infused beverages.
- The specific qualifications that define a beverage as beer – and why it’s so hard to brew with cannabis in particular.
- The misunderstandings around cannabis and its effects in beverages – and why Keith is so excited about the new cannabinoids currently being researched and explored.
- Why the alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau will likely never approve a cannabis-infused alcoholic beverage, even in the event of federal legalization – and the scientific reasoning behind this.
- How Keith approximates the buzz of alcohol in dosing his products.
- Why Keith believes 2022-2025 will be a crucial time for federal legalization.
- “We’ll see federal legalization primarily because cannabis is not the evil plant that people think it is and the bad rep it got over the years is simply because it posed a threat to the profit of several corporations.” – Keith Villa
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to The Green Repeal. Today, you are in for a treat as we were lucky enough to speak with one of the founding fathers of the craft beer movement, inventor of the highly popular Blue Moon beer, Keith Villa. On his way to creating Blue Moon, Keith earned a Ph.D. in brewing science and fermentation from the University of Brussels, one of only a few such degrees bestowed worldwide. Dubbed the beer doctor by his peers, he basically created the Belgian beer category in the US and is the reason anyone garnishes their beer with an orange. Today, now retired from Blue Moon and MillerCoors, Keith and his wife Jodi have founded CERIA, a brewing company where he is applying his talents to the production of THC-infused craft beers, such as Grainwave, Belgian White Ale, and Indiewave West Coast style IPA. This is a great interview. Keith is a tremendous storyteller, generates quite a few laughs especially the one about the chicken beer. We hope you enjoy!
Rick Kiley: All right. Hello, everyone. Welcome back to The Green Repeal. I am your host, Rick Kiley, with my co-host, Jeff Boedges. Hello, Jeffrey.
Jeff Boedges: Buenos dias.
Rick Kiley: And today we are super excited. We have a spectacular guest. His name is Keith Villa. He is the founder of Blue Moon beer. Actually, my wife’s favorite beer and one of my favorites as well. He’s also one of the fathers of the craft beer movement in the US. He’s got a Ph.D. with high honors in brewing biochemistry, which sounds like a degree I really should have gone for instead of mathematics.
Jeff Boedges: Yes. That would have been better for you.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, that was from the University of Brussels. And then after retiring from MillerCoors, which is Blue Moon’s parent company, Keith went on to co-found CERIA Brewing with his wife, Jodi, and it’s a very interesting new project that we’re excited to talk to him about. And so, Keith, welcome to The Green Repeal Podcast.
Keith Villa: Hi, Rick. Hi, Jeff. Thanks for having me on. Glad to join you guys and what’s happening at CERIA.
Rick Kiley: Cool. So, I think, as part of your story, we needed to go in and go back a little bit, but can you just tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you really became really one of the foremost experts in brewing in the US?
Keith Villa: Sure, yeah. Well, to put it in the 32nd elevator speech here, I ended up going to Belgium to get my Ph.D. in brewing and it’s a degree that very few people in the world have. I would say a handful of people have doctorates in brewing, came back, started Blue Moon Brewing Company, which at that time Belgian beer was almost unheard of in the United States. So, Blue Moon was credited with kind of helping to kickstart the craft beer revolution and people just to try craft beer, especially cloudy beers, and Belgian beers. And Blue Moon grew to become the biggest craft beer brand in the United States and in the world. And after 32 years, I decided to retire and my wife is a professional engineer, civil engineer. She retired also and we put our brains together and started what we would feel is the next evolution of beer. And so, what the next evolution is, is we’re thinking alcohol needs a good competitive compound out there to help people relax and we thought cannabis would be the perfect solution.
So, we took a look at the cannabis area market and we said, “You know, there’s got to be a better way to make cannabis socially acceptable.” So, there’s a huge stigma that surrounds it. And so, we thought, “Okay, beer’s going to be the way we do it,” and we put our minds together, hired some folks and launched CERIA, which is a non-alcoholic beer with 0.0% alcohol that tastes and smells like beer and contains THC. We have one version that contains both THC and CBD and we feel that we’ve got products now that offer consumers very acceptable I guess replacement for alcohol, if they’re in the mood for cannabis and if they happen to be in a position in life where they can no longer consume alcohol, such as on certain medications or maybe there’s some religious restrictions, I don’t know, but I certainly have a lot of fans who love our products and not rave about the taste and about the effects.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. That’s super exciting.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. I was going to ask why do we need a compound that would be different than alcohol and beer. It’s certainly not something that would have dawned on me. You know, we need something besides alcohol.
Rick Kiley: Something besides alcohol.
Jeff Boedges: But the way you said about the religious restrictions and drug direct dietary and drug interactions makes a lot of sense.
Keith Villa: Yeah, it was either cannabis or crystal meth and probably not the right way to go.
Jeff Boedges: Actually, I think Colorado is considering legalization of meth though, right?
Rick Kiley: Oh my gosh.
Jeff Boedges: No, no, sorry.
Keith Villa: Mushrooms.
Jeff Boedges: A little different or slightly different.
Rick Kiley: Can you brew beer from mushrooms? That would be interesting.
Jeff Boedges: I guarantee you you’ve tried.
Rick Kiley: Keith says yes. You would know. You would know. Okay. So, the first year that Blue Moon came back on the market, that was which year?
Keith Villa: It launched in 1995. It was Thursday, 1995.
Rick Kiley: It’s pretty amazing to me that you’re now in 2020 there are like six kajillion craft beers and in 1995 like the major innovation before that, I think, was like ice beer.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: There was nothing happening.
Jeff Boedges: Bud Light Ice.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, man. That was the stuff we had in college because it had an extra half a percent of alcohol. You really thought you’re stretching your dollar.
Keith Villa: Yeah. I mean, the other big innovation at the time that I launched was actually red beers. So, if you remember, there was…
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, Killian’s.
Keith Villa: Red wolf. A lot of red beers came out that year and that was really a type of beer that people counted as craft. Well, back then they call it microbrew beers, but the red beers were counted in as microbrew beers.
Rick Kiley: Right. Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: I was living in Colorado right before you launched Blue Moon and I think I went to the brewery where you created it because I went several times to Coors Field and I remember the brewpub there. And I remember how radically different craft beer was than the stuff I was normally drinking the Bud Lights of the world and I was just like it took a minute. It kind of knocks you back and like, “Whoa, this is too different.”
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Did you find that that you had a little bit of a learning curve with the US coming in with craft and Belgian style beers?
Keith Villa: Oh, it was a steep learning curve because I realized that I just lived in Belgium in Brussels for four years with my wife while I was getting my Ph.D. And over there, I was exposed to all these cool styles, everything from Trappist beers to fruit beers to sour beers, everything. And also, I was exposed to the culture of beer, where they would pair beer with food. And back then I’m talking 1988 to 1992, here in the States, you just never talk about pairing beer with food. You never talked about styles.
Rick Kiley: Hot dogs.
Jeff Boedges: Hot dogs.
Keith Villa: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Pizza.
Jeff Boedges: You want the foot-long or the regular size hotdogs with your beer.
Keith Villa: Yeah. It was a steep learning curve but I knew that that was where the future was for beer in the United States. I kept at it and sure enough, the market changed.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because you basically helped build a total category and I think you’re finding yourself again at the forefront of creating a whole new category for American consumers and not a lot of people have the, I don’t know, I was going to say cajones but really like expertise to do that as well as just the gumption to give it a try and that’s spectacular. I’m just wondering, so you know, I’m coming back to this idea of making beer out of mushrooms and I imagine you’ve tried to make some beer out of a lot of different things and eventually getting to the point where you’re making a beer with THC and CBD in it, but can you tell us a little bit along over the years what were some of the, I guess, most interesting, most unique ingredients you tried to brew from or brew with?
Jeff Boedges: I’d also be interested to hear what didn’t work. Failures are funnier than…
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Epic fail.
Jeff Boedges: Old shoe leather number four. No good.
Keith Villa: Well, yeah, I’ve experimented with a lot of different ingredients over the years and I think some of the cooler ones were basically fruits and certain spices. Cinnamon, it’s always been a really fun spice to work with ever since I created the first nationally available pumpkin beer. We launched that in 1995 and cinnamon was a big part of it. And back then I remember learning that cinnamon was a sweet spice. You didn’t need much to really get this wonderful aroma and also, it was a sweet aroma so it was very pleasant. So, cinnamon was a very nice one and, of course, fruits. I love brewing with fruit. That’s the mango. The mango wheat we did was really nice because it’s good with different types of mangoes. Fresh mangoes are really nice and of course, dried fruits. The orange peel I brewed was interesting because I tried orange peels from around the world and different types of orange peels. And really, at that time Valencia orange peel was just head and shoulders above the rest. It was an orange variety that really brought out the almost an orange marmalade like character in Blue Moon. And so, it was very nice.
And then let’s see some of the things that I liked to brew with were certain grains, wheat and oats. Back when I launched the Moon, very few brewers even in Belgium were using oats because they were so difficult to brew with. All of that, the gums in the oats that make it so healthy are very difficult to brew with because they end up gumming up the filters, the lautered top. When you get it in the beer successfully, it really makes for a smooth, almost oily, creamy flavor and it’s delicious and it’s also historically correct. Some of the things that I brewed with that really didn’t work as I hoped for, one, I remember was about chicken and put that in a beer.
Rick Kiley: Oh my.
Keith Villa: It was dead. It was not alive. And yeah, so we tried brewing with that and the finished beer had almost like a chicken brothy type. It was not very good.
Jeff Boedges: That sounds awful.
Rick Kiley: That sounds bad.
Keith Villa: Another one that was fun to brew and it didn’t take off like I thought it would was peanut butter. I brewed a peanut butter beer back in the 90s. It was end of 1995 beginning of 90s and I tried all kinds of different peanut butters. I went to the store and bought Jiff, Skippy, Peter Pan, generic. We even went to at that time, it was the forerunner of Whole Foods, and I bought freshly ground organic peanut butter. The one peanut butter that actually made the beer tastes like peanut butter was Jiff Creamy Peanut Butter. So, I did that and I remember at the pub, we had a big crowd. They’re coming in for a baseball game and I remember testing it as the Brewmaster special and we had to say that it contained peanuts in case somebody had allergies.
Rick Kiley: Sure, sure.
Keith Villa: And so, I said, I walked around during the tasting and I said, “What do you think of the new peanut butter beer?” And they looked up and almost everybody had this reply. They looked and they look back at the beer looked at me and they said, “Wow, well, you know, that’s not as bad as I thought it would be.” We thought that’s not a great marketing tagline to go out with, “Not as bad as you think it is.” So, that didn’t quite work and some other things were suited to the chicken beer, the peanut butter beer, well, a beer made with dried cactus. So, I tried doing a cactus beer years ago, and I remember the guys in the brewpub or the brew side, our brewers that were working ran it through the cooling system and it completely clogged up the heat exchanger and they had to take it apart to get all the chunks of cactus out. And they were so upset.
Jeff Boedges: Were the needles still on there?
Keith Villa: It was. There were a couple but I think it clogged everything up. It really upset them.
Rick Kiley: Because isn’t prickly pear the cactus fruit? I think we’ve seen some drinks made with prickly pear.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. I had a taste a few years ago.
Keith Villa: Yeah. We were doing extreme beers before they were even called extreme. There wasn’t a name for them back then in the 90s but it was fun just experimenting with everything in anything because in Belgium, you know, they would teach you anything you wanted to brew with. They would say, “Okay, you got to find out are there any fermentable sugars? If they’re not, can you make fermentable sugars out of whatever carbohydrates are in that material?”
Jeff Boedges: Right, right. So, you’re actually using that to ferment. It’s not like you’re adding the essence of cactus after the beer’s already been created. You’re actually really fermenting from these organic materials.
Keith Villa: Correct. Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Well, alright, I don’t know how you ferment chicken. I just got to be honest with you. Is there sugar in chicken?
Rick Kiley: I mean, fried chicken.
Jeff Boedges: Is this Kentucky Fried? Because now it’s starting to sound kind of good.
Rick Kiley: That’s a big co-branding opportunity like the Popeye’s. If you had like a Popeye’s beer, that would work.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. You can use these ideas for free, Keith.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Because they’re very bad.
Keith Villa: I should back up. You see, the chicken was not meant to be fermented. It was more added like a dry hopping at the very end. It was dried chicken and it made the beer taste like chicken.
Jeff Boedges: I’m going to be laughing about this one all week.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, I expected to be talking about cannabis but this episode is going to be all about fried chicken.
Jeff Boedges: You know what, I bet the fried chicken beer after cannabis would taste really good.
Rick Kiley: Sure. Yeah. So, with the Skittles beer.
Jeff Boedges: Oreo beer.
Rick Kiley: Okay. So, let’s move on. Jeff wrote this question. I think he really wanted to ask this. So, a few years ago you retired with Blue Moon and I think the guess is that after creating one of the most successful beers in the world, you’re probably doing pretty well. And the question is, why not retire to Aspen and just ski and bum around and play golf when it’s warm and chill out? Like what made you want to keep working and try to launch this new endeavor?
Keith Villa: Well, number one, I love beer and I love everything about beer. My whole life has been dedicated to beer and brewing. And retiring from the traditional beer world was one thing, but I’m also about experimenting just constantly looking to see what’s new out there to bring beer fans something new and special to taste and that’s really why I decided to start a whole new career but it’s also a whole new category of beer. And I do a lot of work because a lot of people think you just toss cannabis into the brew kettle boil and away you go, but it’s not.
Rick Kiley: No, I tried it, it’s much harder.
Keith Villa: Yes, it is. But yeah, so that’s the long and short of it is that I love experimenting, trying different things to brew with and really pushing the envelope of what beer can be. Because I think as brewmasters around the world, I think we owe it to our customers and our fans to give them new things that are challenging, things that they may not have expected could be put in a beer and pleasantly surprised them. And that’s what I’ve always done with my brews, and CERIA is no exception.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I mean, well, I haven’t tried it yet, because I haven’t been out to Colorado, but hopefully, we’ll get a chance to.
Jeff Boedges: I’ll be out there this summer so I’m looking forward to it.
Rick Kiley: And you’re actually raising a question for me. We work a lot in the alcohol beverage industry. There are for several categories of beverages, very specific definitions around them. And I’m just curious because I don’t know, is there a definition of what is legally can be called a beer? And if so, does it need to be to have alcohol in it? Or does it need to be brewed in a certain way? Like I’m wondering if you’ve created this new product, is it technically and legally, I guess, able to be called beer?
Keith Villa: Yes. To answer your question, actually, you have several questions but first one is there a definition? Yes, the federal government does have a definition for beer. Beer has to contain more than 0.5% ABV alcohol to be called a beer. Additionally, it has to have 7.5 pounds of hops per 100 barrels of finished beer to be called beer.
Rick Kiley: Wow. Okay.
Keith Villa: And then it does have to be made with malt or a substitute grain. And as far as the minimum amount that’s been, I guess, argued, over the years, some people say 25%, some say it can be down to 1%. Some even say that we don’t really need a grain. You can use 100% dextrose. So, that’s still up for argument there, but the two things that are for sure are that you have to have greater than 0.5% ABV alcohol and you need 7.5 pounds of hops for 100 barrels minimum to be called beer.
Rick Kiley: Okay. All right. So, that leads us to the second question because you said earlier your product, CERIA, has 0.0% alcohol in it. So, technically, it’s not beer then.
Keith Villa: Technically, it is a malt beverage. So, yeah, you cannot call it a beer. You can call it an alcohol-free beer. You can call it a non-alcohol, well, actually there are even definitions for the alcohol levels in beer. So, I believe it’s 0.5 to 2.5 can be called a low-alcohol beer. From less than 0.5, it can be called non-alcoholic and 0.0 all the way up to 0.03 I believe it can be called alcohol-free.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Jeff Boedges: I remember as a kid, a brand called Narragansett and they had near-beer.
Rick Kiley: Right.
Jeff Boedges: I don’t know if that’s all the same.
Rick Kiley: But, I mean, it’s interesting the trend right now. I mean, Heineken Zero and the non-alcoholic beers are starting to reemerge I think as people are trying to drink more healthy. Yeah. And so, I think your product probably has a great position even just to take advantage of the people who are trying to put fewer calories into their body as well. Is it a low-calorie option?
Keith Villa: That’s it exactly. Alcohol, as it turns out, is the main driver of calories in beer. So, for example, our IPA if it were a standard IPA, say 7% or so, it would be about 185 calories. But when we remove the alcohol, it goes down to 99. And our Belgian White, our Grainwave Belgian White, if it had alcohol, it would be about 165 calories. But when we remove all that alcohol, it goes down to 72 calories so there’s a pretty nice drop in calories. And then when you take out the alcohol, what you have is a malt beverage. It still has electrolytes in it. It’s a fairly healthy drink. Tastes like beer, smells like beer, but it won’t give you a hangover and you’ll have a straight mind. When you drink, you won’t have a fuzzy mind at all. Top it off with some cannabis then you can have a buzz and start to relax. So, for us, it’s a nice trade-off.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Keith Villa: That’s crazy.
Rick Kiley: So, you mentioned the topping it off with cannabis so I think we want to just clarify that. So, is cannabis an element you’re brewing with or like the dry hops you mentioned? Is it something that’s being sort of added in towards the end of the process?
Keith Villa: Yeah. With that…
Jeff Boedges: Are we into intellectual property territory?
Keith Villa: Yeah. Just a little bit but for your listener’s benefit, what I will say is that it’s very difficult to brew with cannabis because it is like a hop. It’s very hydrophobic. So, it is difficult to brew with it so we don’t actually brew with it. We do add it later in the process. And it turns out that the oil is difficult to work with. That’s one of the hurdles we had to face. Well, the first one was creating a non-alcoholic beer that tasted like beer and then the second big hurdle was getting the cannabis oils to get into the beer without floating on top like an oil.
Jeff Boedges: Right. You have to shake your beer before you open it. That seems sort of counterintuitive.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. You have to drink it really fast in that case if you shake it up. Okay. Well, thank you for at least giving us that little insight. I realize perhaps we’re infringing on some IP there but it’s a curiosity there.
Jeff Boedges: So, I’m certain though he has patents. So, look, this could be a moneymaker for you. People might just try to do the same thing you are and then you just make money.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I do hear that there are other we’ve spoken to a bunch of people in the industry. There are people working towards a more, I guess, a water-soluble version of being able to use THC rather than having to use oil which I imagine would help you out quite a bit. And I think one question, does it affect the taste? Or do you feel like the taste with or without the cannabis, I’m just going to call it infusion which I know is the wrong word, is infused into the process, does it change the taste profile?
Keith Villa: The way it does change it, I mean, it’s very slight is in the bitterness because we don’t actually take the complete extract. We take distillate that has THC and CBD, and those don’t really have a smell. They do have a slight bitter taste. So, when you add it to the beer, of course, you’d have to adjust the recipe to take into consideration the bitterness from the cannabinoids. So, yeah, so it does have just a bit of a bitter character to it. But yeah, we definitely don’t have the smell or the taste of cannabis.
Rick Kiley: Right. So, that would fit in nicely into like an IPA recipe I imagine which already has some bitterness to it.
Keith Villa: Perfectly. Yeah. In fact, any beer because the bitterness in beer complements cannabis very nicely or not cannabis but I would say the cannabinoids.
Rick Kiley: Got it.
Jeff Boedges: Okay. What about the effects? Now, you’ve got a couple of different brands out there. Are you guys working with the different cannabinoids to come up with different sort of effects? I mean, that’s a big part of the legal cannabis industry now is this idea that you can get one that perks you up and you can get one that mellows you out. And really that runs the gamut. Is that something that you guys are doing or looking to do?
Keith Villa: Yeah, we’ve been experimenting with different types, but the issue is that the American consumer is just not ready for that yet. In fact, a lot of consumers out there think that CBD gets too high. And that’s the reason they take it. They believe if they drink a CBD drink, they’ll get a buzz, relax, feel better. So, there’s a lot of misunderstandings that revolve around cannabis. What most consumers don’t realize is that there are more than, gosh, I would say more than 80 and some people say more than 100 different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, but the two most famous ones are THC and CBD. And, of course, almost everybody knows that THC makes you intoxicated and CBD is this new miracle compound that makes people sleepy, tired, it relieves pain, relieves nausea, does all these different supposed things. But again, most people don’t realize there are many other cannabinoids in the plant really not been researched extensively.
But the ones that have been are promising in that they could lead to, I guess, energy. There’s one that acts almost like caffeine that gives you energy and alertness that gives you the munchies and can really increase your appetite. So, that’s perfect for older people in cancer patients who have an appetite. And then there’s some that do the opposite. They limit your appetite. They suppress it. And those would make for great diet pills when there’s some that even act like Viagra, so it’s just, yeah, just all these different compounds that are yet to be studied. So, yeah, in the future, you will see different beverages or edibles made with the cannabinoids to give different responses based on what consumers want. But what really makes it, I guess, more complicated is that those nice aromas that you smell in the cannabis plant or even the hop plants, so like in a dry hop IPA, heavily hopped with Citra, the main aroma there, those aromas are called terpenes.
The main terpene is myrcene and it turns out that those terpenes and there are many, many terpenes in hop plants and in cannabis plants, but the terpenes what people are finding out is that they interact with the cannabinoids in a process that’s called the entourage effect, meaning they act together to give a stronger desired effect. So, myrcene can actually enhance the effectiveness of THC. So, when you combine THC with myrcene, it leads for I guess a more intense high and then some of the other terpenes, humulene is another one that can have some nice, tiring sedative effects, as well as limit the appetite. Yeah, there’s just a whole bunch of different effects that these terpenes have as well as cannabinoids and then when they’re all put together, you have the entourage effect so you can actually design beers and beverages to have a specific effect in the human body.
Jeff Boedges: I got my first brand here. You ready? Boner Beer.
Rick Kiley: Wow. You went right there.
Jeff Boedges: We can edit that.
Rick Kiley: No, no, no. Yeah, I think that’s definitely staying in and, Keith, there’s…
Keith Villa: Well, the news, I don’t know if you guys saw any of the – you probably don’t keep up with all the other cannabis news but there was a story in last week’s cannabis press that talked about a young guy who every time he would take cannabis, he would have an erection that would last 12 hours. He had been to the doctor to get treated.
Rick Kiley: I can just imagine that doctor’s appointment. Yeah.
Keith Villa: Yeah. They had to do a lot of tests but the testing confirmed that it was one of the cannabinoids. They didn’t know which one but it was one of the cannabinoids in cannabis that was causing that. And of course, you know, some of these pharmaceutical companies are all over that.
Rick Kiley: I’m sure. I mean, nobody’s made any money off of Viagra so I’m sure they’re loving that idea.
Jeff Boedges: Right. So, why take the alcohol out, just out of curiosity? I mean, obviously, there’s a caloric benefit there but what’s the rationale from removing the alcohol? I will say, at least when I was in college that sometimes beer and marijuana went kind of hand-in-hand.
Keith Villa: Yeah. We get that question asked all the time and the main reason is legal. At the federal level, the TTB that is the alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau regulates all the alcohol producers in the United States and they make it illegal. They prohibit the addition of anything that’s federally illegal into alcoholic beverages. There’s no way they would allow cannabis to be put into beer or wine or anything that has alcohol.
Rick Kiley: Interesting.
Keith Villa: When you double that up with the states that have legalized recreational cannabis, it turns out that the regulatory agencies, for example, in Colorado, the agency that regulates cannabis is called the MED, stands for the Marijuana Enforcement Division and they specifically prohibit putting alcohol into any cannabis beverages. So, at the state level and the federal level, you cannot mix alcohol and cannabis and that’s law. But at the same time, from a scientific standpoint, there are other reasons why you would not want to mix them. One that just comes to mind is if you were to look at cancer patients who take cannabis, the reason they do, most of them do it is because of the nausea that they get from taking cancer medications. They feel like they’re going to throw up all day but when they take cannabis, that relieves that nausea, and they feel much better.
Jeff Boedges: Now, it’d be good Mets fans too, Rick, just I want you to think about that.
Rick Kiley: Look…
Keith Villa: Yeah, but imagine the…
Rick Kiley: Low blow.
Keith Villa: A party like a frat party or something where people are just chugging alcohol and then if you drink too much alcohol, of course, the natural reaction is to throw up and get rid of all that stuff. Otherwise, you can get alcohol poisoning and potentially sick or even die. But if you’ve mixed cannabis and alcohol and the cannabis is relieving that nausea so that you just keep gorging yourself with alcohol, chances are you could get sick or potentially even die. So, there’s these unknown reasons, scientific reasons and things we just haven’t studied that could potentially make it dangerous to combine alcohol and cannabis.
Rick Kiley: Fair enough.
Jeff Boedges: Right.
Rick Kiley: Fair enough. So, it does bring up one question, which I think we saw that, you know, what’s the THC? Do you have different gradations of THC content on your brews that you’re selling, for instance, like a 10 milligram THC beer? Like that’s what I’ve been told is the equivalent like to one dose. And so, in an evening, you wouldn’t have one necessarily have more than one because you’d be like super, super high and it would be sort of tough to communicate with the world. So, are you making some brews that are intended for multiple consumption? So, I guess a sessionable version of your CERIA?
Keith Villa: Yes. The short answer is yes, but it is very complicated because of the entourage effect and the fact that so many people have different levels of experience with cannabis. Some who are very experienced have high tolerance levels and it takes a lot of milligrams to give them a buzz, whereas people who are new to cannabis, it just takes a tiny amount to get them buzzed. So, what we’ve tried to do is make our first few beers replicate the buzz that you would find in an equivalent alcoholic form of the beer. So, our Grainwave has 5 milligrams of THC and if you were to drink that, you would get a very mild buzz similar to drinking a Belgian White that comes in at 5% alcohol. Drink one of those and even a lightweight it’s not going to be falling over drunk with a 5% beer in the same way a 5-milligram Grainwave will. I guess most people will be relaxed with it, just a real slight buzz that they’ll more or less feel relaxed. There will be those few who are very sensitive who will get buzzed on it and there will be some who have a high tolerance level who will barely feel anything but they too should feel a nice relaxed sensation.
Our IPA which has 10 milligrams of THC plus 10 of CBD, we put that CBD into kind of mellow out the buzz because with 10 milligrams it’s a definite buzz. And so, the IPA is similar to drinking I would say a strong IPA even a double or even triple Imperial IPA, you have something that’s a good 9% alcohol, maybe 10% but you drink a large glass of that and you’ll have a buzz. So, in the same respect, you’ll have a decent buzz off our 10 milligram one, but it won’t be a harsh buzz. It should be a more mellow buzz because of the CBD to just mellow things out.
Rick Kiley: Got it. Okay.
Jeff Boedges: When you made alcohol beer, did you ever approach it in the same way? Did you like, “Oh, this beer is going to get a little bit more buzz than the other?”
Keith Villa: Well, within the alcoholic world, it’s very linear. You have a beer with a small amount of alcohol such as a near-beer or a light beer. By design, you could drink a lot of that stuff like during the course of a…
Jeff Boedges: Baseball game.
Keith Villa: A favorite baseball team loses.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeff Boedges: Whoa, whoa, whoa. The Rockies are pretty good, man.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Keith Villa: Aww. One of these days they’ll get better and, yeah, we’ll see. But, yeah, so you just…
Jeff Boedges: Don’t send hate mail.
Keith Villa: So, yes, by design, those type of light beers can be drunk in mass. I mean, you could drink a lot of them and then have just a slight buzz or a buzz and with heavier beers, you can’t drink a lot of IPA during the course of a baseball game. You could have maybe two, maybe three, maybe four.
Rick Kiley: You could try.
Jeff Boedges: You could try it. Yeah. I think we’ve tried just for scientific reasons. Yeah.
Keith Villa: And that’s one of the reasons that a lot of brewers came out with sessionable IPAs. There’s lowest, 3.5, 4% ABV. You can drink a lot of those. Bottom line is alcohol is pretty much linear. You drink a little bit, you get buzzed. You drink a lot, you get drunk. With cannabis, it’s not quite linear because of the entourage effect. So, you drink a little bit, you’ll get buzzed. You drink a lot, and you’ll get stoned but in different ways. So, some ways you’ll have a lot of energy and you’ll be stoned. Other ways you can be really tired and ready to go to sleep stoned, which we call couch lock. That’s where you get with a couch and you just don’t want to get up.
Jeff Boedges: I have a couple of sons with permanent couch lock. It has nothing to do with the entourage effect.
Rick Kiley: It has to do with video games. There is an allegory there.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, yeah. So, I think right now and this is only available in Colorado, right? So, you guys have grand plans to sort of conquer the country at some point?
Keith Villa: We’re just about to expand into California. So, there’s a ton of, oh gosh, regulations and everything from advertising to labels that you have to prepare for the California market. So, in the next few weeks, we’ll be in the California market and then after that, we’re looking out east. As you know, Illinois just went legal at the beginning of this year. Of course, Governor Cuomo in New York is he’s all over cannabis. He wants to make it legal this year. He’s adamant that it’s going to be legal. If it becomes legal in New York State, my guess is the surrounding states will fall like dominoes. Everyone wants a piece of that pie. So, yeah, so we’ll just keep going to markets where we see volume and we see I guess that the market ripe for cannabis beer.
Rick Kiley: Cool.
Jeff Boedges: Got it.
Rick Kiley: I remember my question now. So, how long does it take for the effects to hit you when you drink your product and how long does it last? You know, with some edibles, for instance, it takes a while for them to kick in, for you to feel the buzz but it lasts a really long time. With like a vape pen or flower, it hits you pretty immediately, but the duration is shorter. I’m just I’m curious about the beverage.
Keith Villa: Yeah. So, for your listeners, the benefit we’ll say is that any smokable form goes into the bloodstream very fast. So, whether you’re smoking a joint or a vape pen, you’ll feel the effects right away within a couple of minutes and that’s because it goes into the bloodstream very, very quickly. Edibles such as having a brownie or a cookie made with cannabis, those go through the digestive tract and it takes quite some time and then the cannabinoids get slightly rearranged so that they do become a little more powerful for lack of a better word so that the effect takes longer to take hold. But once it takes hold, it can be there for quite a while and that’s why some people will have a brownie or a cookie and all of a sudden it hits. It can hit them fairly hard and that could last for several hours. With drinkables, it’s somewhere in between smokables and edibles. Drinkable system, in general, about the same and this is ours for sure but probably other drinkables goes into the system in about 15 to 20 minutes. So, just a little longer than alcohol and it lasts for anywhere from an hour to about an hour-and-a-half and then it gradually tapers off.
Rick Kiley: Got it. Got it. Great.
Jeff Boedges: That probably has a lot actually of information as far as like not drinking and driving and not being high and drive. There’s like a whole new sort of routine to learn for people.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, but I feel like at least with the drinkable like the consumer behavior is somewhat already ingrained, right? As you think about drinking a beer and you’re like, “Okay, now I need to think about not driving,” whereas that may not be the case with someone dropping a [inaudible – 44:21] or something like that.
Jeff Boedges: Absolutely.
Rick Kiley: So, just I’m curious, since you’ve been at the beginning of, you know, this is now the second industry, you’ve been sort of in the beginning stages of, do you have even finding parallels between sort of launching this product, this category that are similar to when you launched Blue Moon back in the 90s?
Keith Villa: Oh, yeah. It’s almost eerie how similar the markets are and I’m talking, whether it’s talking to retailers, consumers, distributors, they’re all just a lot of similarities. Back in the 90s, consumers really didn’t know about styles of beer or even varieties of hops. If you said, “Oh, you know, this is an IPA dry hop with Citra,” you might as well have spoken Chinese back in the 90s. And fast forward to today and you’ll have some hop heads that will say, “Oh, Citra is old school. I want the newest hop,” and people just really are up to speed when it comes to craft beers and styles. I’ve been a beer judge since 1993 judging in GABF World Beer Cup in Japan. So, I keep up with styles. Back then, there weren’t a lot of styles in the 90s. There might have been maybe 50 styles or so. Now, there are I think last year when we judged a GABF there were like 98 recognized styles of beer and with more coming in every year. So, yeah, the craft beer world is exploding. It went from almost nothing in the 90s to a lot today but it required a lot of education.
Rick Kiley: Sure. Yeah. And so, the educational gap is similar you’re finding?
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. Because back then we had to educate distributors, retailers, and consumers. And fast forward to today with the states where there is legal cannabis, it requires a lot of education because budtenders that’s the equivalent of retailers in all stores, budtenders are, gosh, there are a lot of them try to believe that the best deal for their customers is to give them the most THC per dollar because, in their minds, that’s what it’s all about. And then we talked to them and we say, “You know, cannabis is much more than that. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a product that people are all lining up to get high and get stoned.” There’s a lot of people out there who just want to socialize with it. The goal is not to get stoned. And we tell them, it’s very similar to operating a liquor store. You know, not everybody’s going to come in to get drunk. And with their attitude of selling as many milligrams of THC per dollar, it’s almost like directing all of the customers in a liquor store straight to the cheapest vodka.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, that’s interesting. I haven’t heard that observation before but that makes sense. Get that handle of Popov vodka up there because that’s the cheapest thing that’s out there.
Keith Villa: You could do the math too and calculate that a few dollars per gram of alcohol, beer, you’re paying a premium. Wine is kind of a premium but with cheap vodka, that’s the best way to spend your dollar if all you’re doing is getting high or getting drunk. But alcohol, we want to be responsible and socialized and same with cannabis. We want people to socialize and be very responsible. So, when we educate them, they get it and they say, “Ah,” and then their eyes are opened and then they realize that this is a lifestyle kind of like alcohol where you use alcohol responsibly and you take a six-pack to a friend’s house or even to a birthday party, a family gathering, and nobody thinks twice about bringing a six-pack at the latest craft beer. And with cannabis, we feel that that’s the future too. In the future, you’ll bring the latest craft beer made with cannabis because it’s going to be a low dose, it’s going to be responsible and social. So, that’s where we are and that’s where the biggest similarity is between now and in the 90s when I launched Blue Moon.
Rick Kiley: Got it. That’s great.
Jeff Boedges: So, we’re getting close to the end of time. I’ve got a few more questions. Are you on a hard and fast stop today, Keith?
Keith Villa: No, no, I’ve got time.
Jeff Boedges: Okay, cool. So, my question would be based on what you’re just talking about what the budtenders is. Where are we selling CERIA and these types of things? Is it really just in the dispensaries or can I go and get it at the Coors Field?
Keith Villa: Strictly dispensaries because since we have THC, it is federally illegal but in the states where it is allowed or recreational cannabis is legalized, you can only purchase it in dispensaries and you have to be 21 and older. And then you could go in, show your ID and then you could purchase some of our beer.
Jeff Boedges: So, that’s like a merchandising problem, right? I mean, they probably don’t have cold cases there. Do they?
Keith Villa: We do have refrigerators where we take them and put them into the dispensaries and fill them with our products. And so, we can merchandise like that. But you just pointed out another big issue in the cannabis world is that advertising is very, very restricted so we can’t have like out-of-home billboards, can’t advertise on radio or TV, even social media. This is a huge problem because if we say the wrong things, our site will get shut down. For example, on Facebook if we say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve got a nice event that we’re hosting this weekend,” and we accidentally mentioned a price point, we’ll be shut down and then we go back and forth, have to get our site up and running again but when we do, we lose all of our followers. So, you have to back everything up every day. It’s a huge hassle but, yeah, they can shut you down for mentioning like 10% off or any anything like that. It’s really difficult.
Jeff Boedges: And dealer loaders are, you know, give away barbeque grills.
Rick Kiley: Well, the refrigerator I guess would be like, are there rules around like are you able to buy the refrigerator for the dispensary? Like are there rules around that? Because I think…
Jeff Boedges: Like there is in wine and spirits.
Rick Kiley: In wine and spirits, the accounts technically have to purchase those things or you can leave them there for a promotional period of time but you have to take them out. So, I’m curious is if that applies.
Keith Villa: Yeah. The refrigerators are our – we have little stickers that say property of CERIA Brewing Company. But you’re right. There are a lot of regulations when it comes to brewers supplying articles of any kind of value to the retailer. And right now, in the states where cannabis is legal, those regulations haven’t crept up as yet. I imagine they will but then the other thing is that right now, out west like in California, the retailer’s, the distributor, or sorry the dispensaries can charge slotting fees. So, in the world of retail, slotting fees are kind of the norm, but when it comes to alcohol, it’s absolutely illegal if you have slotting fees. And in cannabis, you can have those now but we anticipate that in the near future, those are going to go away and be made illegal.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah. Cool. Well, I mean, that does make sense. I mean, we think we’ve postulated for a long time that eventually the cannabis industry will look remarkably similar to wine and spirits as far as how its regulated. And I think that’s still accurate. One more question for you from me, and then I’ll let Rick sort of run it out here. But you brought up a really good point, and it’s something that I’ve brought up regularly with other people in cannabis is, you know, well, cannabis is social. I mean, you can definitely share it, have it at a dinner party and people will enjoy themselves but, typically, then they’re probably going to have a glass of wine as well or at least be drinking something else. It’s not like it’s not an accoutrement to dinner per se, a joint or a vape pen or even a gummy bear isn’t an accoutrement and be like, “Oh, yes, you know, the taste of this gummy bear really brings out the taste of this filet mignon.” So, I feel like that where beer definitely has a bigger place in that but do you see some of the other categories of traditional alcohol brands moving to a non-alcohol version that can have the cannabis infusion?
Keith Villa: Of course. Yeah. In fact, we’re starting to see wines that are becoming dealcoholized and then infused with cannabis and we’re starting to see cocktail mixers that are appearing that are non-alcoholic that are great by themselves or they can be infused with cannabis. And then the different types of dealcoholization machineries so reverse osmosis or vacuum distillation. You can put beers through those, you can put wine through those, you can put spirits through those. You can put a Jack Daniels through a dealcoholizer and end up with dealcoholized Jack Daniels and…
Jeff Boedges: I’m going to start selling dealcoholized vodka. I’m going to make it in my kitchen sink.
Rick Kiley: Jeff, I’ve got news for you.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: That’s just water.
Jeff Boedges: Yeah, exactly.
Rick Kiley: That’s brilliant. DG’s already beating you.
Jeff Boedges: Mine’s going to have just that slightly hard chlorine taste you get. That’s going to be awesome.
Rick Kiley: Well, that’s really interesting. I feel like dealcoholized Jack Daniels really goes against the brand ethos.
Jeff Boedges: You know, maybe Keith Richards could still drink Jack Daniels on stage. That would make him happy.
Rick Kiley: True. Yeah, it would really – alright. Anyway, we’re falling off the rail here. I think, Keith, you’ve given us a lot of great information, a lot of great time. It sounds like you’re building an excellent, excellent brand and category, and once again, taking a leadership role in this burgeoning industry. The way we try to we close every interview on this podcast is we ask people to kind of look into the future a little bit and tell us what they think the future holds for the legalization of the cannabis industry. It’s our belief that we are marching along the path towards federal legalization. We get myriad responses from, “Never, no way, no how,” to, “It’ll be legal by November 2020 in every state across the union.” And I’m curious what you see what you feel is happening in the industry and your sort of bet or wager, if you will, on the state of legalization for the cannabis industry in the coming years?
Keith Villa: Well, in my personal opinion, I think we’re going to see federal sooner rather than later. I see the window of 2022 to 2025 being really critical in seeing federal legalization because I’m currently writing a book on cannabis and I did a lot of research into the reasons why cannabis was made illegal in the first place and a lot of people don’t realize it was all because of money. There were some prohibitions back in the 1930s that we’re faced with profit decreases simply because of the cannabis plant. Back then it was called the hemp plant. So, the paper industry, gasoline, there were a lot of, I mean, you can make biofuel from hemp. You can make paper, quality paper from hemp, all these things. And back in the 30s, there were a lot of companies facing the loss of profits because of the hemp plant and they lobbied heavily to get it made illegal. There was proof that the cannabis plant was, I guess, addictive or bad for society but back then they were able to get the press to really, I guess, exaggerate stories and show that the cannabis was leading to all kinds of crazy things, reefer madness and all that.
And pretty soon, the public got scared. They were afraid that cannabis was leading to the downfall of society. And so, it was grouped together with these other narcotics that were illegal. Opium in today, crystal meth, LSD, these Schedule 1 drugs that are dangerous and have no medical benefit, that’s the classification of a Schedule 1 drug. Cannabis was put in there because it was a threat to the profits of several large corporations and never had any proof that it was actually dangerous. So, yeah, I’ve done the research and I think because of that when the public is made aware of all that, that it is going to be legalized on a federal basis. It’ll still be controlled and regulated like alcohol because you make sure people don’t drink and drive or smoke and drive. But at the end of the day, I think most people who will give it a try will come away and say, “You know, this isn’t as bad as everybody said it would be.”
Jeff Boedges: No, it’s not. It’s like peanut butter beer.
Keith Villa: There you go. I think it will be. So, yeah, I think sometime between 2022 and 2025, we’ll see federal legalization primarily because cannabis is not the evil plant that people think it is and the bad rep it got over the years simply because it posed a threat to the profit of several corporations. And it’s as easy as that and that’s why I think we’re going to see legalization.
Rick Kiley: Alright, great. Well, when you get the book published, we’ll have you back on and we’ll talk about it and hopefully, in the meantime, we can find ourselves in Colorado and we can try your product and enjoy a bucket of fried chicken together.
Keith Villa: There you go.
Jeff Boedges: In that order.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. So, just before we sign off here, if people wanted to learn about your brand, about your product, if we have people in Colorado want to go pick it up, where can they get some information about it?
Keith Villa: So, we have our website and we have a store locator on our website so all they have to do is call it up and I think it’s CERIABrewing.com. They can go on and find the nearest dispensary that sells our cannabis beer. And I should point out that we also sell our beer in non-infused non-alcoholic condition or state and that’s available pretty soon nationwide but it has the same flavor as our cannabis beer. So, if people want to see what it’s going to taste like, pick up some of that, taste it, and that’s the taste that our cannabis beer will have. And then we have a Facebook Page, Instagram, all the standard social media sites. But yeah, I encourage people to really study it and learn about it. Similar to when they were excited about trying alcohol for the first time because cannabis is not this dangerous, terrible thing. It’s just like alcohol, something to be used responsibly and socially. And when they discover the magic of cannabis, I think it’ll change their lives, it’ll change the tune that they’ve seen and then they’re just going to be a lot better because of it.
Rick Kiley: Awesome. Well, great. Well, with that, we just want to say thank you so much for joining us today and good luck with everything and hopefully we’ll stay in touch and see you soon.
Keith Villa: Sounds good and next time you’re in Colorado, look me up. We’ll drink CERIA together and you can see the effects for yourselves.
Jeff Boedges: Over there in July.
Rick Kiley: All right. Thanks so much, Keith.
Keith Villa: Okay. Thanks.
Rick Kiley: Bye.
Keith Villa: Bye.
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