DENVER (CBS NEWS) – Ceria is a beer that almost no one has heard of. It’s for sale almost nowhere except at marijuana shops in Colorado. That’s because it’s beer with the alcohol taken out – and pot put in.
Estimates say the legal marijuana industry in the U.S. will hit $13.1 billion dollars in total value this year and in three years is projected to climb to $22.2 billion. The growing market includes a range of product options like cannabis candy.
Now, there’s brewing interest in something new: cannabis-infused beer.
Ceria was created by Keith Villa and his wife, Jodi. But Keith is no ordinary backyard brewer. He got a PhD in brewing science in Belgium, and while at Molson Coors he invented Blue Moon, the ale that helped make craft beer mainstream. So when he makes a beer prediction, best pay attention.
“We’re excited number one that our dream is coming true but number two to offer people a true alternative to alcohol,” Villa told CBS News’ Barry Petersen. “We honestly think that Ceria is going to kickstart the cannabis craze and turn it into a legitimate industry that no longer has that stigma associated with it.”
The process starts at a Denver facility with bags of marijuana. The pot is crushed to dust then liquefied under the watchful eye of Erik Knutson, CEO of the production company Cancore. From the liquid they extract THC, which is what creates a high. Finally, in the vats, the THC is infused into the non-alcohol beer.
But the complicated chemistry may be the easiest part. Much harder is marketing it. Under Colorado law it can only be sold at a pot shop and only consumed in private. Even so, Stephanie Wilson, editor-in-chief of Sensi Magazine, believes it’s a product Colorado may like – a lot.
“I see it working like gangbusters in Colorado because A. we have such a strong craft beer market … a lot of people who are connoisseurs of beer so I believe that there is definitely a market for it and it’s new and it’s novel,” Wilson said.
Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana with varying restrictions and that has encouraged other companies to get into the cannabis beer market. The first was Two Roots in California.
But since pot is still illegal under federal law, the products cannot be shipped across state lines. That’s not the case in Canada, where pot is legal across the nation. Brewers like Molson Coors are investing big-time to make pot beer there and are expecting sales in the billions of dollars.
Keith Villa sees a day when cannabis beer will be the best way to get high, in part because of the difference between smoking a marijuana cigarette as opposed to having a beer.
“Any kind of smoking is really not socially acceptable and having a beer with cannabis is socially acceptable,” Villa said. “You can even toast people with our beers, because in the cannabis world, there are gummies and chocolates, but let’s face it. When people are getting married, you can’t toast the bride and the groom with a gummy bear.”