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Hemp-Infused Beers a Hit Among European Palates

August 13, 2016

Cannabis and beer: Can they go together? In the heart of Europe, definitely. Two countries known for their twin loves of beer and cannabis have managed to bring the art of brewing cannabis-infused beer to perfection. 

First a dab of history. The first commercially produced European beer infused with essential oils and extracts from hemp was produced in 1996 in Berlin. Called Turn it failed to appeal to the masses. The Bavarian brewery Weissenohe was more successful when, in 2001, it introduced Cannabis Club Suds, setting a standard of quality for cannabis-infused brews that endures today.

Another explosion came around 2005, as the first breweries in the Czech Republic got involved in the trend.

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Both Czech and German breweries use hemp extracts that contain no THC. Though the resulting product still delivers a recognizable cannabis aroma and taste, it won’t get you high like some of the THC-infused beverages in some U.S. states. 

Still, Czech-made beer infused with hemp became an instant hit. Thirsty Bohemian beer swillers were falling in love with the original, refreshing taste that combined two of their favorite things. 

Over the past decade, such infusions have become more and more common in jurisdictions with legal cannabis. It didn’t take long before dozens of Czech breweries — particularly smaller ones looking to fill a niche — jumped on the bandwagon and started producing cannabis-infused beers of their own.

There are many different hemp beers sold in the continent, mostly in central European shops, supermarkets, and liquor stores. The brews are especially popular during Prague’s Cannafest, one of the two biggest cannabis trade fairs in Europe.

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Czech brews such as Hemp Valley Beer and KonoPí (CannaBeer) have joined Cannabis Club Suds and others as perennial favorites in the eyes and taste buds of expert juries at beer and cannabis events around the continent. 

Czech and German canna-beers nowadays are enjoyed by Germans, Austrians, Italians, Poles and other Europeans. 

The Cannabaceae Family Resemblance 

While Czechs are routinely among the most enthusiast cannabis users in Europe, they’re also the world’s biggest consumers of beer. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Czechs aged between 15 and 34 lead Europe in cannabis use, with more than 20 percent of them having used cannabis at least once in past year. (The European average is 11.7 percent.) When it comes to lager, Czechs put back some 130 to 140 liters per person annually. That’s nearly a beer every workday for each man, women, and child in the country. Second-placed Germans managed to down 110 to 120 liters per person annually. Most of that is done in Bavaria.

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Could this Czech enthusiasm for herbal-based products be due to cannabis and hops — the characteristic flavor ingredient in beer — both being members of the Cannabaceae family of plants?

Czech Saaz hops have been cultivated for multiple centuries in the country and are among the world’s most prized varieties of aromatic hops. Saaz hops give lager, or pilsner beer which originated in Plzen, Czech Republic, its flavor: mild, herbal, and spicy. The locals are also among Europe’s most avid outdoor cannabis cultivators.

Do the tastes for bud and suds have anything to do with one another? It’s a question worth pondering over round of hempy brews.

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Lukas Hurt's Bio Image
Lukas Hurt

Lukas Hurt is Leafly’s central and eastern Europe correspondent. Originally from a small town outside Prague, he studied history and English at university. After a stint as a bartender in Ireland, he returned to his home country in 2010, where he now works as a translator, journalist, and editor focusing on cannabis issues. He has advocated for patients and recreational consumers, publishing articles and translating books and scientific studies. He is one of the main contributors to the highly popular Czech cannabis magazine Legalizace.

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