Beer and Cannabis Share Flavour Compounds
Terpenes – they are are organic compounds known as hydrocarbons, and they
play a large role in the distinctive smell and taste of cannabis.
It may interest you to know that these same hydrocarbons are also present, in significant proportion, in hops – a major component of the “wort boil” in the brewing process and final flavour of beer.
What does it take to brew beer?
Brewing beer begins with milling grain. Seeds are then soaked in water which causes them to germinate. The germination is halted by drying the seeds. This process is known as “malting” and the resulting germinated seeds are referred to as “malt”.
The kernels in the malt are then crushed, beginning a process whereby fermentable sugars are extracted to produce “grist”.
Grist is then mixed with heated water to create a “mash”. During this process the starches in the malt are broken down by naturally occurring enzymes in the malt which produce sugars.
A sweet liquid called “wort” is separated from the grain husks. The wort is brought to a boil and hops are added to the mixture.
The wort is subsequently separated from lingering hop and malt particles, and left to cool.
Yeast is then added to the wort to begin the fermentation process. After which, the beer is left to mature.
Once completed, the beer is filtered, carbonated and cellared for about a month until it is ready to be bottled.
Terpenes in Beer Brewing
If it hasn’t occurred to you already, terpenes enter into the brewing process when the wort is boiled and hops are added to the mixture.
Terpenes are present in the hop essential oils, accounting anywhere from 0.5 – 3% of the total hop weight.
There are three variations of these organic compounds in essential oils, and their concentrations can fluctuate. They are as follows:
- hydrocarbons (50-80%)
- oxygenated hydrocarbons (20-50%)
- hydrocarbons that contain chemically bound sulfur (1%)
The role of Terpenes in Beer Flavour
Hydrocarbons are insoluble in water and are unlikely to survive the rest of the brewing process, or make it into a finished beer.
Among the three types of hydrocarbons listed above, the most likely to survive the brewing process are the oxygenated hydrocarbons due to the fact that they are more water soluble than their unoxidized counterparts.
This is not insignificant insofar as the terpenes linalool, geraniol, limonene, and alpha-terpineol are all oxygenated hydrocarbons. These terpenes are responsible for the floral, fruity, and citrus notes in hops, and can impart these characteristics in varying degrees to finished beer.
Computational gastronomy: beer and cannabis
The idea that beer and marijuana could be successfully combined to produce sensations or flavours that we find palatable is supported by computational gastronomy.
Computational gastronomy “is premised, at least in part, on the notion that one can make recommendations for novel, but purportedly successful, flavour pairings based on the identification of common flavour compounds.”
The question is, are shared flavour compounds enough to determine a successful flavour combination between beer and cannabis?
Tying It All Together – The Marijuana Beer Infusion
As stated previously, some oxygenated hydrocarbons survive the brewing process and contribute to the final flavour of beer.
However, the degree to which they impart flavour is increased or decreased by innovations or changes to the brewing process, namely the use of low-fermentation and “dry hopping”.
There are several ways to achieve fermentation and they depend upon the type of yeast that is used.
Yeast are single celled microorganisms that reproduce by “budding”. They are a fungus and are responsible for converting fermentable sugars into alcohol.
There are hundreds of varieties of yeast, but for the purposes of this article we will focus on two. They are Saccharomyces Cerevisiae and Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis (formerly Uvarum). These two varieties of yeast are known as “top-fermenting” and “bottom-fermenting” respectively.
Top-fermenting yeast is used for the production of ales, porters, stouts, allbier, kolsch, and wheat beer. Its name is derived from the fact that during fermentation it produces a head that rises to the surface. Beers produced with this yeast are high in esters, a distinctive quality of ales, and are fermented at a temperature anywhere from 10 degrees celsius to 25 degrees celsius.
In contrast, bottom-fermenting yeast is used for the production of lagers, pilsners, dortmunders, marzen, bocks, and american malt liquor. It grows less rapidly than ale yeasts and the name is derived from the fact that during fermentation it tends to settle to the bottom. Beers produced with this yeast are fermented at a temperature anywhere from 7 degrees celsius to 15 degrees celsius.
The question remains, why does bottom-fermenting yeast exaggerate the degree to which the terpenes present in hops impart flavour to finished beer? The answer is because bottom-fermenting yeast is used to create lagers which have a much more pronounced hop flavour than their ale counterparts.
The implication of this is that the shared flavour compounds between cannabis and beer will be more distinguishable in beers made with bottom-fermenting yeasts than beers made with top-fermenting yeasts.
In addition to the impact of yeast and fermentation type on the prominence of hop flavour, and by extension terpene flavour, is the impact of “dry hopping”.
Dry hopping entails adding the buds of humulus lupulus to a beer prior to bottling but after the brewing process has been completed. This is done to impart a stronger flavour of hops on the finished beer, but without extracting (through boiling) the essential oils of the buds which are responsible for the bitterness in beer. The result of this is that the beer is imbued with all of the fruity, citrusy, and floral notes of hops and none of the bitterness.
As stated previously, the floral, citrus, and fruity notes in hops are due to its terpenoid profile (linalool, geraniol, limonene, and alpha-terpineol). This has the effect of exaggerating the overlap in flavour between cannabis and beers that include dry hopping as part of the finishing process.
There are many dry hopped beer brands, too many to list here, but as a general rule you should consider pairing your cannabis with a quality India Pale Ale (IPA) as a lot of them are dry hopped, or a lager as they are produced with a bottom-fermenting yeast.
The carryover in flavour is quite palatable and the dominant hop flavour has a refreshing quality that undercuts the heavy, hot, and aromatic smoke from cannabis.
If you manage to find a dry hopped lager, that is pure bliss.
coming soon …
“does the temporal order in which we smoke cannabis or drink beer affect how we perceive their taste? “
“should we smoke first or drink first, or both at the same time?”