cannabis and beer on picnic table

Hemp and Hops: Is it the Ticket to Winning Gen Z?

Given the choice to drink or to partake in cannabis use, Gen Z continually reports a love for the latter.  This likely isn’t particularly surprising given that the youngest adults were maturing just as we saw the lifting of pot bans throughout the US.  Of course, for those of us in the alcoholic beverage industry, this could be seen as a bit of bad news.  However, the surveys show that Gen-Zers aren’t always looking to smoke their hemp and cannabis products.  They’ve shown a distinct interest in edibles and really anything infused with CBD.  Another worthwhile note for the parents in this crowd – Gen Zs also showed less interest in tobacco (absolutely unrelated to this article, but we just want you to feel good about the kids you raised into adulthood!)

Understanding Generation Z: 1997-2012

When the oldest were being born, Steve Jobs was retaking the helm at Apple.  In fact, many of them have literally never known life BI (before iPhones).  Y2K was barely a blip on the map for the toddlers. Many of the Zs were not even a glimmer yet, while we were panicking about a technology apocalypse.  For some, the year of their birth was also the birth of artists like The Weeknd and Lumineers.  The only way they could have watched Friends, Fresh Prince, or Seinfeld is to stream them.  “What’s cable?”

Getting back to business – in particular the business of infusing our brews with the Zoomers’ favorite flavor: hemp – several breweries around the country have started incorporating cannabis into their recipes.  At first, we believe, it was more an experiment to see what tantalizing tastes may come from the combo.  However, with the evident zeal from the Zers, it makes sense to take the testing to new levels.

Let’s begin by saying most brewers have stayed far away from THC.  The psychoactive part of the cannabis is riddled with uncertainties in the current political environment, and few want to play the game of determining where, when, and for how long they can sell their products.  So, the obvious choice was to focus on the pain-reducing stress-dissolver known as CBD. 

The hemp meets hops movement has been a bit slow to build steam as manufacturers take on regulators to explain that the combo is not one that will result in a dangerous drunk.  There is an additional headache associated with hemp infusion, for sure, but it has nothing to do with hangovers.  The Ringer interviewed the congressional liaison for the TTB, who reported that regular beer recipes must be approved, but the approval process is standardized.  Hemp infused brews are more harshly critiqued by the governing body.  

It does, though, expand the potential flavor profiles for an industry founded on creative exploration.  It’s also a way for craft beer brewers to tap into the next market demographic.  Despite the challenges, there is a great potential for big reward if brewers can effectively speak the language of the generation currently celebrating their 21st birthdays.