Colorado Hemp Beer From New Belgium

How New Belgium Brewing developed the Hemperor HPA and why it's worth a try

When you think of hemp, you probably think of marijuana—or the protein-rich seeds you toss into a morning smoothie. But you should also be thinking about alcohol: Earlier this month New Belgium Brewing released the Hemperor HPA, a pale ale brewed with hemp hearts.

"It's a pretty game-changing ingredient," Ross Koenigs, New Belgium's research and development brewer, says. "It's a really compelling, environmentally sustainable crop. You have as much aromatic and genetic diversity in hemp as you would hops."

That's not surprising, considering the two plants are related. Hemp also has another famous relative: marijuana. Both come from the same genus (Cannabis sativa L.), but hemp is non-psychoactive, meaning it contains no THC and can't get you high.

Nevertheless, industrial hemp—an environmentally friendly crop that can be used in everything from skin care products to clothing to construction materials—is still closely regulated by the government, so New Belgium's brewers were limited to using just dehulled hemp seeds, or hemp hearts. The brewery sourced them from Colorado Cultivars, an organic hemp farm based in Eaton, Colorado. Koenigs and his team amplified the ingredient's earthy quality by dry-hopping the mixture with a combination of Cascade, Simcoe and HBC 522 hops. Recipe development took more than two years.

New Belgium is not the first brewery to experiment with hemp—Humboldt Brewing CompanyFitger's Brewhouse and others have previously released brews incorporating the ingredient. But hemp beers remain rare, and Koenigs believes the Hemperor HPA is the only one to authentically capture hemp's aroma.

That scent could, quite frankly, be labeled as dank. Yep, the Hemperor HPA smells like weed. "That was really the point," Koenigs says. "We've complemented it nicely with an IPA backbone, but we want this thing to smell like a sweet, stinky bag of weed."

Intrigued palates can taste the beer on draft at local bars now (find one near you) or wait for the year-round brew to hit liquor stores in six-packs on May 21. The Hemperor HPA is available in 49 states (Kansas banned the beer). What's more, New Belgium has pledged one dollar from every barrel sold to Hemp 4 Victory, a national campaign encouraging the production of agricultural hemp.

Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. Follow her on Instagram at @daliah16 and on Twitter at @daliahsinger.