When I walked into Shamrocks Irish Nook for a team happy hour on the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day I got a blast of green I didn’t expect.
From the moment I set foot in the place, and all the way back to our table in the back-back room, all I could smell was reefer. The deep, heady, earthy odor of fresh, dank buds. ‘Someone has to be carrying some weight to make that much of an aroma,’ I thought to myself as I took a seat at the table.
“Whichever one of you brought the weed to happy hour is carrying some good shit,” I playfully accused my colleagues. “It’s literally funking up the entire bar.”
A few quick, defensive denials and a small chorus of ‘I smelled that too’ are followed by an unbelievable explanation: “That’s that new New Belgium hemp beer,” offers our publisher, Matt Kenevan. “I think they only opened one bottle and the whole place reeks.”
“No––that’s weed,” I say, convinced it must be a coincidence. After all, ‘who’s Matt Kenevan to question my cannabis cred?,’ I say to myself.
“Let’s see if they have another bottle,” says Matt, as I begin sniffing around the table, employee-to-employee, purse-to-jacket pocket for the cannabis culprit. “I’m telling you, dude. It’s the beer,” reiterates Matt as Mike Runyon, owner of Shamrocks, suddenly appears with a labelless bottle with the iconic New Belgium collar. “Pretty crazy, right?!,” exclaims Mike as he pops the top of The Hemperor and begins pouring samples.
I’ve never been so pleased to admit I was wrong.
The Hemperor HPA (Hemp Pale Ale) is here and it’s far and away the weediest beer I’ve ever had the pleasure to try. For years brewers have exploited the similarities in the characteristics between hops and pot to create beers that exhibit some level of “dankness,” but New Belgium has hands down come the closest in my (relatively extensive) experience.
“Let’s face it, brewers have been trying to get cannabis-like aromas from hops for years, but it’s always missing a certain something,” said Ross Koenigs, New Belgium’s Research and Development Brewer. “The Hemperor HPA is possibly the first beer to deliver meaningful hemp flavors and aromas.”
The beer has taken time to perfect. It was brewed with hemp hearts—also known as hemp seeds—because federal law prohibits brewers from using hemp leaf and flower. Since the hearts are less pungent, aromatically speaking, than the other parts of the plant, New Belgium bolstered the dankness by dry-hopping with Simcoe and experimental HBC 522 hops, whose terpenes best mimicked the distinctive characteristics of marijuana. Terpenes are a class of organic compounds produced by several types of flowers and trees, especially conifers, and are responsible for producing flavors and aromas in plants. The Hemperor contains neither THC nor CBD, the active ingredients in cannabis.
“This beer has been over two years in the making, most of the time spent learning and reacting to laws that really suppress this crop’s usage,” Koenigs said of the beer that is currently banned in Kansas and may face a similar fate in Texas. “Flavor-wise, this the beer we wanted to make, but due to misinformed laws governing the use of industrial hemp, we had to take a creative and long-winding road to get to this point. We’re happy with where we landed, and we’ll be working to change federal regulation so that one day we can brew The Hemperor HPA with hemp flowers and leaves as we originally envisioned.”
New Belgium also hopes the beer can help destigmatize the industry of commercial hemp.
“The restrictive regulatory process around brewing The Hemperor HPA gives New Belgium the opportunity and platform to raise awareness around the social, environmental and economic benefits of industrial hemp,” the company said in a press release. New Belgium is partnering with GCH Inc, the company founded by Willie Nelson, in supporting the national campaign, Hemp 4 Victory. One dollar from every barrel of The Hemperor HPA sold will be donated to Hemp 4 Victory in support of its mission to raise awareness and promote pro-hemp bills in the House and Senate.
Hemperor HPA is available on draft beginning April 2, with 12 oz. bottles arriving across the nation on May 21st. Keep an eye out for a Hemperor 4/20 party near you.
The Hemperor HPA
Malts: Pale, White Wheat, and Midnight Wheat
Hops: Nugget, Cascade, HBC 522, and Simcoe
Special ingredients: Hemp hearts and natural flavor
Color: Light golden
Aroma: DANK-ASS WEED, sweet grains, toast, citrus
Flavor: Medium-bodied. Hemp and malt character balance nicely with dank bitterness. Woody/”stemmy.” Sweet grains and sour green apple.
Finish: Slightly astringent. Wet leaves, fresh flowers, toasted nuts, and citrus.
Overall: A fascinating pale ale. The average craft beer drinker will enjoy this one very much (if it doesn’t get them kicked out of the bar).