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New Belgium Brewing's Hemperor HPA highlights hemp and hops 

click to enlarge Though The Hemperor has no THC, only one state — Kansas — blocked its sales. - COURTESY NEW BELGIUM BREWING COMPANY
  • Courtesy New Belgium Brewing Company
  • Though The Hemperor has no THC, only one state — Kansas — blocked its sales.
In agriculture, the hemp plant and hops are often referred to as “cousins” so it’s no surprise many breweries have long been curious about hemp’s untapped flavor possibilities. New Belgium Brewing Company began serving up its first hemp-based beer, The Hemperor HPA (the “H” stands for hops and hemp), in late April at its tasting room in Fort Collins. The release of six-pack bottles of “The World’s Dankest Beer,” a light golden brew, followed just a few weeks later.

Even though The Hemperor does not contain THC, Jesse Claeys, public relations coordinator at New Belgium, says, “Anybody that cracks open a Hemperor HPA... it smells like a loud sack of marijuana.”

New Belgium’s website notes, “Without getting too nerdy, we found a unique way to recreate hemp terpene flavors in a beer, which complement the inclusion of hop flavors and hemp hearts (seeds) in a brand new, delicious way — not to mention this beer is extremely dank!”

Claeys says, “A lot of brewers have wanted to capture that dank hop aroma and flavor, but to do it, it takes bringing hemp into the beer. It really just adds an aroma and flavor profile that is cannabis-leaning. We found the next hop, but also a whole new category to take hoppy beer forward into the future.”

New Belgium sources organic hemp seeds from Colorado Cultivars, the largest producer of hemp in the state.

The Hemperor also comes with a strong hops background. New Belgium is one of the first breweries to use a specific varietal of hops known as “HBC 522” alongside traditional selections of Nugget, Cascade and Simcoe. Claeys explains that New Belgium works closely with local farms to discover and test new styles routinely.

But putting hemp in beer isn’t without its complications. It’s still a Schedule I drug federally despite a pilot program that allows it to be grown and used widely, as well as congressional efforts to legalize it. Claeys says New Belgium predicted “some challenges right out of the gate” for The Hemperor due to its unique ingredient.
New Belgium distributes beers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico with approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. But a single state, Kansas, has blocked sales of The Hemperor within its boundaries.

“Each state is given the opportunity to review the product,” says Claeys. “Most states fall right in line, but with this beer we saw more states take a harder look at it.”

Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control prohibits hemp seed in any alcoholic beverage based on its interpretation of the state’s current industrial hemp law. New Belgium states that it’s the company’s “understanding that [Kansas is] taking guidance from their attorney general’s opinion and their concern is that hemp could possibly have resin, which is illegal, since it contains THC and CBD properties.”

“Luckily all the states, except Kansas, allowed for this innovative, game-changing beer,” Claeys says. “We were surprised and disappointed [by the decision in Kansas], but you have to look at it as a whole picture.”

The large-scale passion project for New Belgium is “years in the making” and the 100-percent-employee-owned business is firm and outspoken on its position as staunch supporters of the rapidly growing Colorado industry. A $1 donation from every barrel of The Hemperor sold goes toward efforts that promote education and the progression of hemp laws.

“What’s really cool about this beer is that it invites a conversation,” says Claeys. “...It has the means to raise awareness about the current legislation around industrial hemp [which] we feel [is] unnecessarily suppressive.”

The company also nurtures a relationship with GCH, Inc. Willie Nelson’s Colorado-based organization that works to change antiquated hemp laws and facilitates a cohesive branding market for cannabis-related businesses.

“The state is on the cutting edge of hemp and marijuana and the legislation of this product,” says Claeys. “There’s a lot of loud voices championing hemp for oil, food, fabric, animal feed; people are making plastic, lubricants even concrete. This one crop. The only reason we’re not going down this road is because of its classification and that’s just ludicrous. New Belgium believes that has to change.”

Visual: Very light golden
Flavor: Sweet throughout with a mild bitter finish
Aroma: Herbal cannabis in a big way (does not contain THC)
Mouthfeel/Body: Coating initially, slightly sweet, with a dry finish; medium body
ABV: 7.0%
IBU: 55
Yeast: Ale yeast
Calories: 200
Hops: Nugget, Cascade, HBC 522 and Simcoe
Malts: Pale, White Wheat and Midnight Wheat

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