Pubdate: February 1, 1998
Source: The Courier-Journal
Author: Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
Contact:  525 W. Broadway, PO Box 740031 Louisville, Ky., 40201-7431


Lexington, Ky.-- For smoking it’s a dud, but as a drink hemp is proving to
pack appeal when put in suds.

Lexington Brewing Co. concocted a recipe for a new beer that adds hemp seeds
and cuts back on hops. The result: Kentucky Hemp Beer.

“It makes good beer,” said Bill Ambrose, president of Lexington Brewing.
“The hemp seed adds a more mellow, less bitter taste than the hops. It’s a
very mellow, floral, American-style beer.”

Adding the brown, BB-size hemp seeds links the beer to Kentucky's past. Hemp
once thrived as a legal crop on many Kentucky farms.

“It seemed very Kentucky,” said Brian Miller, brewmaster at the nearly
4-year-old Lexington brewery.

This hemp isn’t home-grown, however. Industrial hemp cannot be grown legally
in the United States, stigmatized by its psychoactive cousin, marijuana, so
the brewery buys hemp seeds imported from France.

Both are members of the same species, Cannabis sativa, except industrial
hemp contains only minute amounts of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol.
The hemp seeds are put in kilns and sterilized after arrival on the East
Coast under the watchful eyes of federal drug agents. Sterilization
guarantees seeds can’t be planted and grown into the fibrous plant.

Lexington Brewing hopes it tapped into a niche market with its hemp brew.

David Edgar, director of the Institute for Brewing Studies in Boulder,
Colo., said he had heard of five other hemp beers -- two produced in
California, and one each in Maryland, Delaware and Vermont. Edgar said it’s
too early to tell whether hemp beer will gain a foothold.

“It’s not going to revolutionize the beer industry,” he said. “But time will
tell. For the brewers that are doing it and the customers, it’s a fun
thing....Five years from now, it could either end up as a novelty that had
its day in the sun and faded, or it could be a new niche within the
craft-brewing segment.”

The hemp beers with widest distribution are Hempen Ale and Hempen Gold,
brewed and bottled at Frederick Brewing Co. in Frederick, Md. The brand
sells in 37 states and accounted for more than 40 percent of the brewery’s
sales last year, said Kevin Brannon, the brewery’s CEO.

“It’s not just a gimmick,” he said. “The quality of the beer is carrying it

Hempen Ale, which started reaching stores and bars last May, won an award at
the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last year, Brannon said.

The Kentucky-made hemp beer has been sold across Kentucky as well as in Ohio
and Georgia since its introduction in January. The company plans to expand
sales into other states in the region within a few months, Ambrose said.

Using hemp seeds as an ingredient isn’t a stretch, Miller said. Hemp is a
relative of hops--the traditional flavoring agent of beer, he said.

“It’s the oils and resonance in the hops plant that gives the flavor, and
it’s the exact same thing with the hemp seeds,” Miller said.

Hops remain an ingredient in the hemp beer, but the amount is cut by a third
and replaced with hemp seeds, curtailing the bitter aftertaste.

At the brewery, seeds are crushed and added along with hops to a giant
kettle that boils with malted barley early in the brewing process.

The alcohol content of the hemp beer is comparable to most beers produced by
large brewing companies, but lower than most micro-brews, Miller said.

Strong demand led the brewery to expand production of hemp beer. The beer’s
name probably attracted many buyers at first, but the taste will determine
whether it has sustained success, Ambrose said.

The hemp beer has been popular with customers at the Liquor Barn stores in
Lexington, said spokeswoman Sheila Ferrell. The brew also has drawn praise
from the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association and others backing
legalization of the plant, which was a mainstay on many Kentucky farms until
its final prohibition after World War II.

But Lexington Brewing wants to shun the debate about hemp.

“We’re not taking any political stand on any of the issues,” Miller said.
“The driving factor (to use hemp) was to brew a good beer.”