Hits From the Tap: Cypress Hill and SweetWater Collaborate on a Cannabis-Inspired BeerJanuary 16, 2020
There’s never been a smokescreen hiding Cypress Hill’s message. Since blazing across pop culture in early ’90s, the Latinx hip-hop legends have been the high priests of smoking pot, speakers brimming with not-so-subtle, complex cannabis anthems such as “Hits From the Bong,” “Insane in the Brain,” and “I Want to Get High.”
What listeners might have missed between lyrics rhyming “grass” with “ass” is plenty of beer in the background. “If you go back to our first Cypress Hill album and listen to ‘Hand on the Pump,’ the chorus is ‘Sawed off shotgun, hand on the pump / Left hand on a 40, puffing on a blunt,’” says Louis Freese, better known as B-Real, a founding MC of the hip-hip trio. “That meant drinking a 40-ounce beer while puffing on a blunt. People have been drinking beer and smoking weed together forever.”
In early February, B-Real will remix that kinship with the nationwide release of 420 Strain: Insane OG Mexican-Style Craft Lager, a collaboration with SweetWater Brewing. The seasonal release, available until the end of May, “smells like you’re drinking a bag of weed,” B-Real says.
That sound you heard is my 17-year-old brain going boom. It’s a buck-wild new world, one I couldn’t have predicted in my most fully baked high school fantasy. But the last half-decade has brought recreational cannabis to California, Colorado, Illinois, and more, states plunging headlong into the legal waters. Buying dubious dime bags from some dude behind the 7-Eleven’s dumpsters is dated news, replaced by dispensaries as sleek as Apple stores, budtenders serving strains tailored to every mood, dude.
B-Real is a prominent figure in this flowering cultural realignment, opening a chain of Dr. Greenthumb cannabis dispensaries stretching from Sacramento to San Francisco and a little city called Los Angeles. (B-Real nabbed his Dr. Greenthumb nickname from another Cypress Hill song.) He also hosts Viceland’s cannabis cooking show Bong Appétit, sponsored by SweetWater.
“Music, beer and weed always go hand in hand, right?” says SweetWater cofounder Freddy Bensch. “We’ve been big fans of Cypress Hill going back to the old days.”
The brewery has been wink-wink about weed since its 1997 founding, releasing an extra pale ale called 420—slang for getting stoned—and hosting the annual 420 Fest, a music-and-beer celebration that’s featured Cypress Hill. As pot’s public-opinion polls trended upward, SweetWater put its love of cannabis front and center with its 420 Strain series that debuted in August 2018.
SweetWater mimics specific cannabis varieties’ aromatic signatures by using a calibrated blend of hops, hemp flavors, and terpenes—organic compounds that give plants such as pine trees and mint their distinct scents. Current members of the series include G13 IPA, which smells dankly resinous, while Mango Kush wheat beer packs a pungently fruity punch and Chocolope takes a chocolaty stout on a tropical ride. The 420 Strain line has been a scorching success, with Chicago-based market research firm IRI naming G13 the top new craft beer brand in 2019. “We want to continue to feed it,” Bensch says.
That’s where B-Real comes in. The rapper and cannabis entrepreneur had long admired SweetWater for splashing 420 across its labels. Craft breweries, he says, are much like cannabis cultivators in “coming up with all these different flavors that people enjoy… It’s a great opportunity to bring our brands together and show the possibility of taking these flavor profiles and putting them in beer.”
For the collaboration, B-Real selected his flagship Dr. Greenthumb strain, Insane OG, and a Mexican lager that SweetWater goosed to around 5.6 percent ABV, more akin to a medium-bodied Modelo Negra than any clear-bottled, lime-squeezed beach beer. “It provides a nice platform,” Bensch says. SweetWater brewed the lager with fruity Crystal and Jolly Rancher–like El Dorado hops, complemented by terpenes and hemp flavor that ape Insane OG’s grape fragrance.
“The fact that it smells like cannabis is fucking amazing,” says B-Real, who traveled to Atlanta for the December brew day. He’ll return in February to celebrate the collaboration by performing at SweetWater’s 23rd anniversary bash, equally a party and an opportunity to spread cannabis education. “People that might not necessarily be cannabis users might taste the beer and want to learn about it,” he says. “Maybe that drives them to cannabis culture. I think that’s a win.”
SweetWater will continue exploring the intersection of beer and cannabis in its 420 Strain series with releases such as Trainwreck hazy double IPA, which will also debut in February as a new year-round beer. It’s redolent of ripe oranges rolled in vanilla beans and pine needles, showcasing how “cannabis strains run the gamut of flavor, aroma and occasions, and our beers will hopefully run the gamut too,” Bensch says. It’s a fertile opportunity for craft breweries to grow their audience by creating crossover hits from the bong.
“Who’s the drinker and what’s the occasion? I think it’s infinite,” Bensch says. “We’re creating a new consumer.”