Britain’s newfound enthusiasm for CBD products has collided with a much more established national passion – alcohol. Some companies are aiming to capitalise on trends towards more “acceptable” drinking by launching CBD spirits.
However, not all beverages are created equal. And a few appear to be trying to use hemp imagery to cash in on the growing popularity of CBD without the expense or regulatory diligence required – to the dismay of those that have taken the time and expense.
Companies are particularly interested in gin as a CBD spirit, with a number of launches over the past year. This is in part because the bitter flavour of CBD works well with typical botanicals but also because gin is a relatively easy spirit to infuse substances into to produce a small batch product that can be viewed as artisanal.
New brands such as Muhu Gin – recently bought by Hempyre, a UK-based hemp-formulated packaged goods company – have tended to target health-conscious consumers.
Muhu Gin founder Sally Wynter sees her product as appealing to younger consumers with a “drinking less but drinking better” mentality, or those of any age who prefer less-sweet spirits. She puts the inclusion of CBD alongside the gin being low-calorie, with no added sugar.
(Added sugar is a particular concern for some gin drinkers and producers. London dry gin is designated as having no more than 0.1 g of sugar per litre. However, other gins may have sugar added and a number of flavoured gins appear to be relatively heavily laden, without necessarily disclosing that information – leading to calls for greater transparency.)
Silent Pool Distillers of Guildford, Surrey, cited “the rise in popularity of CBD in various markets” and its “unique health benefits” as motivations behind their Colorado High gin.
Silent Pool says the “particularly high CBD content” of its gin gives drinkers the cannabinoid’s therapeutic benefits. There is 200 mg of CBD per 50 cl in Silent Pool’s Colorado High. This appears to be a higher CBD content than is found in some other brands – though a few do not list specific quantities.
Top Beverages, a Stockport-based CBD spirit specialist, also wants to see consumers “drinking smarter”. It goes even further, referring to research suggesting CBD might have the potential to minimise “liver and cognitive damage” from regular drinking. Top Beverages also emphasised that “unlike most gins”, theirs has no added sugar, artificial colours or flavours.
None of the spirit brands contacted suggested CBD as an alcohol substitute, although Top Beverages said the two were “harmonious”. There are some low- or zero-alcohol beers and alternatives to spirits on the market which appear to include CBD for that implied reason.
Another new product offering from the US trademarked as Hemp You Can Feel promises CBD with a small buzz. It advertises itself as “provid[ing] a level of relaxation you can truly feel. And all of this without any of the adverse effects of alcohol.”
There are also a number of spirits on the UK market which only infuse hemp leaves or seeds, and so contain very low or even zero cannabinoid content. Many of those brands lean heavily on the apparent connection to cannabis in their labelling and marketing, a tactic which Top Beverages described as “tired and overused”.
As for the combination with gin, the advantage for artisanal producers is that they can customise and distinguish their product with their own unique mix of botanicals, whether they distill the base spirit themselves or purchase it from a wholesaler.
Typically, gin producers in the UK buy in a neutral spirit and add their own range of botanicals, making it easy to add in CBD as another step. A few brands do start by distilling their own liquor.
There is also a growing UK wholesale sector supplying CBD extracts, the burgeoning popularity of which might help new spirit brands stand out.
And gin producers have found that CBD oil – which many people find bitter on its own – and more traditional botanical ingredients can complement one another. Top Beverages said the cannabinoid extract “acts as a type of botanical”, and emphasised attention paid to the purity and type of carrier oils for the CBD in creating their flavourings.
Silent Pool compares the flavour of its CBD oil flavour to grapefruit and suggests a gin and tonic using its Colorado High brand as a more pleasurable way to take CBD.
Muhu’s Sally Wynter goes further, saying she included CBD in her gin primarily for flavour, because it “lifted the other botanicals”.
There are also some CBD-infused vodkas and rums on the UK market, but most are flavoured or spiced. And as producers seek to create unique products, it could be these flavoured rums and vodkas lack the botanical options and combinations that are available for gin to expand.
What This Means: With gin and CBD appearing to be a complementary combination – and gin itself being very much the spirit in vogue – the UK could be poised to see the launch soon of even more new brands aimed at health-conscious drinkers.
This is in contrast to North American markets, where cannabis and alcohol products have largely been kept separate, with knock-backs from regulators helping to keep a lid on the market.
– Simon Ferrie CBD-Intel contributing writer
Photo: Muhu Spirits