The emergence of marijuana in liquid form shouldn't be surprising. Before its possession was criminalized in the 1930s, marijuana was commonly ingested via liquid tincture alcohol. Today, tinctures - sometimes made instead with glycerin - are increasingly popular in legal marijuana dispensaries.
Still, California marijuana activist Ed Rosenthal doubts that even as weed laws are relaxed nationwide, we'll ever see legal pot brew.
"It's not going to happen because commercialization would get into the realm of alcohol regulations," said Rosenthal, who in 1984 authored and self-published Marijuana Beer: How to Make Your Own Hi-Brew Beer.
Now out of print, a single copy costs more than $100 on Amazon.com. I asked Rosenthal if he would share some tips.
Most recipes, he said, make use of the leaves, not the more potent buds. More industrious homebrewers use kief, the resinous, THC-packed cannabis glands that can be painstakingly sifted from the plant.
The two biggest challenges, Rosenthal said, are off flavors and contamination. If the marijuana is added during the initial wort boil, its water-soluble tars and chlorophyll will be extracted, giving the beer a nasty, plantlike flavor. Added after the boil, it can introduce bacteria and sour the beer.
Rosenthal said the easiest solution is soaking the weed for a couple of hours in cold water, without stirring, to remove those foul-tasting ingredients. The marijuana (about one ounce per gallon) is then added during the initial wort boil.
What's it taste like?
Not long ago, I got my hands on a bottle of homebrewed hemp hooch. Purely in the spirit of journalistic curiosity, you understand.
Dark and murky, it looked like an unfiltered brown ale. It smelled like a resinous dry-hopped ale, but it tasted like a freshly cut lawn. I'd tell you more about it, but I seem to be experiencing a bout of short-term memory loss.
While it seemed a bit of a waste of expensive herb, it's not hard to understand the urge to pair the two intoxicants. After all, one of the vital ingredients of beer - those bitter hop flowers known as humulus lupulus - is a species in the same family that includes cannabis.
Indeed, several commercial brewers make beer with hemp seeds. They're completely legal, because the seeds contain no THC, marijuana's psychoactive component. The feds nonetheless prohibit drug references and images of those familiar spiked leaves on labels.
Typically, the seeds are toasted and add a nutty flavor to the beer's finish.
The best I've tasted so far is the wittily named Metacool Maltuwanna from Wynkoop Brewing Co. Because it's not packaged, the beer didn't have to go through federal label review. That means the only place to score some is at the company's brewpub in Denver, America's so-called "mile-high medical marijuana capital."
It's an imperial amber ale that's exceptionally smooth and malty but not overly sweet. There's no grassy flavor, and the only buzz I caught was from its 7.8 percent alcohol content.
Can't find a dealer? I recommend one of these other hemp beers: Nectar Ales Hemp Ale (California); Uinta Dubhe Imperial Black IPA (Utah); O'Fallon Hemp Hop Rye amber ale (Missouri).
"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.