Any lover of ale can attest that the craft beer space is steadily approaching a point of oversaturation; so much so that new consumers can feel quite overwhelmed at the available selection circulating the market.
With so many brewers looking for new and exciting ways to set themselves apart from the competition, many are turning to novel niches to stand out on store shelves. A good example of this phenomenon is the emergence of experimental beers infused with various plant terpenes.
A Quick Guide to Terpenes
Terpenes are aromatic compounds occurring naturally in almost all plant life, along with some insects. In the wild, terpenes serve important botanical functions, such as protecting plants from predators or attracting pollinators during crucial stages of their growth cycles. In scientific literature, they are increasingly well-established as having notable potential for therapeutic applications.
Reputable retailers sell terpenes with strain-based formulations as well as in isolate form, making them ideal for infusion into anything from vape oils to pie filling for flavour, aroma and health benefits.
So how well do terpenes go into beer? In this post, we go over terpenes common to virtually any glass of garden-variety ale, as well as why and how the infusion of new terpenes can benefit experimental beers for next to no additional cost to home or professional brewers.
Three Common Terpenes Already Found in Beer
Most consumers are unaware that a good number of terpenes occur naturally in the basic ingredients that comprise any glass of beer. Examples include:
- Myrcene is highly abundant in hops, and is characterised by its strong herbaceous and spicy flavor profile.
- Humulene is found not only in hops, but in malted barley as well. It’s well recognized not only in beer, but in all of its infusion applications for its woody, earthy flavor and aroma.
- Geraniol is a rosey and floral terpene found in many hop cultivars used in making beer. This terpene can also be found in thyme, basil and citronella
Although various terpenes are present in the main ingredients of even average beers, they are typically damaged or destroyed outright in high heat stages of the brewing process, as in the boiling of wort. Infusing terpenes after these phases — ideally right before the carbonation process — can lend not only flavours and aromas to the final product, but any of a range of therapeutic properties as well.
Why Infuse Terpenes Into Beer?
The profiles of numerous terpenes can do plenty to add to the novelty and appeal of experimental beverages within the craft beer space. Pinene, for instance, adds more than the piquant complexity of mint and pine to a beer’s flavour profile; it also functions as a natural supplement to bronchodilators like salbutamol or formoterol.
This makes pinene-infused beers particularly refreshing for individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) conditions like chronic emphysema and bronchitis.
Limonene is an extremely popular anxiolytic terpene with the citrusy aroma and flavour of fresh zest. Because of its ability to melt away stress and anxiety, limonene perfectly complements the recreational beverages market in reinvigorating consumers at the end of a long day’s work. Because of the wide compatibility of its flavour profile, limonene is frequently infused not just into beer, but cocktails and teas as well.
Is it Legal?
As of this writing, only beers infused with terpenes not sourced from cannabis are considered fully legal for sale. Legal restrictions on cannabis within the UK state that only hemp sticks and seeds can be sourced for infusion extracts, whereas terpenes develop only in cannabis flowers.
The reason for these legal restrictions around cannabis in the UK is the psychoactivity of (tetrahydrocannabinol) THC, the primary cannabinoid in marijuana which is a variety of cannabis grown for its narcotic properties.
In America, where similar restrictions on THC exist in federal law, major brewer Lagunitas had their first terpene-infused beer Supercritical blocked in several states due to THC’s designation as a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
It’s worth noting that the limited release beer Supercritical — so called in a nod to supercritical CO2 terpene extraction — sold out in every state it was allowed in, showcasing public demand for quality terpene-infused brews.
Time and progressive legislation on cannabis will tell if hemp- or marijuana-sourced terpenes will be viable for legal sales across the UK in the future. Until then, both beer companies and home brewers would likely be best served using terpenes from more common sources, such as peaches, coconuts or even chocolate.