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Why This Legendary Brewmaster Took His Talent to Cannabis Beverages

Paulo Sobral, Cannabis Beverage Fanatic interviews legendary craft brewer Keith Villa, maker of Blue Moon beer.

I met the beer doctor, the legendary craft brewer Keith Villa, at his home brewery last year. If you were born in the '70s and 80's you might know Keith as the creator of Blue Moon. Blue Moon became the number 1 craft beer in America as a division within Coors Brewing Company. 

After serving Miller/Coors for 32 years, this is where Keith now spends the bulk of his time. His office was a museum of beer history. Behind his office was a microbrewery, and we tasted several innovative new brews. The meeting validated my passion for serving in this space. It didn't matter if my peers and family still didn't get it. With the help of talents like Keith and his co-founder, CEO and wife Jodi Villa, they will. 

How Blue Moon Took Off

Dr Villa became enamoured with Belgian style beers while gaining his Ph. D in brewing science and fermentation at the University of Brussels. To first sell it to the masses, Keith first had to sell his bosses at Coors.

Blue Moon won the hearts of the masses by embracing exactly how different it was. It may seem normal now to see someone drinking a cloudy pint with an orange garnish. 20 years ago you'd stick out drinking a pint of that, and might annoy a bartender out of stock of valencia oranges. 

I had a chance to check in with Keith in anticipation of the Cannabis Drinks Expo.

After a legendary career in brewing, why would you take your talent to this nascent, overly regulated market?

I was ready for the next challenge in my career. After successfully launching America’s most popular craft beer, I was looking for new markets to explore while trading on my reputation and expertise. When you think about it, the early days of cannabis beer are similar to the beginning of the craft beer boom which was also highly regulated at first. 

Hazy beers weren't part of American drinking culture until Blue Moon came on the scene. Similarly, cannabis-infused beers still haven't penetrated the mass market.

What lessons, if any can we use to shift customers to cannabis brews? 

"Blue Moon changed peoples’ minds about cloudy craft beers and now CERIA will change perceptions of cannabis beers. At Blue Moon, we emphasized taste through sampling events. It started as an unknown beer, then through tasting events, we saw how favourable word-of-mouth was critical to its growth. With CERIA, while we can’t legally sample infused beer, the non-infused version, which we can sample, provides the same great taste."

Legacy cannabis operators largely aren't adopting cannabis drinks. Compared to legacy cannabis goods, they're not the most economical way to consume THC and are more labour-intensive to manufacture, ship and merchandise. 

Keith Villa, Founder of Ceria Brewing

In frame: Keith Villa, Brewmaster and Co-Founder at CERIA Beverages Company

How can cannabis beers solve the potency/price paradigm?

"CERIA is an alternative to legacy cannabis goods. We’re not trying to compete. Let’s face it, if you want to get high as quickly as possible, a 5 mg micro-dosed beer is not going to get you there as fast. What we are doing is growing the market for socially acceptable, healthier, smoke-free cannabis consumption for those interested in the pleasurable sensations that cannabis can bring to a great tasting, refreshing alcohol-free beer."

What role can on-premise consumption lounges play in making cannabis beers mainstream?

Consumption lounges, as they expand, will help introduce more and more Americans to an alternative way to consume cannabis. The brand might never be mainstream, but for the canna-curious, it presents a terrific sampling opportunity.

Cannabis Infused Beer

Do you see cannabis beers displacing other methods of cannabis consumption, alcohol, non-alc drinks (or all of the above?)

It may never replace the more potent forms of consuming cannabis. But it will serve to introduce the benefits of this natural, beneficial plant to a wider number of consumers who would not otherwise visit a dispensary. 

What challenges have you come up against that you didn't expect?

We did our homework and realized we were embarking upon the creation of a product that was federally illegal, but we knew what we were getting into. There’s a reason you don’t see more great tasting cannabis-infused beers on the market. It’s very difficult to launch, but we think we’ve cracked the code, at least in Colorado and California, our first two states. 


What challenges have you come up against that you never ran into in alcohol?

Just about everything. It’s never been done before on this scale. 

If a cannabis retailer wants to feature beverages, what advice would you give them?

Have a refrigerator, so it can be purchased cold like in a convenience store. 

Twenty-five years from now, what role will drinking cannabis be in our culture?

While still in it’s early days, edibles/drinkables in Canada, for instance, are already more than 20 % of the cannabis market and growing. In 25 years, I’m confident drinking cannabis is going to be an accepted alternative form of consumption. If it follows the current trend of growth, we should see 30 to 50 % of consumption to be through beverages of all types, not just beer. 

Dr Keith Villa recently wrote a book Brewing With Cannabis, using THC and CBD in beer. If you are interested in attending Keith's session at the 2022 Cannabis Drinks Expo conference, get your visitor passes for San Francisco before May 31 and save. Your ticket will also be valid to attend all conference sessions which includes a panel moderated by Paulo with other brand owners.

By Paulo Sobral, Cannabis Beverage Fanatic | I create innovative products that change why people consume cannabis | Past Life: Sold millions of CPGs in both beverage (PepsiCo) & Cannabis (Bloom Farms)