Industry Articles   |   September 13, 2022

Technology Behind How THC Beverages are Made

Mastering the art of creating cannabis drinks.
Industry Articles allow industry partners to share useful news, messages, & tech with our readers. Sponsored content is subject to strict editorial guidelines with the intention of offering readers useful news, expertise, & stories. The…

It seems like everything is infused with cannabis these days. Head to the local grocery store, and you’ll probably find capsules, tinctures, face creams, and dog treats filled with cannabinoids like CBD. In the regulated market, dispensary shelves are stacked with THC treats of all kinds, from infused mints and hard candies to gummies and bubblegum.

Yet, one form factor has had a more difficult climb to the top: THC beverages.

What made this market segment so much more difficult to master? We looked at one of the most highly prized beverage manufacturers in the business to discover what makes their process so unique.

Bringing Weed Drinks to Market

In the early days of THC beverages, brands experimented with multiple form factors, potencies, and consistencies in an attempt to create the perfect weed drink. Not even perfect, but drinkable. First attempts were chalky, chunky, or straight-up unpalatable. The oil infusions or decarboxylated cannabis simply wouldn’t blend into the liquid, and if you managed to tolerate the texture, the effects often hit by surprise. Or not at all.

Because the infusions were not fully homogenized, the oils often stuck to the sides or bottom of the container. Consumers weren’t sure what to expect from the high. Can you drink half a dose and get half the high? Or do you have to consume the whole beverage at once to feel any effect at all? It was inconsistent at best, and the beverage market space floundered as brands focused on flower, edibles, and concentrates.

Yet, beverage industry veterans saw this gap and closed in on it with determination, ingenuity, and a little help from infusion experts.

Pabst Labs Enters the California THC Market

Pabst Brewing is a recognizable name in the beer industry. This award-winning brewery has been making premium lager for 178 years, with Pabst Blue Ribbon as its prized beverage. PBR has a devout following, largely due to its drinkability and affordable pricing. It’s no surprise that their spin-off company, Pabst Labs, decided to take their bubbly beverage expertise to the cannabis industry.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The THC beverage market saw a 63% increase from 2020 to 2021. Those numbers are forecast to grow exponentially. The Brightfield Group, a cannabis research agency, estimates that cannabis beverages will reach a staggering $1 billion in US sales by 2025.

As soon as Pabst Labs opened their Los Angeles headquarters in 2020, they set out to make an infused beverage that would achieve the same legendary status as the original Pabst Blue Ribbon. It needed to be affordable, consistent, easy to drink, and taste great. The only thing missing was the cannabis infusion. Pabst Labs wanted to launch a line of infused beverages that would change the game of the THC beverage industry. The only viable option for creating the greatest drinks on the market would be with a high-tech process known as nanoemulsion.

The Science of Emulsion Technology

The secret to making the perfect cannabis-infused beverage is an emulsion. But not just any emulsion - we’re talking about creating teeny, tiny particles by way of nanoemulsion. This process reduces the size of particles while increasing surface area. It’s a popular method in the food industry, and it just so happens that it’s the best way to infuse THC into liquids.

The Infusion Process

THC is a fat-soluble cannabinoid, but to blend it into beverages, it needs to be transformed into a water-soluble particle. Not only that, but it needs to be shelf stable. Using high-end nanotechnology, emulsion chemists create pre-suspended aqueous solutions that act like any other ingredient a company would add to their product.

Cannabis emulsions require breaking down large oil droplets from cannabinoids and turning them into smaller particles. These smaller particles can now effortlessly blend with water without breaking. Nanoemulsion stabilizes the solution, so it now behaves like any other liquid ingredient. You can measure precise dosage to deliver consistent results time and again.

If you thought the process to weed drinks would be simple, think again. “At Pabst Labs we incorporate sanitary stainless-steel piping and storage tanks, glycol chillers to ensure we bottle at absolute lowest temps possible for best carbonation, inline CO2 injection systems, high speed sleeving equipment, steam powered shrink tunnels ink jet systems for date codes, automatic packer to produce 4pks, inline can rinser before and after filling, automated can depalletizer and a dedicated clean room for canning/bottling,” explains Chuck Barlick, Director of Production at Pabst Labs.

The End Result

Drinks made with nano emulsification have a significantly reduced weed flavor. It’s almost undetectable in most beverages unless you wish for it to remain intact as a selling point. There is no sedimentation, separation, flavor loss, or deterioration of any kind. Because the particles have been dramatically reduced, the THC drink is much more bioavailable. This means that the body absorbs the active compounds (THC and other cannabinoids) much more efficiently. The resulting high comes on smoother and quicker but doesn’t last as long as an edible.

“At Pabst Labs our research pointed overwhelmingly to nanoemulsion leading to the best experience for our consumers. Rapid onset as well as reasonable offset times. A lot of people overlook the offset experience. For instance, I was unfortunate enough to consume infused chocolate made without nano-emulsion a few years ago that went from feeling nothing after 45 minutes to suddenly being overwhelmed for something like 4-5 hours,” Barlick shared.

Every drink will be consistent, which is a chief goal of any cannabis brand. The products undergo rigorous testing to maintain regulatory compliance, and any infused product with a skewed potency will never make it to market. In addition, brand trust and loyalty rely on whether or not a customer can try a product repeatedly with the same results. Consistency has, and always will be, a major key to a beverage brand’s success.

Pabst Labs High Seltzer

Working hand in hand with nanoemulsion specialists, Pabst Labs designed a perfectly dosed THC-infused carbonated beverage. Dubbed “PBR High Seltzer,” this 10 mg THC beverage comes in a slim, 12 oz. can. As they say on their site, “the right amount to start having a good time.” Thanks to the increased bioavailability of nanoemulsion, consumers may sip on a High Seltzer and feel the effects within 15-20 minutes.

PBR High Seltzer is perfect when you want a different kind of buzz, without the hangover. You can try them out in four great flavors: Lemon, Strawberry Kiwi, Passion Fruit Pineapple, and Mango Blood Orange. No mystery ingredients here. Available only in California, with delivery options to select areas. Shop online, or check out a list of retailers to find PBR High Seltzer near you.


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