With the rise of cannabis and hemp legalization spreading throughout the country, it’s no wonder that craft brewers want utilize this herb in their beers.

Although there has been much receptivity among the general public, the federal government is much more leery, which has only made it tougher for brewers to experiment with this plant. But some brewers have taken the risk and brewed beers using hemp seeds that contain zero THC, the psychoactive compound that the lawmakers frown upon.

Even with no psychoactive compounds present, brewers have had a tough time getting FDA approval, including popular breweries like New Belgium Brewing with their Hemperor HPA. “This beer has been over two years in the making, most of the time spent learning and reacting to laws that really suppress this crop’s usage,” says Ross Koenigs, the research and development brewer at New Belgium. “Flavor-wise, this is the beer we wanted to make, but because of misinformed laws governing the use of industrial hemp, we had to take a creative and long-winding road to get to this point. We’re happy with where we landed, and we’ll be working to change federal regulation so that one day we can brew The Hemperor HPA with hemp flowers and leaves as we originally envisioned.”

New Belgium Hemperor HPA, bottle and glass

New Belgium Hemperor HPA

New Belgium’s HPA was banned in Kansas when it was released, but the ban was finally lifted in the past few months. But besides the legality of the substance, how is a hemp beer actually brewed? In the case of HPA and several others—including Humboldt Brewing Company Hemp Ale, Fitger’s Brewhouse Homegrown Hempen Ale, O’Fallon Brewery Hemp Hop Rye and Venice Duck Brewery Stoner Duck—they are all brewed with hemp seeds. They can use shelled, toasted whole seeds, or hemp hearts, which is the meat of the seed itself without the shell. The whole seed produces nutty flavors, while toasted whole hemp seeds give you even roastier notes with some coffee-like characteristics. This is the route that Humboldt Brewery took with their Hemp Ale, an amber beer that presents plenty of roasted flavors.

When using hemp hearts, the result is a softer roasted quality compared to the previous techniques. The use of hemp hearts is what New Belgium utilized when brewing up their Hemporer HPA. What really separates this hemp beer from the rest is its dank-like aromas and flavors that, in the most literal sense, smell and taste like cannabis. An experimental hop called HBC 522 is responsible for the pungent notes found in the beer, along with a bit of dry-hopping using Simcoe.

Hemp beer’s creation and arrival on the public market has brought with it a necessity to educate people on the importance of the hemp plant and what it can do to help the planet’s current environmental turmoil. New Belgium, in particular, saw this as an opportunity to help people better understand the benefits of the plant and raise an overall awareness of the potential environmental and economical advantages it can provide. The Colorado-based brewery partnered with GCH Inc, a company that was founded by Willie Nelson and his family to build brands that were inspired by his journey as an artist and hemp champion, with the goal of supporting a national advocacy campaign. For every barrel of Hemperor HPA that is sold, one dollar is donated to help raise awareness and support pro-hemp bills in the House and Senate, so you’re supporting a worthy cause while enjoying an ice cold brew.