There are two key factors that set the Canadian company apart from others. First it is producing a non-alcoholic beer brewed from the cannabis plant, instead of barley or other grains, which would usually be a fundamental part of brewing.
Secondly, there's a distinction between a beer brewed from cannabis - as in Province's case - and other products that are cannabis-infused.
Before entering the cannabis industry, Dooma Wendschuh had his own company in the video gaming sector, working on projects such as Assassin’s Creed franchise. But five years ago he decided there was a real opportunity for cannabis and started working in the industry, launching Province Brands in 2016.
'We went to master brewers and very naively said, 'hey, we want to brew a beer from cannabis!''
Province Brands’ main project for 2019 is to launch beer brewed from the cannabis plant, including the stocks, stems and roots.
It's something that has taken years to develop from the initial prototypes - ‘which tasted like rotten broccoli and would have cost $60 a bottle’.
It’s a project that has taken a lot of work with the technology; and a huge amount of funding.
Raising capital has been surprisingly easy, says Wendschuh – he has found plenty of supporters of cannabis legalization who ‘want to see the world change’ – but reflects that developing the technology has been a long journey.
“From the science side, this was a really bad idea - it's amazing it's actually worked. When we started this company, I didn’t know how to brew a beer, we met with master brewers and very naively said, 'hey, we want to brew a beer from cannabis!'
“People said it was completely impossible, we did not listen, we figured there must be a way. We spent an insane amount of money and hired some of the top researchers in the world and we were very fortunate to find people who were prepared to make this their life’s work”
Scaling up technology
The resulting beer combines the flavor of hops, flavor of beer, and complex flavor of cannabis, says Wendschuh. Without barley and grains, there is a lot less residual sugar which makes it less sweet and lower in calories than an average beer (around 40 calories).
Beers will contain 6.5mg THC, and different levels of CBD between different products.
But there is a still a lot for the company to do - such as scaling up technology to embrace economies of scale – as well as embracing the future of the technology (having succeeded in brewing from cannabis, Wendschuh says the possibilities to experiment with other plants is vast).
But more pressingly the company is trying to anticipate what Canada’s cannabis beverage industry will look like when products become legal (anticipated for this fall).
“You’re setting sail in a ship that is totally not built yet; you have a bunch of carpenters on the ship trying to lay the planks and build the boat - but you just have to go; and you’re going to build that ship as you go; but you don’t know where you’re going!" said Wendshuh. "You don’t know what the conditions are at sea, it is really, really an insane thing to do.
“We don’t have any guidelines from Canada as to what the actual regulations will be – they released some draft regulations, but we expect those to change. We have to make purchasing decisions that may end up wasting money. We’re buying packaging that we just hope will be compliant. We don’t even know, technically, if our beer will be legal.
“This is the great unknown: You need really good lawyers, and you need to be prepared to fight for what think is right and you believe in, and you need to just go into this knowing that nothing is going to be easy. You have to be incredibly resilient.
“We are, for better or for worse, the icebreaker.”
Dooma Wendschuh was speaking to BeverageDaily at the International Beer Strategies Conference in Dublin this month.