Breweries know how to adapt. When hard sparkling water became a trend, many added the stuff to their roster. When the pandemic hit, some started making hand sanitizer. And, now that THC-derived beverages are legal, breweries are getting in on that, too. Fair State Brewing Cooperative is one such local brewery, and they did it the only way they knew how: by forming a new collective.
“We recognized that we wanted to lean into [THC beverages] rather than shy away from the uncertainties of the landscape,” says Chill State’s principal and program director Rob Shellman. “We kind of just dove right in and got into work.”
Located within Fair State’s St. Paul manufacturing center, Chill State has teamed up with five other businesses to put more types of canna-beverages on the Minnesota market via their production, distribution, and co-packing center. So far, they’ve brought five other companies aboard. One partner, Bent Paddle, is local (Duluth), while the others—Happi, Plift, FIND WUNDER, and Offfield—hail from faraway places like California and Michigan. Shellman says they hope to keep expanding the gang, including adding more local makers.
Offfield is an especially intriguing Chill State member. They make products intended to be enjoyed while active, be it while running, doing yoga, or hiking—think Gatorade, but with electrolytes, CBD, and small doses of THC instead of sugar. Though they mostly peddle gummies on their site, they’ll be making non-carbonated bevvies with Chill State.
“There’s a whole segment of people out there who enjoy working out while high,” says Shellman. “I think that, especially here with our active lifestyle, it will do well in Minnesota.”
Meanwhile, Chill State, which makes a THC drink of the same name, has added a second variety, Pineapple Express, to its lineup. Shellman describes it as baked pineapple-forward with a pine-y finish. One thing about Chill State’s beverages is that you can usually smell and taste the weed; that’s thanks to their use of the cannabinoid-derived terpenes in their drinks. It’s a flavor note that may be familiar or reminiscent of dank brews.
“It might be easier to gravitate toward terpenes for if you’re already a hophead,” Shellman notes, “but we’re finding that more cautious people trying it are like, ‘Oh, that’s really good.’”
Shellman is no stranger to the beverage industry; he’s worked in craft beer for over 15 years, founding the Better Beer Society, a best practices organization dedicated to craft beer growth and education. That experience transfers handily to this new cannabis venture.
“There are a lot of similarities between early years of craft beer and THC,” he says. “A lot of those pages from the craft beer playbook we're now seeing play out in cannabis. We’re obviously trying to take the good parts from past experience and apply them.”
But THC is different from IPA. As a formerly illegal substance, cannabis is up against decades of hysterical propaganda. If you were a child in the DARE program in the '80s, you may remember being told that weed was a gateway crack, homelessness, and death—even though data suggests a different, more complex story. That’s a lot of baggage, man.
“There’s definitely a stigma,” says Shellman. “It's our job to help normalize this as a new social beverage segment. It truly is the future; people are consuming alcohol less and less, and it’s our responsibility as leaders in this space to educate.”
There’s also incoming legislation. While legislators may have semi-accidentally legalized THC edibles in July of 2022, several days into 2023 the DFL-led Legislature had already come up with a proposed 250-page bill that could change Minnesota from a stoner Wild West to highly regulated state.
“We’re used to our quirky laws in Minnesota,” says Shellman. “This is a lifeline for breweries, especially after Covid. The ability to have this lifeline in place has been a blessing for us.”
Shellman also hopes that breweries will play a big part in pioneering the landscape. (“Why wouldn't you want to put this in the very capable hands of people who have been working with safe manufacturing of beverages for a millennia?”)
So is there any possibility of Fair State Brewing segueing into a mostly weed business?
“Obviously we’re a brewery first,” he says. “We are very much ‘church and state’ with our entities—we call it ‘beer church’ and ‘Chill State.’ But supporting each other is really what is going to help us get through the crazy days of the green rush.”