For years the Coalition Brewing crew slugged it out in the Portland beer trenches.
IPAs, stouts, reds, saisons, you name it, they made it — right along with everyone else.
Then 2016 rolled in, and things changed. Coalition became the first Oregon brewery to make a commercially produced CBD beer — putting Two Flowers IPA on tap at the southeast Portland brewery. The bold bet would set Coalition apart and reroute its course.
“When we first came out with the beer, the concept behind it was, what do we do in this competitive beer market, what sets us apart?” said Phil Boyle, Coalition’s general manager and a part owner.
“Originally when we were thinking about it, it was to make a fun beer that would sell.”
Boyle and Coalition co-founders Elan Walsky and Kiley Hoyt dove into researching what using CBD — cannabidiol — would require. Marijuana had been legalized the year before in Oregon, but regulatory issues were murky. It would be an uncharted, bumpy road, they believed, but a potentially worthwhile one.
“We felt that it had to be removed from being a gimmick beer and that it had to be represented correctly, so we teamed up with leaders in the cannabis industry to do that,” Boyle said during a recent. “We did events and collaborations and education aspects of it, because a lot of it is, there’s misconceptions about CBD and what it is and what it doesn’t do.”
Coalition is mum on how it produces the beer and what is involved, but Boyle says a constantly shifting legal landscape poses challenges and has forced numerous brewing adjustments. But, despite not being able to sell its CBD beer across state lines, Boyle said the strategy redirection had boosted sales at Coalition. The brewery sold 923 barrels of beer in Oregon last year, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission data, and it anticipates 1,250 this year, Walsky said.
CBD is among the elements in cannabinoids, plants that includes hemp and marijuana, but unlike the THC compound in pot, it isn’t psychoactive, so it doesn’t produce a high. It is touted as helping relieve anxiety, pain and amnesia, among other benefits, but Boyle says Coalition makes no health claims about its beer.
So what’s the effect on a beer drinker compared with “normal” beer?
“I can’t really tell you how it feels,” Boyle said, “but anecdotally speaking, a friend said it well, you know how you feel after three or four beers, now imagine having those three or four beers in a hot tub. A little relaxed. We leave that up to people to do that for themselves.”
Coalition began when homebrewers Walsky and Hoyt met at a supply store — and by chance discovered they both envisioned a brewery named Hobo someday. They decided to throw in together, and the involvement of friends and family created the “coalition.”
They opened their initial taproom down the street, at what is now Tap & Table on Ankeny. They abandoned that in 2014 over a lease situation, moving the taproom to the current site, where the brewhouse has always lived. Beer is poured from a small bar inside the brewery, with seating outside on a spacious, comfortable patio that’s enclosed year-round and heated in winter, complete with a well-used cornhole arena off to the side.
Beyond its flagship Two Flowers IPA, a hoppy West Coast offering that tends toward the lighter side, a recent taplist included a CBD lemon shandy made with lemonade from southeast Portland’s Rose’s Refreshers. Mahalo is a dry-hopped pineapple sour, and Color Me Kush IPA features marionberries and terpenes, oils from plants including marijuana that provide flavor. Longtime favorite King Kitty Northwest Red Ale also continues to grace the taplist.
Walsky said he’s excited about what’s to come for Coalition.
“It’s going great,” he said. “Still here making lots of beer, one of the only brewers here, if not the country, producing CBD beer right now. We’re brewing beer in one of the most innovative beer scenes in the world.”
Making a splash in that scene makes Boyle proud.
“We crank a lot of beer out of here, and we’re constantly working on innovating new styles of beers and make sure that we’re keeping it fresh, because in the city of Portland you’ve got to keep it fresh and keep it interesting,” Boyle said.
“We always say if you’ve got a good idea and it works in Portland, it’ll work anywhere. Things are working in Portland right now. We hold our own in our backyard, and we’re proud of that.”