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n 1970, the federal government passed the Controlled Substances Act making the Cannabis sativa plant a Schedule 1 drug and thus a prohibited material. Until then, Cannabis sativa had been cultivated for fiber and other uses worldwide for over 10,000 years. American colonists grew vast quantities of cannabis for items like sails and boat riggings, paper and cloth, and animal bedding and feed. What the government didn’t approve of were the plant’s ‘medicinal and spiritual’ uses. You probably know Cannabis sativa as marijuana. Nevertheless, like Chihuahuas and St. Bernards are different breeds of dog, Cannabis sativa has different strains, the most common of which is hemp. While marijuana Cannabis sativa gets people high if smoked, hemp has little tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. At less than 1% THC, smoking hemp won’t do a thing for you. Since 1970, many states have relaxed their laws, and Cannabis sativa, both marijuana and hemp, became legal in Colorado in January 2014. Shortly after that, Peter Caciola, owner of Colorado Gold Distillery in Colorado Springs, had a product idea: Colorado High Vodka. Caciola wasn’t the first person to consider mixing cannabis and alcohol; however he was the only one who wanted to distill with hemp. Other distilleries currently producing cannabis spirits infuse after distillation, a completely different flavor profile. Colorado Gold distills from 51% course-ground hemp from Canada, a product that doesn’t look or smell appealing in a bag on the distillery floor, but makes for an interesting vodka in the bottle. A chat with Head Distiller Mike Almy reveals Caciola’s simple logic behind Colorado High. “Why not?” says Almy with a

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hearty laugh. Though he stresses that this product is not a gimmick. “I hate to use the word novelty, but to some extent that it was it is. However, we didn’t want it to be something where somebody buys it, tries it once, and then never buys it again. We want them to try it and like it.” For Almy and Caciola, the concept of distilling hemp into vodka seemed straightforward but creating a process proved a challenge. Between the distillation itself and the regulations involved, it took over a year to get Colorado High Vodka off the ground, so to speak. “We want to differentiate between hemp and marijuana,” he states. “They’re both cannabis, but what we use is referred to as industrial hemp. Since we are federally regulated, even though marijuana is legal in Colorado, federally it is still illegal and that supersedes state law. We can have THC in our raw material, but if it’s greater than 0.05%, we cannot legally possess it and must return it to the manufacturer.” Almy tried eight different recipes before settling on the current product. The structure of hemp itself makes things difficult. “Heating hemp to break down cellulose releases oils,” he explains. These oils degrade quickly when cooled. “I had just heated some up for days on end and then it cooled off. All the oil went rancid. It literally smelled like cow manure. I couldn’t stand it so I dumped it down the drain and went back to the drawing board.” That wasn’t the only issue with ground hemp, which looks like brown beach sand. “Another issue we have is it’s so high in minerals, especially iron,” Almy adds. “It’s difficult to move. Some of these bags will come in magnetized. You’ll scoop out a bucket and a string of hemp will be attached to each other. Just moving WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM

Artisan Spirit: Fall 2018  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

Artisan Spirit: Fall 2018  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.