Durban Poison dope inspires SA's first cannabis beer

Marijuana plants. (Ted S Warren, AP, file)
Marijuana plants. (Ted S Warren, AP, file)

A South African craft brewery has launched the nation’s first lager containing cannabis, capitalising on the globally known Durban Poison strain after the private use of the plant was legalised in the country last month.

Drinks infused with marijuana-derived compounds could grow to a $600m market in the US within the next four years, outpacing the growth of other categories of retail cannabis products, according to analysts at Canaccord Genuity. Corona-parent Constellation Brands became the largest stakeholder in Canadian pot cultivator Canopy Growth earlier this year, while Molson Coors Canada has formed a joint venture with Hexo Corp.

It's legal to grow cannabis for personal use in South Africa, but not for commercial use. Therefore, Schubert said, the beer is being made with imported strains, mostly from Germany and Eastern Europe.

Funded by investors including RCL Foods Chief Executive Officer Miles Dally, Spar Group CEO Graham O’Connor and Grindrod Bank Poison City Brewing founders Andre Schubert and Graeme Bird realised with non-smoking uses of marijuana rising globally, they could be first to market in South Africa.

"We released this beer to be on the forefront of this market in South Africa, but also to appeal to the more mainstream drinker and give a beer he or she can relate to," Schubert, a 56-year-old restaurateur said by phone. Brewers globally are "well aware that down the line, they will want to compete directly still with the cannabis industry because smoking is only a part of it."

Durban-based Poison City Brewing made their first lager in May 2014, using a rudimentary system at a friend’s house on the country’s south coast. About a year later they took a trip to California to check out the craft beer industry, spending almost three weeks between Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego.

'Energetic, Uplifting'

The September launch comes as the country’s Constitutional Court legalised the private use of cannabis in South Africa, and as global brewing giants increasingly link up with marijuana producers. 

The Durban Poison lager and Poison Cannabis IPA contain hemp - a variety of the cannabis sativa plant largely devoid of mind-altering ingredients - and they are are being sold in liquor chains nationwide. They have seen huge interest for the beers from the US, with Bird landing in Miami on Tuesday to attend a trade fair. The launch of the beers was earlier reported by Johannesburg-based Business Day newspaper.

The Durban Poison variety of marijuana, which originates from the sub-tropical Indian ocean city of Durban, has a sweet smell and is known for its "energetic, uplifting" effects when smoked, according to Leafly.com, which bills itself as a cannabis information resource.

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