"There's a sense amongst the brewers that it won't last forever."
The Fingers Interview with Jerard Fagerberg on Minnesota's THC seltzer "gold rush"
Media workers of a certain age may remember hashtag gag from last decade called #VicePitches. The joke was pretty straightforward: to kill time during your shift in the content mines, you’d arranged a series of loathsome buzzwords in the form of a headline that Vice would publish, then tweet it with the hashtag. For example: “The apartment from Igby Goes Down is now a cat cafe, and I did mushrooms in it.” (It was a simpler time.) The underlying thrust of this little media game was that there were stories that were—either because of their subject matter, trite voyeuristic framing, narcotics content, etc.—quintessentially Vice. As the publisher has grown, that has become less true, but the other day, it returned to form with this truly Vice-y Vice headline: “Oops, Minnesota Accidentally Legalized THC-Spiked Seltzer.”
Despite its glorious #VicePitches hed, this piece, written by Minneapolis journalist and Friend of Fingers Jerard Fagerberg, is anything but glib. It’s a thoroughly reported look at the fascinating collision of partisan policy failures and consumer demand for cannabis products that’s currently underway in the Land of 10,000 (Presumably Non-THC-Spiked) Lakes, as pandemic-wracked but every-savvy craft breweries cash in on the GOP-led state legislature’s surprising, potentially inadvertent legalization of Delta 9 THC earlier this year. I interviewed Jerard earlier this week to get the story behind the story, and find out more about how Minnesota’s breweries are shaping the state’s emerging market of non-alcoholic, Delta 9-infused seltzers. If you’re interested in the relationship between beverage alcohol and cannabis—hell, even if you’re not—I think you’ll enjoy this interview. I certainly did.
Jerard Fagerberg is a writer and product manager based in Minneapolis. He writes Good Beer Hunting’s Let Go or Get Dragged column, and covers local Minneapolis stories for Racket. Follow his work on Twitter.
👋 Meet independent journalist Jerard Fagerberg
Dave Infante, Fingers: Hey man, thanks so much for your time. I absolutely love this piece, so let’s get right into it. How did you come upon this story?
Jerard Fagerberg, independent journalist: It was pretty big news here when it happened. Everyone was talking about it, it just took a while for them turn into this weird seltzer boom. A week or two after the announcement, Indeed put out an announcement that they were launching a seltzer with THC in it. Two years prior, they had launched a CBD seltzer and eventually ended up kind of getting shut down by the Department of Agriculture for it. But they were like, really ready to leap on this. At that point, a lot of the national coverage was focused on the fact that you can go to the Exxon and get THC gummies or whatever. But I was really fascinated with how [the craft beer] industry that’s set up to produce and sell one intoxicant, can respond to the open floodgates like this brand-new and intoxicant that they can now produce.
I was talking to one brewery for a different story, and he had told me, The fact that we can produce and sell this directly to the consumer is a totally new business model. We are totally outside the three-tier system, most liquor stores can't even legally carry it. So it's up to our druthers. This is going to help us recover from Covid shutdowns. That’s where my interest started. And now, every week there’s a new brewery that’s got one out. So I just wanted to find out how it happened and how long it’s going to last.
I probably should’ve started with this, but just to back up a little bit, what exactly happened? What moves did the Minnesota legislature make to precipitate this situation?
Right, so, Delta-8 THC was first legalized federally in 2018. In 2019, the legislature kind of like adopted the federal legalization. We knew that was there, but Delta-8 is not considered to be very intoxicating, so people here weren't really that excited about it. There had been a lot of discussions in the [Minnesota] House [of Representatives] starting back in March about regulating that market, because there wasn't a lot of clarity about who was doing testing, labeling, distribution, and stuff like that. At the time, the DFL [Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party] was working on a new proposal that included Delta-9 THC. No one in the general public really knew that the legalization of Delta-9 was on the table until the day after it was legalized.
For readers who aren’t familiar, can you give me a little background on who the DFL is and why they brought this to the table in the first place?
I think it's it's purely a nomenclature thing, they’re essentially just the Democrats. This is just what they're called here because, I dunno, it's a more agrarian state. To be totally honest, the I don't fully understand it, but they operate in much the same as any state Democratic Party, maybe a little bit more connected to agriculture. Now, Minnesota Republicans, for a long time, had really been staunchly against any sort of legalization of marijuana, so the fact that this happened was a surprise to everybody. The people who saw it coming were the THC manufacturers [that…] had lawyers who were very involved in lobbying lobbying for the change. And they were tipping off their breweries, so the breweries knew that this was going to happen. When it happened, it was like three weeks before Indeed announced Two Good… so it was within three weeks, these products started appearing on the market. And then in August, it starting to happen [more frequently.] Now, it's like one a week, and it’s not even a question of “if” most breweries are going to do it, it’s “when.”
In the article you lay out the production cycle for this stuff. It’s almost instantaneous compared to beer, right?
Yeah. So Eastlake [Craft Brewery] is a very small brewery. They have a seven-barrel system. They’re one of the smaller producers in the state, and they were the first real brewery to get it on the market because they were like, Well, we have an open tank. Let's throw this stuff in there, mix it up, and can it up. They were able to be that agile. To be honest, I think some breweries have had a bit of an existential question of like: We don't brew this product, and doesn't have any alcohol in it. What we do is ferment things. So how do we make it taste and feel like a craft beverage?