What are terpenes, exactly, and how are brewers adding them to their beer formulations?
In this section, we'll provide an overview of what terpenes are with some examples, along with a couple tips for adding terpenes to beer as a way to enhance flavor, aroma, and effect.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are the naturally occurring compounds that exist within the essential oils of all plants. They are responsible for what give plants - like cannabis and hops - their aroma, flavor, and sometimes effect.
Terpenes have had a long standing place in the practice of aromatherapy, as we use our senses to bring forth certain effects. Interestingly, the olfactory bulb within the nasal cavity is connected to emotion, which is why certain scents may stimulate certain feelings like calming or energizing.
While terpenes exist in all plants and vegetation, it is these incredibly powerful compounds that make up the distinct characteristics of certain plants. There have been over 120 different terpenes found in cannabis, which is directly responsible for the differences between different cannabis strains (or cultivars), and the effects they produce outside just THC, CBD and other cannabinoids.
The Connection Between Hops & Cannabis
While some people may characterize hops (beer) and cannabis as two different types of libations, these useful plants also share two things in common. Both cannabis and hops are from the cannabinaceae family of plants, sharing similar plant structures.
In addition to this similarity, both cannabis and hops contain terpenes, which are responsible for the woody, skunky, fruity, or earthy aromas that both cannabis and beer are known for.
Terpenes Found in Cannabis & Hops
Many of the same terpenes found in cannabis (cannabis sativa) can also be found in hops (humulus lupulus). Three of the most common terpenes found in both cannabis and hops include:
Myrcene is known for its balsam, peppery, and spicy aroma and flavor, and is revered for its sedative, relaxing effects. Myrcene is the most commonly found terpene in cannabis, being found in up to 20% of the cannabis strains found in legal markets.
Beta Caryophyllene is a spicy terpene with a hint of sweetness, and an aroma and flavor described as woody with hints of pepper and clove. It has been utilized for its various medicinal properties, including pain relief.
The most abundant terpene in hops, humulene has a woody and hoppy flavor and aroma, and has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Other Terpenes to Enhance Beer
Hundreds of terpenes have been identified in the plant kingdom, with certain terpenes being more abundant and sought-after because of their distinct flavor, aroma, and effects.
Terpenes that are found in cannabis that are increasingly being added to beer include:
Alpha Pinene is the most abundant terpene found in the natural world, most commonly associated with fir trees. Similar to taking a walk in the woods, alpha pinene has a woodsy, earthy, and piney aroma. When present in cannabis, this terpene is thought to be stimulating, and perfect for bringing on focus and creativity.
Limonene is one of the most recognizable terpenes because of its citrusy aroma and flavor, found most commonly in the rinds of citrus fruits. It holds a lot of promise in the treatment of inflammation and pain, while also being regarded as possessing energizing and uplifting effects.
Linalool is known for being relaxing and calming. Most commonly detected in lavender, linalool is one of the most popular alternative medicine sleep aids in the world.
Geraniol has a diverse aroma and flavor, which can be described as having a sweet, floral, fruity, rosy, waxy, and citrusy aroma with a flavor profile of geranium, lemon peel, passion fruit, peach, and rose. This terpene can be synergized with limonene to bring out citrus flavors in beer.
Terpineol has a lilac aroma with sweet, lime hints on the palate and can be found in over 150 different plants. This terpene is being most researched for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Formats & Formulations of Terpenes for Beer
Brewers and breweries are finding new and innovative ways to embrace the potential of terpenes when it comes to proprietary beer formulations. When sourcing terpenes for beer, brewers generally choose one of three formats:
These are terpenes in their raw, stripped-down, and isolated form that have been sourced directly from the botanicals that produce those terpenes.
Terpene Isolates can be added on their own to achieve a particular flavor enhancement, or blended with other terpenes to create a specific flavor profile.
Terpenes have been specially-formulated to achieve the specific flavor profiles of various fruits, foods, and flavor combinations that are instantly recognizable by the nose and palate.
Examples of terpene flavor blends include Green Apple and Grapefruit, or even more seasonal blends like Pumpkin Spice Latte.
These blends pay homage to the flavor, aroma, and effects of certain cannabis strains (aka. cultivars), without the high of THC, of course.
Pay homage to specific cannabis terpene profiles such as OG Kush, Northern Lights, or Pineapple Express with these strain-specific blends.
What to Look for When Sourcing Terpenes for Beer
Terpenes, as long as they are sourced from botanical, plant based sources, are completely legal, despite their connection to cannabis. However, when sourcing terpenes for beer, the brewer must take certain things into account:
Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Certified
Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) is a designation provided by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certifying that a chemical or substance added to food (and beverages) is considered safe by experts.
As brewers know, all beer formulations must be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) before they are produced and brought to market. Terpenes, too, must also be TTB-approved. The brewer is always advised to start with TTB-approved terpenes before creating terpene-infused beers, especially if they are cannabis-inspired.
Because both the FDA and TTB are federal entities, cannabis/hemp-derived terpenes remain as a Controlled Substance. Therefore, beer formulations that use cannabis/hemp-derived terpenes will not be TTB approved or deemed legal for sale. Botanically-sourced terpenes are completely legal.
Product Testing, Safety & Certifications
Quality terpenes are tested to the most demanding safety standards available. Brewers will want to ensure that the terpenes they are using for terpene-infused beer have been formulated, blended, packed and labeled in cGMP facilities as well as certified by FSSC 22000 and ISO 9001:2015 standards.
Adding Terpenes to Beer: The (Very) Basics
Brewing beer is a complicated, customized, and artisanal process, with each brewer having their own methods for formulating and brewing. When adding terpenes to beer, here are some (very) general guidelines:
Terpenes Before CO2
When brewing terpene-infused beer, it’s recommended that the terpenes are added before the beer is carbonated. The injection of CO2 into the beer helps mix, or infuse, the terpenes into the beer.
Terpenes to Beer Ratio
Brewers will want to be precise about what terpenes they are adding and how much, which is referred to as the terpenes to beer ratio. Brewers that are brewing terpenes with beer most commonly use a terpenes to beer ratio of 0.01-0.02% weight by volume (w/v) of terpenes to beer.
Be sure to read our blog for a deeper dive into the process of adding terpenes to beer.