Redhook, Hilliard's team up with weed-themed beer

The passage of Initiative 502 in November helped Washington State make history as one of the first states to legalize marijuana -- a victory that isn't lost on the makers of another substance that was once banned under U.S. law. Woodinville's Redhook Brewery and relative-newcomer Hilliard's Beer, located in Ballard, have teamed up to release a hemp-heavy summer seasonal ale that celebrates the passage of 502.

Called "Joint Effort," the punny summer session ale becomes available on draft this weekend, and will show up on store shelves across the state beginning in October.

Joint Effort is described by the brewers as "the perfect brew for hanging with your buds, grabbing some munchies and enjoying a beer." It features an alcohol by volume of 5.6%, and ranks a 25 on the International Bitterness Units scale.

Hilliard's co-founder Adam Merkl notes that the hemp, in addition to being on theme, also "adds a nice bit of nuttiness, overall, to the malt profile. It's not overpowering -- the hops definitely give it the right aroma that you're looking for -- but the hemp does add its own nutty character."

A flavor, Redhook brand manager Karmen Olson says, that was unexpected at first.

"We obviously couldn't use marijuana in the beer, because we couldn't sell it, so we wanted to use hemp to help tell the story -- but what we didn't realize how much hemp would change the flavor!" she says with a laugh.

"Our first batch, we had a lot of that earthiness and was too much, so we dialed it back."

Olson assures, it doesn't taste like marijuana -- but it does smell a little like it.

"All of the implications of marijuana are in the nose. Cannabis and hops are in the same family, so the aroma isn't that far off," Olson notes.

This is both brewery's first collaboration with another beer maker, and one that both parties are excited about. But how did it begin in the first place?

"That was the folks at Redhook," Merkl laughs, noting that he and Olson met when she was on a Ballard pub crawl.

"They were interested in possibly doing a collaboration, but that wasn't fully formed yet," Merkl explains.

Olson confirms that the partnership started with a trip to visit some of the local flavor.

"It was a really organic sort of coming-about. I wanted to check out some of the new breweries that are popping up in Ballard...we just struck up a really solid relationship," she says, adding that "that was around January,so the legislation around marijuana was still fresh in our minds."

"We were just sort of joking around about it, and we were like 'We have to do this.'"

"They've been a lot of fun to work with, and they've done a lot for craft beer in Washington," Merkl says of Redhook."

Olson agrees, adding that "it's been a lot of fun."

"Sometimes I can't believe this is my job. We just go out for beers!" she says. And while the entire process has been enjoyable, she says one of the best parts was picking out the tap handle. Redhook is known for their decorative tap handles, which frequently become collector's items. This one, however, is a little different.

"It looks like a bong," she says -- because it was a bong.

"We visited a headshop to decide what we wanted," she explains, noting that they ended up ordering 250 then-functioning bongs.

"But we had to do some jerry-rigging to make it so that we could distribute them to pubs. They don't work now, but that's where they came from."

And,true to form, says Olson, the launch is a little behind schedule.

"We were supposed to launch on 4/20...we always joke that only a stoner beer would launch three months late!"

A launch party for the beer will be held tomorrow evening at Hilliard's Ballard location at 1550 NW 49th St. Get more information here.

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