When Cannabiniers took over Helm’s Brewing in 2018, the headline was that its Kearny Mesa facility would be used to start the production of THC-infused beer to be sold under the interest’s new name and identity, Two Roots Brewing. Fast forward to present day and Two Roots’ portfolio is split into three sections—non-alcoholic THC-infused craft beer, traditional craft beer and non-alcoholic craft “near” beer. Head of brewing Kevin Barnes and his crew brought home a gold medal in the Non-Alcohol Beer category at last month’s Great American Beer Festival for its Enough Said lager. This seemed the perfect time to catch up with him and find out more about what’s going on with and what’s in store for Two Roots.
What is the vocational path that led you to the beer industry and, later, Two Roots?
My background is right here in the amazing San Diego beer scene! I got my foot in the industry at Green Flash Brewing back when they were up in Vista in 2009. I started as a keg washer and ended up head brewer for the San Diego facility. I got a certificate from the UCSD Extension program along the way, as well. One day in October of 2017, I received a call from one of the suppliers we used at Green Flash who let me know there was a company looking to hire a brewer to make non-alcoholic craft beer in order to have it infused with cannabis. I was intrigued, contacted them and made the jump!
Who else is on Two Roots’ brewing team?
When I started the new gig I was joined by Austin Maass, now brewer. I was very fortunate that he wanted to stay on and help us develop the new products. I was also able to entice Fletcher Hillebrand, whom I had worked with at Green Flash for seven years, to join me. He became the lead brewer. In early 2019, I secured more former Green Flash co-workers to join. Mark Thompson came on to handle operations and raw materials purchasing, and Ron Angelo to brew and manage QA/QC. We also added Joshua Murphy as assistant brewer, who was at that time finishing up the UCSD Extension program. I have a fantastic team of great brewers dedicated to making the highest quality beer we can.
How was the old Helm’s facility altered to serve its current objectives?
The main alterations made were to accommodate our de-alcoholization process and the supporting equipment. We still have the same brewhouse and cellar, with the addition of three more 35-barrel Unitanks. We also have a dozen transfer totes we use to send non-alcoholic beer to state-licensed cannabis manufacturers, who will infuse, package and distribute Two Roots as a cannabis-infused craft beer.
What are the process and challenges in creating a Two Roots cannabis beer?
We start our process in a very familiar way. We make fully fermented beer using the highest quality ingredients and all the techniques we’ve perfected over the years as craft brewers. We then send the finished beer through our de-alcoholization process to gently remove the alcohol. After we make final adjustments needed such as carbonation, we pasteurize for stability and send the craft near beer off to get infused or packaged. The biggest complication is figuring out the flavor balance. Having to brew differently from the start in order to create the right balance after the alcohol is removed was quite a learning curve. Perfecting the brewing process over the past years, it seems we have been quite successful!
What sets Two Roots apart?
We are the only company in the world that is a ‘triple threat’ where consumers can have the same beverage three different ways. Our core offerings consist of three styles: Enough Said Lager, New West IPA and Tropical Infamy Wheat. We’ve partnered with Jetty Extracts for a limited-edition craft beer that tastes and smells like cannabis. We also offer seasonal beverages such as Grapefruit Fight, a traditional Radler, and Mango Dango, a hoppy, mango infused craft beer. We have some amazing seasonal offerings in the works!
Two Roots operates a tasting room in Ocean Beach. Are future public venues in the works?
The OB tasting room, besides being a local staple, serves great value for us to receive unedited, passionate customer feedback. With our recent acquisition of Rochester Mills Production Brewery, we expanded our reach to the Midwest, Canadian and Mid-Atlantic states. With the incredible market reception of our non-alcoholic near beers in BevMo! stores, our main focus will be to expand our distribution reach through retail.