Elan Walksy & Phil Boyle

Pioneers of Brewing

WORDS Justin Fields & Kailla Coomes | PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden

How do you explain what it feels like to have CBD Beer? Elan Walksy, the Co-Owner and Head Brewer of Coalition Brewing, has the perfect answer. “You know what you feel like after you’ve had one beer, and you know what you feel like after you’ve had two beers — now imagine you had those two beers sitting in a hot tub.”

Hops and Hemps? Yep, it’s a thing. Coalition Brewing is the first brewer in Oregon to commercially produce a Cannobidoil (CBD) Hemp infused beer.

Of course, Coalition didn’t start off making beer with CBD in it. Back in the late 2000s two people, Elan Walsky and Kiley Hoyt, met at F.H. Steinbart, Portland’s storied and hallowed brewing supply store. Hoyt was looking for brewing supplies and Walsky was selling them. They struck up a conversation, and soon found out they both aspired to open up a brewery someday. On top of that, they serendipitously wanted to name it the same thing, “Hobo Brewing Company.” The name didn’t stick, but the partnership did, and on June 23, 2010, Coalition Brewery pub and warehouse opened its doors, with Kiley Hoyt as the Majority Owner and Elan Walsky as the Owner and Head Brewer.

Three years in they hired Phil Boyle, a transplant from Ireland, as the front of house manager. They soon realized that the pub might not be enough space for them. “It was really amazing for helping launch the brand,” says Elan, “but the whole thing was only 26 seats. At that point since most of our growth was at the distribution space, we elected to leave that pub space.”

Phil was then offered the position of Regional Beer Ambassador and now he handles sales distribution for Oregon and SW Washington. He also works on marketing. “We really focus on grassroots marketing…our company’s motto is ‘community through beer’ and we are always looking for ways to engage with the community through events and partnerships.” These events include Paws for Ales, where the proceeds go to places like the Pixie Project. Another event is the Tastemaker Series, where they partner with local designers. The designers create a clothing collection, while Coalition creates a beer to match.

Coalition Brewery has four beers that they package and sell into retailers all around Oregon and SW Washington; King Kitty Red Ale, Space Fruit Citrus IPA, Dropping Science IPA, and their current Spring/Summer seasonal, Serendipity People’s Ale. They also do a variety of one-off, specialty and barrel conditioned beers, so there’s always something new and interesting brewing at Coalition.

But what about the hops and hemp? Walsky attests that this has been in the works for a long time. One formative moment they remember occurred when they were invited to a party in the Portland west hills, an event they now refer to as the “Cannabis soiree.” It was there that they met and befriended Bill Stewart, from Half Baked Labs. He is, in addition to an excellent cannabis chef, a chemical engineer. Elan mentions that he was really instrumental in helping them understand the chemical interaction of hops and hemp.

Walsky, the more scientifically inclined of the two, breaks hops and hemp down, which are a lot more similar than you think. Elan explains, “They are both in family Cannabaceae…turns out that hops and hemp are genetically closely related…which means they are producing a lot of the same terpenes. Terpenes are the flavor and aromatic compound. It’s kind of why someone might pick up an IPA and say ‘aw man this smells like the nug that’s in my pocket right now.’”

The first CBD Beer that Coalition came out with was Two Flowers IPA. Phil explains why. “The IPA just seemed like the logical step to showcase the flavors of the cannabis. What we found in our recipe development was the elements of the plant were giving off a lot of grass and citrus bitter notes. So we were able to augment and shift that to use hops that had the same flavor profile to kind of compliment one another.”

The most important thing to Elan and Phil when releasing this beer was educating the public. “We are going around and doing all of these talks and presentations around the interaction of CBD and alcohol. The more people that are educated the more normal it gets. We really want to kind of normalize it.”  The number one question they get is, “Will it get me high?” The answer is simple – Nope. “A 10-ounce pour has approximately 4 milligrams of CBD,” says Phil, “it won’t get you high, and it won’t show up on drug tests.”

For Coalition, their CBD beer has counted for 25% of their growth this year. They attribute it to the people of Portland. “There are a lot of cannabis and craft beer consumers here. Those two markets tend to crossover. But more importantly, it’s the locavore movement. All of our hops come from as close as Woodburn, our yeast is a local yeast lab, and our equipment was made locally.”

Walsky and Boyle have set out to create a beer for everyone. As Phil says, “Beer is the great equalizer, beer brings people together…we want to keep it as inclusive as we can be, and for cannabis users that don’t like beer, now they have one too.”

The have now introduced a second CBD beer, Herbs of a Feather, a lemon and basil CBD sour beer and they hope to keep adding to their Two Flower Series soon. The Two Flowers IPA is a West Coast IPA, 6% alcohol and 55 IBUs. Find it at your local Portland Bar including East Burn, Ankeny Tap & Table and Alberta Street Pub or head to the Coalition Brewing Tasting Room.