Nearly three months after departing MillerCoors, Keith Villa, who invented the company’s Blue Moon craft brand, has announced his second act.
Villa has launched a new company, called Ceria Beverages, that will focus on producing a line of non-alcoholic cannabis-infused craft beers.
Speaking with Brewbound, Villa said he and his wife, Jodi, have invested a “significant” amount of money to launch Ceria, which will be headquartered in the Denver suburb of Arvada, Colorado.
According to Villa, he started the company with the goal of being the first company to introduce a line of cannabis-infused non-alcoholic craft beverages that contain THC, a key psychoactive chemical from cannabis plants. Villa said infusing his products with THC, instead of just cannabidiol (CBD), gives his company an edge on competing products.
“CBD is not the component that most consumers look for,” he said. “It certainly has its merits… But the THC is what gives people that buzz, which is similar to the alcohol buzz that people get from beer, spirits and wine. A lot of consumers of cannabis look for that buzz.”
Villa will serve as Ceria’s brewmaster while Jodi will act as CEO. The couple is also working with InterContinental Beverage Capital (IBC), a beverage advisory firm, which lists Aquahydrate CEO Hal Kravitz and former Cadbury Schweppes president John Carson as members of its management team, to help with operations and identify accredited investors.
Ceria has also tapped ebbu, a Colorado-based cannabinoid research firm, as a supplier of cannabis extract, which Villa said will give consumers a sensation such as “chill, bliss or energy.”
“We can dial in exactly the sensations that people want,” he said. “If people want a CBD sensation where they feel sort of tired and chilled and relaxed, we’ll be able to give them that. If they want a really great THC experience — it’s the end of the week and they want to relax responsibly with their friends and party — we can deliver that too.”
Villa is a bit of an unlikely proponent for cannabis products. As “a longtime beer guy,” he admitted that he voted against legalization of recreational cannabis use in 2012, when Colorado voters passed Amendment 64.
“I always thought cannabis and marijuana was something that was illegal and should be outlawed,” he said.
However, following legalization in Colorado, Villa began researching marijuana and his views quickly changed after reading about the medical benefits and recreational uses.
“I found that it isn’t the evil drug that people such as [U.S. Attorney General] Jeff Sessions portray it to be,” he said. “I see some of his quotes where he honestly believe that it contributes to opioid addiction, and I read scientific articles stating the opposite. So it’s his opinion versus science, which is saying it’s actually not that dangerous.”
Villa began his own experimentation with cannabis products and walked away believing cannabis-infused beverage products would offer an alternative to alcoholic beverages.
“First of all, you have to determine the taste,” he said. “Some people don’t care of the cannabis taste, because a lot of people think it smells like a skunk. Other people love that taste. That’s part of the beauty of partnering with ebbu — they can make our extracts with or without that cannabis taste.”
Since retiring from MillerCoors after a 32-year career, Villa has been running test batches of future Ceria products on his pilot brewing system.
“It’s tough to make good tasting non-alcoholic beer,” he admitted.
Another reason for starting the company, Villa said, was to create more consumer-friendly cannabis products. He said many current offerings — including beverages and edibles — don’t give consumers enough awareness of the potency of the products. Villa said Ceria’s offerings will be clearly labeled with the THC content, similarly to how beer labels list alcohol content levels.
Villa said the plan is to offer three strengths of cannabis-infused beverages — light, regular and full-bodied — to consumers 21 and older. According to Villa, the light beer, which will be for novice users, will offer about one to six milligrams of THC per 12 oz. bottle. Regular beers will be in the 10 milligram range, while the full-bodied offerings will be in the 15 milligram range.
The products will have a labeling system similar to ski slopes, Villa said. Instead of diamonds, the labels will feature a green leaf for beginners, a blue leaf for intermediate users, a black leaf for experienced users and two black leaves for “the ultimate experience.”
Although a price point hasn’t been set for Ceria’s products, Villa said he expects it to be similar to high-end craft offerings due to how expensive the product is to produce and the way cannabis is taxed. The products will be sold in 12 oz. single bottles as well as 4-packs.
“It’s going to be more expensive than beer, but it will be an affordable luxury for those people who want to have an alternative to alcoholic beer,” he said.
If everything works as planned, here’s how the process will work, according to Villa:
Ceria will brew a batch of beer at a yet-to-be-named Colorado contract brewing facility. Villa will then use equipment to remove the alcohol from the beer, which will then be transported to a licensed marijuana dispensary and infused with ebbu’s extracts that contain THC as well as other cannabinoids and terpenes. The finished liquid will be bottled or canned, and sold cold in licensed dispensaries throughout Colorado.
“It’s a logistical nightmare,” he said of the process. “But we’ve figured out how to do it.”
Villa expects products to be available in Colorado by the end of the year. Eventually, he said the plan is to offer Ceria products in other states where recreational marijuana use is legal. However, he realizes he won’t be able to ship cannabis products made in Colorado outside of the state’s borders.
“The fact is since it’s a state-by-state operation, we can’t set up shop in one state and have a presence across the nation in the state’s where it’s legal,” he said. “We almost literally have to set up shop in each state.”
A press release with additional information is below.
CREATOR OF BLUE MOON SETS SIGHTS ON CANNABIS-INFUSED CRAFT BEER
Keith and Jodi Villa Launch CERIA BEVERAGES
ARVADA, Colorado (Hold for March 27, 2018) – When Keith Villa, Ph.D., the creator and head brewmaster of Blue Moon Brewing Company, announced his retirement from MolsonCoors in January 2018 after 32 years of service, he hinted about plans to create a new beverage product with “cutting edge” ingredients.
Those plans are now coming to fruition with the official launch of CERIA™ BEVERAGES (ceriabeverages.com), based in the Denver suburb of Arvada, Colorado. Among the company’s goals this year is to be the first to introduce a line of cannabis-infused non-alcoholic craft beverages containing THC, a key psychoactive chemical from cannabis plants that affects how one feels by creating the “high.”
Unlike most other cannabis beverages, CERIA’s products will be designed to deliver a consistent user experience with the same onset time as alcohol.
Keith Villa will serve as co-founder and brewmaster of CERIA (pronounced “SAIR-ee-uh”). The other co-founder is his wife Jodi Villa, a civil engineer who will serve as CEO. Based at the couple’s operations in Arvada, CERIA derives its name from the university campus in Brussels, Belgium, where Keith became one of the few people in the world to receive a doctorate in brewing science based upon his dissertation on complex biochemical reactions in beer.
“I’m ready to introduce another high-impact brand to the industry again, this time with a new line of custom cannabis-infused craft beers. Today, the opportunity and the demand are here, inviting Americans to enjoy a more social way of consuming cannabis – by drinking rather than by smoking it or through ingestion of edibles.”
To deliver upon the fast-acting, consistent, trusted psychoactive experience, CERIA is working closely with ebbu, a leading cannabinoid research firm also based in Colorado. ebbu has developed a set of cannabis formulations that inspire specific sensations, all of which can be consistently dosed and delivered in a true water-soluble format. Jon Cooper, CEO of ebbu states, “We have always loved what Keith stands for – great-tasting mainstream beers that really kickstarted the entire craft beer movement.
“We are honored and thrilled to partner with Keith, Jodi and CERIA to bring this groundbreaking new product to cannabis consumers in legalized states.”
ebbu’s leading pharmacology team has spent the last few years studying how cannabis creates various sensations for end users, and now has developed consistent formulations that deliver cannabis experiences like chill, bliss, and energy.
These cannabis formulations – containing THC and other cannabinoids and terpenes – will be processed and infused by licensed marijuana processors, bottled and/or canned on-site by the licensee, and then sold chilled in licensed dispensaries, first in Colorado, then in other states where the use of recreational marijuana is legal.
CERIA has also tapped leading beverage industry advisement firm, InterContinental Beverage Capital (IBC), to assist in setting up business operations and in the development of its strategic and commercialization plans.
Keith Villa’s plans for a cannabis-infused beverage with top-quality craft beer taste will be offered in legalized cannabis states by the end of 2018 in at least three strengths – light, regular, and full-bodied – with a variety of sensations. Consumers must be a minimum age of 21 and use the product responsibly.
“CERIA will be brewed just like an alcoholic craft beer to maintain its beer taste and aroma, but will then be de-alcoholized prior to the infusion of cannabis,” Keith Villa explains.
The Villas are enthusiastic about their new entrepreneurial venture and know their way around a brewery. “When Keith created Blue Moon in 1995, the cloudy, unfiltered Belgian-style beer that would later be served with an orange slice, he in effect, introduced craft beer to the mainstream American beer drinker. It changed the beer industry and was even a question on the TV game show ‘Jeopardy,’” said Jodi Villa. “Since then it has grown to become the largest craft beer in the country.”
The Villas, both University of Colorado graduates and native Coloradans, note that the new brand, whose name is currently being developed, will also be less caloric than traditional beer, due to the elimination of alcohol.
CERIA BEVERAGES, a Delaware C corporation, is located in Arvada, Colorado. For more information: ceriabeverages.com
Colorado-based ebbu is generating clinically-proven cannabinoid formulations for medicine, and mainstreaming adult-use cannabis by creating consistent, predictable sensations. ebbu partners with category-leading companies to power infused products using its patented, lab-tested and science-based platform. For more information: ebbu.com.
Intercontinental Beverage Capital (IBC), with offices in NYC, Boca Raton (Fla.), Atlanta, Los Angeles and Lugano, Switzerland, is providing CERIA BEVERAGES with advisory services in the areas of business strategy and planning, brand development, operations, commercialization and investment guidance. For more information: inbevcapital.com