The Brand Behind Weed and Terpene-infused Tequila Beverages
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Spliffy Spirits? In Conversation With the Brand Making Terpene-Infused Tequila Seltzers

Terpene-infused Tequila

Tequila seltzers have taken the market by storm. Using terpenes and non-cannabis botanicals, El Hempe is creating something a little funkier.

As marijuana legalization sweeps the US, younger consumers are opting out of alcohol in record-setting droves.

A recent poll conducted by New Frontier Data found that 69% of consumers aged 18-24 said they prefer cannabis to alcohol. Across the board, 60% of cannabis users say that they’ve cut down on alcohol consumption over the past 20 years. Those numbers are expected to grow.

Amidst a sea of cannabis gummies, coffee, soaps and makeup, it makes sense that alcohol would become the next THC-infused frontier for brands hoping to bridge the widening gap of changing tastes.

Tony Bash, an entrepreneur with decades of experience working for Nike and Pepsi, decided to take the concept in stride with his sparkling tequila seltzer brand El Hempe.

But El Hempe isn’t exactly a cannabis-infused beverage. Rather, their primary offering is terpene-infused seltzers, THC and CBD-free sparkling beverages infused with weed-adjacent botanicals.

Terpenes have offered El Hempe a unique advantage; though these seltzers “smell of a fresh bong hit” when you crack one open, they’re perfectly legal in all states regardless of local legalization laws.

We sat down with Bash to understand how this funky hybrid concept fits within the rapidly growing ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage market.

“If you look at all the RTD cocktails out there, it’s always summer and beach balls, frat boys and sorority girls. We’re a little darker,” said Bash.

Going Green

(Photo: El Hempe)

After starting a footwear brand under Nike and working as the VP of marketing at Pepsi, Bash found himself building cannabis co-packing facilities across the West Coast just as legalization was taking off.

“At the time, we were extracting tons of cannabis, and one of the byproducts of that was terpenes. We were determined to do something with them,” said Bash.

For the uninitiated, terpenes are a class of naturally occurring compounds responsible for the aroma and flavor of most plants. Though frequently associated with the funky smell of cannabis, terpenes are ubiquitous in vegetation of all varieties.

“Most botanicals have terpenes. The easiest way to think of it is that they’re the essential oils that come out of any plant,” said Bash. 

Crucially, terpenes smell and taste like weed but do not contain their intoxicating bite. After toying with a combination of terpenes and non-cannabis botanicals, the formula for El Hempe tequila seltzer was born.

“You can think of it like any other alcohol,” said Bash. “Gin uses spruce and juniper; what we’re using is a combination of flavors and smells that mimic the taste and aroma of cannabinoids.”

Terpene-infused Tequila

(Photo: El Hempe)

Across the US, El Hempe currently sells Lemon & Lime OG Kush and Mixed Berry Kush flavored seltzers as well as a higher ABV Hibiscus Durban Poison sparkling cocktail.

In the next few months, they even plan on releasing full-sized bottles of OG Kush True Blanco tequila.

It’s a lot. Unsurprisingly, El Hempe has gone all in on the messaging behind this off-kilter pitch.

Target demographics name dropped by the website include the “faux-fur wearing mechanical bull-riding real cowboy” and the “celebate-vowed church-hating pastor’s kid.”

Elsewhere, El Hempe proudly proclaims;  “We are the bubbly rebels, the non-binary luchadores fighting a sea of sameness with our punchy mix of flavors; a tequila-based terpene-infused sparkling cocktail made with tequila that is just as real and authentic as our people, a band of multi-hyphenated misfits who follow the beat of no other drum but their own.”

As cannabis consumption becomes increasingly normalized across the United States, it’ll be interesting to see how El Hempe fits its unique schtick into the booming tequila seltzer market. Compared to the likes of White Claw or High Noon, their branding certainly knows how to stick out on a shelf.

If this seems like the kind of thing you’d interested in, you can check out the El Hempe website here.

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Pedro Wolfe is the managing editor of Tequila Raiders. With several years of experience writing for the New York Daily News and the Foothills Business Daily under his belt, Pedro aims to combine quality reviews and recipes with incisive articles on the cutting edge of the tequila world. Pedro has traveled to the heartland of the spirits industry in Tequila, Mexico, and has conducted interviews with agave spirits veterans throughout Mexico, South Africa and California. Through this diverse approach, Tequila Raiders aims to celebrate not only tequila but the rich tapestry of agave spirits that spans mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, pulque and so much more.