The Craft of Extraction: Like Beer Making, It’s All About Control


Any master brewer in America’s 7,000+ craft breweries will tell you one of two things: that their art is a science, or that their science is an art. The answer may depend on the individual approach of the brewer, but a combination of experience, process, precise measurement and intuition is exactly what it takes to make a great beer. In a very similar way, the cannabis industry has its own version of the master brewer: extraction technician.

A cannabis extraction technician uses knowledge from a variety of scientific disciplines to apply industrial solvents, heat, and pressure to botanicals using a variety of methods to chemically extract pure compounds. Extraction technicians use their passion for cannabis and hemp plants combined with chemistry, physics, phytobiology and chemical engineering to achieve a result that is not entirely art but not entirely science. By manipulating plant materials, pressure, heat and other variables, the extraction technician creates the building block for what becomes edible, tincture or extract.

Similarly, master brewers use their knowledge of various scientific disciplines such as chemistry and microbiology, as well as various brewing processes and a variety of ingredients, to come up with creative recipes that result in consistent, interesting beers. The work of the master brewer is both science and art. They also manipulate plant materials, pressure, heat, and other variables to achieve the desired results.

Author Jeremy Diehl collects cannabis extract from test devices

“I would certainly consider brewing an art and a science, but it takes a very disciplined approach to create consistent yet evolving beers for today’s craft market,” says Dr. Marshall Ligare. Research assistant at John I. Haas, a leading supplier of hops, hop products and brewing innovations. “We are working to ensure that the brewers can create something different with each new beer, and something that helps create an experience and a feeling.”

In both brewing and extracting, the art comes into the craftsman’s subjective experience and his ability to curate the infinite possibilities inherent in each process. However, both are a science in their call for production methods that guarantee a consistent, reliable product experience every time in order to gain customer loyalty (and regulatory compliance). In the same way that hops determine recipes for beer flavors, the cannabis plant determines extraction recipes, especially considering the role terpenoids play in the quality, taste and effect of the final product.

The development of new and engaging cannabis products is gradually mimicking the wide variety of craft beers found around the world today. In the same way, beer connoisseurs look for the perfect stout, lager, or IPA. Discriminatory cannabis users are now looking for the jewel of a vaporizer oil with a single origin or an irresistible dab extract.

“I see an exciting new day for quality artisanal mining that tells not only where and how the cannabis plant was grown, but also how carefully this strain was made into smokable or edible oil,” said John Lynch, Founder of TradeCraft. “Imagine the impact on the market as product makers figure out how to create one-of-a-kind seasonal items that committed connoisseurs are willing to pay a premium for for the art behind limited releases.”

Just as hops determine recipes for beer flavors, the cannabis plant determines extraction recipes

In both processes, you are essentially creating art with science. Each process works with different tribes. Everyone deals with chemical and taste profiles. Everyone has their own challenges. In both worlds, quality depends on consistency. You create art, but you have to replicate that art over and over again – which is only possible if the process is tightly controlled. Master brewers try, among other things, to control things like yeast quantity and health, oxygen input, wort nutritional status and temperature. In their quest, the extraction engineers seek to control temperature, pressure and flow rate, and the way these variables interact with each other. What makes this control possible in both efforts is the equipment used to achieve results.

“A modern brewhouse is very similar to a scientific laboratory,” says Ligare. “Brewers treat their facilities with the same care and attention that a scientist devotes to their laboratory equipment, and they value precision, cleanliness and purity of the result in equal measure. With every new beer they want to develop a process that can be controlled and replicated. “

The key to creating an accurate process is using instrument-quality extraction machines that meet specifications – and allow you to repeat the process over and over. The value of using quality tools to manage and monitor the brewing or extraction process cannot be overstated. While this doesn’t seem intuitive, this is where the “craft” of both brewing and cannabis production comes into play. Precise instrumentation enables the brewer or extraction artist to manipulate and monitor the conditions required to meet recipe standards. In addition to the quality of the ingredients (hops, cannabis, hemp, etc.), the quality of the equipment used to make the product is a crucial element that affects the end result. “Imagine the impact on the market as product makers figure out how to create one-of-a-kind seasonal items that committed connoisseurs are willing to pay a premium for for the art behind limited releases.”

When it comes to cannabis extraction, a second important decision is which solvent is the best solution for the recipe you are using and the end result you want. This decision is part of the “craft” of extraction and is determined according to a combination of criteria. There is no question that every solvent has a business case for which it is best suited, and there is an ongoing debate about which approach is best. For the most part, CO2 is the solvent that best meets most business needs because it is versatile and its density can be tailored to specific compounds.

“Control is what any craft product makes or breaks,” says Karen Devereux, vice president of Northeast Kingdom Hemp. “We’re based in Vermont and love how well known Vermont is for quality craft beer, cheese, and maple syrup. We wanted to bring this artisanal approach to hemp extraction, and everyone knows that every crafting endeavor focuses on the details and getting them right time and time again. You cannot do this without controlling every aspect of the process. “

Better control of the process can also open up worlds of discovery. The inherent “tunability” of CO₂ enables the extraction technician to target specific compounds, increasing the experimentation potential and even the mood. This can lead to entirely new products, much like a brewer can control their process to make new, interesting beers.

The American portrait photographer Richard Avedon famously declared that art is about “control” and described the artistic process as an “encounter between control and the uncontrollable”. The same applies to beer production and cannabis extraction. The more precisely you can control variables, the more options are available to you and your customers. The more choices you have in terms of different recipes and products. And the more loyalty you ultimately generate with the fans of your products.



Robert Dunfee