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Ontario Cannabis Fieldnotes: Stirring up fresh cannabis-infused beverages

What can you improve through the power of creativity? According to the team of infused beverage makers at Collective Project, the answer is obvious: Creativity makes everything better, including cannabis.  

Collective Project’s mission is to create better ways to enjoy cannabis — specifically through its lineup of cannabis-infused beverages. Flavourful cannabis drinks might seem like an easy win, but in a marketplace where legacy traditions run deep, they’re still a novelty to many consumers. Obsessed with creativity and good taste, this small Hamilton-based Licensed Producer is finding ways to make a splash in the beverage business.

Founded: 2021
Size: Seven full-time staff
Produces: Infused beverages and edibles
Known for: Promoting artists and creativity — art prints and other merch are available to order from their site
Shop: Collective Project

Start with a smooth emulsion

Collective Project had an early start in developing its signature cannabis-friendly flavours. Long before edibles became available for legal sale in Canada in 2019, the founders worked with American companies to experiment with ingredients, formulate new recipes and research cannabis infusions.

“We spent a year trialling emulsions,” says Toni Shelton, Collective Project’s managing director. All that research led the team to connect with Vertosa, an American company making innovative cannabis infusions for beverages.

Why spend so much time on the emulsion? Emulsification is the science required to make a cannabis-infused drink. Cannabis distillate (a concentrated form of cannabis oil) is broken down into tiny spheres that allow it to blend uniformly into a liquid. This translates to a smooth experience, as the first sip will have the same amounts of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids as the last.

The onset of effects from ingesting cannabis beverages can be much faster than other edibles — sometimes within 10 minutes.

Add a sparkle of flavour

With their ideal emulsion secured, all that remained was to invent Collective Project’s remarkable signature flavours.

“When we’re developing products, we say that creativity on the outside makes creativity inside,” says Vyktoria Brochu, sales and marketing manager at Collective Project. “We have a great two-way engagement with our community, and we’re always inspired by the creativity going on around us,” adds Shelton. Even so, finding just the right combinations for a whole new line of beverages meant kicking Collective Project’s creative style into overdrive.

“We innovated a range of flavours, from sparkling juices to sparkling teas,” Shelton says, “knowing those would appeal to very different markets.” This was 2018, so the team had to rely on intuition, creating a new kind of product to please an as-yet-unknown consumer.

Person mixing beverages and cans running through a canning machine

Classic beverage styles are often a starting point for the team’s creative process. Collective Project’s top-selling cannabis-infused flavour — Blood Orange, Yuzu & Vanilla – for example, is cocktail lounge–inspired. The team has also developed a range of tea-inspired recipes with their brewmaster, Ryan Morrow.

Brochu explains the thinking behind mixing up tastes: “When you’re working with a cannabis emulsion, there’s a little bitterness to mask, so we spent a lot of time trying different ingredients and flavours, and using our own steeped brews.”

Beverage Choices

Visit your local Authorized Cannabis Store to shop for infused beverages in various flavours, potencies and formats, including:

  • Sparkling waters
  • Teas and coffees
  • Classic soft drinks
  • Fruit juices
  • Beverage mixers
  • Iced teas and lemonades

Collective Project does in-house testing of small batches to perfect their cannabis-infused drinks. “We focus on flavour, conducting bench-top trials and consumer tastings to refine our recipes,” Shelton says. The products artfully blend THC, CBD and other cannabinoids for a balanced experience, aiming to produce enjoyable beverages.

Brew up one batch... and keep going

Health Canada requires cannabis beverages to be produced in separate facilities from those where non-cannabis-infused beverages — such as water or soda — are made. So even though Collective Project has facilities on-site for its other business, its full-scale production is contracted out to Peak Processing in Tecumseh, Ont., one of just a few legal canning facilities in Canada.

Barrels of juices, tea brews and other ingredients are sent to Peak Processing, along with the scaled-up recipes. For the first few runs of each new cannabis drink, brewmaster Morrow works alongside the production team, ensuring the recipes and flavours are reproduced correctly and meet quality specifications.

Mixing alcohol and infused cannabis beverages can produce many potentially negative or even harmful effects.

Cultivate an artistic vibe

While the Cannabis Act regulations around promotion mean the team can’t put artwork on retail products, they do use artists’ work on their website and in their “vanity packaging,” which you might see on display in Authorized Cannabis Stores. Shelton says the legal restrictions on cannabis advertising may have actually helped Collective Project by providing a level playing field for smaller companies like theirs. Without the threat of big advertising, their grassroots creative has thrived.

Collective Project sees a sweet future ahead, including new artistic and community collabs, fresh product lines and possible expansion into U.S. markets. And with so many exciting submissions to their worldwide call for art, they’re exploring other ways to deliver creativity to Collective Project fans.

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