Visionary Dooma Wendschuh: Reinventing the Beer Industry
Dooma Wendschuh seems fuelled by an insatiable creative and entrepreneurial spirit that belies the stereotype surrounding his current position as the King of Cannabis. From businessman to filmmaker to videogame maven to marijuana entrepreneur, each phase of Dooma’s career has been the result of tenacity, prowess, and a lot of risk-taking. All of it has been leading up to his latest venture, where he hopes to tackle the dangers of alcoholic beverages by brewing cannabis-based beer. We spoke of the path he took that led him to try and change the way we get buzzed at our local bar.
By Jason Gorber
You went to school to be a filmmaker?
I grew up in Miami, Florida and received my undergraduate degree from Princeton. At Princeton, everyone goes off into investment banking or management consulting, and I had an internship at Deutsche Bank in the Asian Equity Sales department. I got in trouble the first week. It was casual Friday and I showed up with raver pants that had 42 inches around the legs. I knew I didn't necessarily fit in that world, but they still offered me a job.
The woman who was my boss asked me to come down to meet her and said, “If you really want this job I’ll give it to you, but I think you're going to be miserable here, you should do something creative.” I went home that day and applied to the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California. In my second year of film school, a partner and I came up with an idea to do a movie based on the book The Wind in the Willows.
What happened with the movie?
It never got made, but we still made a lot of money selling it to Disney. We hired Guillermo del Toro to be the director and then tried to get some actors, and it was just too challenging. We sold eight movie concepts to studios and only one of them ever got made.
So, then you had a bunch of cash that you'd accrued from selling ideas for selling films, though not necessarily making them. Then you opened a company to do some video game development.
We wanted to see stuff get into production. At some point, a fax came into William Morris Agency, which was the agency that represented us in Hollywood, and they were looking for writers for video games.
It sounds like, yet again, when you guys were given an obstacle, you weren’t going to be held back.
I don't take no for an answer. One of the things I always say with any kind of business development or fundraising situation [is] anything short of a no could still be a yes, and sometimes, a no could still be a yes!
Now you’re working with cannabis?
In our lifetime, there have been three legal psychoactive [drugs]: alcohol, coffee, and tobacco. Now, for the first time, there is a fourth. How does that enable us to change our world.
It’s very easy to just think of the marijuana world as a cash-grab from a bunch of stoners.
It’s like people in that wine movie, with Paul Giamatti, I forget what it's called…
Yeah, there's people like in Sideways who are really crazy about wine and talk about it all the time. There are people who are addicts to wine, who have a wine problem and shouldn't drink so much wine. Those are like the centre of the concentric circles. The rest of us are in the outer rings, we drink wine because it tastes good and it's kind of fun. There is an extreme side to cannabis as well, what we call stoners. There's a whole slew of people getting in [to this business]; these charlatans and snake oil salesmen who want to make a fortune. But to me what we need to do as an industry is to normalize cannabis so that it feels a lot like drinking wine and we'll show people that maybe it's actually a better and safer and healthier alternative.
Your entire ethos at Province Brands seems to be to normalize it in the sense that you are treating it like you are an alcohol company, intent on creating a product that behaves like it’s already acceptable within our society.
This company exists to rewrite perception and to show the world that there's no difference between enjoying an alcohol-free beer that intoxicates using marijuana or phytocannabinoids, than there is with enjoying an alcoholic beer from a social and proprietary perspective. But there is a huge difference in terms of society and health and longevity.
How is your product different?
There's so much evidence right now that suggests that in all of the ways that we know, alcohol is bad for you, marijuana is not. When you drink alcohol, it goes into your liver, it creates a metabolite called acetaldehyde in very low concentrations. You can get alcohol poisoning and you can die from it. Acetaldehyde is also highly carcinogenic, it contributes to eight different types of cancer. Marijuana is not toxic and it's non-carcinogenic.
Smoking it might be different, but the product itself is not carcinogenic…
Correct. We know also about the metabolites that marijuana produces in the same way that alcohol produces metabolites. Marijuana also doesn't seem to cause the same sort of violent, alcohol-related belligerence. Alcohol causes dementia, it builds up amyloid plaques in your brain. Marijuana doesn't seem to do that either. Habitual use of alcohol can lead to depression. There hasn't been any evidence suggesting that long-term use of marijuana impacts your serotonin reuptake receptors.
So, why do we drink alcohol?
Alcohol does something magical. It has this incredible ability to reduce inhibitions. We call it liquid courage or a social lubricant. What are the challenges then with a cannabis drink?
It takes a long time to hit you and even a single dose can keep you intoxicated for a very long time. You take one drink and you could be high for six hours, which doesn't mesh with the way we like to drink. But the most important problem is it just doesn't give you that feeling that alcohol gives you. To me, that puts a ceiling on the size. What we do at Province is we think about how we can make products from the marijuana plant that doesn’t come with the other harms of alcohol, but convey those unique benefits that go beyond having fun and relaxing that improves our lives in so many ways.
So, is it working?
We'll find out. We're very early, this company's only about a year old, but in the time that we've been around, we've made some phenomenal progress. We're now patent-pending on the world's first beers brewed from cannabis. It’s really not an obvious thing to do because beer is made from barley, which is a carbohydrate. The yeast basically eats the carbohydrate, turns it into sugar, and in the second phase of fermentation, turns sugar into alcohol. How could you do that with a plant that doesn't have carbohydrates? We found a very novel way to get sugars out of a plant with no carbohydrates and because it's novel, it's protectable, which means that this is pretty valuable.
So, feel free in this interview to tell me exactly what it is in detail.
Yeah, I'm not going to! We're the first in the world to actually brew a beer from cannabis, that we would own this entire category of beer. Almost every product we make is alcohol-free – we go through the full brewing process, we produce a whole bunch of alcohol, and then we remove it, using reverse osmosis. What we deliver to the customer is an alcohol-free product.
So, how does it taste?
It tastes very good! It's sort of a rich, nutty flavour.
Is it more critical to you that you make a delicious beer or that you make something that actually transforms the market?
It's both. You can't transform the market without making something that people want to buy. We put quality first and foremost at Province. We focus a lot more on making a phenomenal product and doing it right.
Which brings us full circle – you were essentially on track to being a business person, you then went into the creative industry, and now you are a creative business person. There must be some sleepless nights when you're worried about the pitfalls.
I haven't slept well since starting this company! The first night when I got a really good rest was when the Canadian Liberal government came up with the rules and made it clear that they would allow edibles. Up until that point I had put a lot of my own time and money and energy into starting a company to sell a product that nobody could say for sure would ever be legal in the country where I started [it], which was a really high-risk thing to do and probably pretty stupid. If you want to change the world, which is what I want to do, you have to be willing to take some really big risks.
That's what Province is about, it's about changing the paradigm, changing the reality, and creating a future where people don't think of alcohol as the only thing that can do what alcohol can do.
Disclaimer: Dooma Wendschuh is married to one of the co-founders of DTK Media.