Welcome to our Happy Hour Question & Answer series, where we ask questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.
This week’s spotlight is on Cycling Frog as we talk with Head of Brand Jason Peterson and VP of Business Development Art Massolo. Cycling Frog focuses on creating THC & CBD products, such as its unique THC seltzers and THC and CBD gummies, softgels and mints. Using domestically sourced hemp from non-GMO farms, they make their THC & CBD extracts in-house. All their products are third-party tested to ensure the quality is consistent, and free of heavy metals and pesticides. You can follow them on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/getcyclingfrog/
Hops & Spirits: How did you get into the beverage industry?
Art Massolo: I was on a cruise in the South of Chile when I met one of the Directors of Concha y Toro (CyT), who introduced me to the Guilisasti family when I disembarked and went to Santiago. I did a summer internship with CyT before my final year at University. Two weeks after I graduated, I moved to Chile and CyT offered me a project I just could not refuse, to “start the first boutique winery in Chile.” So, I founded and ran Viña Cono Sur for seven years and founded Viña Trivento in Argentina during that time as well. They are now both the second-largest wineries in their country!
Jason Peterson: From its inception, Sequoia (CEO) and I wanted Cycling Frog to have a beverage line. We’re both from the cannabis and hemp industries and neither had any prior beverage experience, but we believed the vast majority of Americans, if given the opportunity, would appreciate a THC beverage they could session without getting completely stoned. With a talented team behind us, we sought to create our THC Seltzers and after 8 months of development – plus a massive learning curve – we produced our first batch of Wild Cherry.
HS: Why a THC alcoholic beverage?
AM: I have been in the alcoholic drinks industry for 30 years. Eight years ago, I started to dabble with Non-Alcoholic Spirits. Eventually, that led me to the cannabis space. I have had a relationship with the plant since the age of 14 and prefer the feeling of THC over alcohol. So, it took me a while, but I happened to meet Sequoia through applying for a job and now we are here. Our hands are now firmly wrapped around a brand that is normalizing THC, which allows people to test it as they would their first beer or cocktail. We are offering a healthier buzz without the hangover, and it works!
JP: First off, our drink contains ZERO alcohol. That’s the point. We’re the alternative to alcohol. Our drinks provide people with the opportunity to imbibe, unwind, and socialize, without alcohol and the negative side effects associated with it.
HS: Why did a seltzer make the most sense?
AM: We are bucking the trend of the fast-paced seltzer industry. Low-dosage THC is very similar to low alcohol %’s. We plan on building Cycling Frog into other beverage verticals so you may see Spirits, Wines, Beers and Coffees with D-9 THC and no alcohol pretty soon. This means you will be able to order a gin and tonic and feel the effects of THC instead of alcohol. Imagine that!
JP: Truthfully, it drinks more like a cider than a seltzer, but we didn’t want to call it a cider because that was too polarizing. We felt we had a lot of wiggle room within the seltzer category. Originally, we called it a Dark Seltzer, but felt people wouldn’t know what that was. The “Dark” referenced the color and complexity of the actual drink, owing to the organic fruit juices and natural flavors. But add in the fact the cannabis industry is generally viewed in a negative light in America, we settled on calling it a seltzer.
HS: Is there any difference in how your seltzers are made compared to other seltzers?
AM: We use all-natural fruit juices, our seltzers are very low in calories, and we are vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO. I would consider our seltzers to be lightly carbonated, fantastic tasting with a lovely fruit-filled happiness for your mouth!
JP: As Art mentioned, the biggest difference is that our drinks contain organic fruit juices and all-natural flavors. This produces a complex, full-bodied, fruit-forward taste that regular seltzers simply can’t touch. It also makes the drink incredibly difficult to make, but that youthful bravado is just part of the Cycling Frog magic we bring. If we’re going to create a drink, we’re not going to create one that’s easy to make – we’re going to challenge ourselves and make the best-tasting drink we can.
HS: What’s it like navigating markets with a THC/CBD product?
AM: It’s fascinating. You have so much misinformation about THC that you have to do a lot of explaining. Every state has different rules, so we need to make sure that our distributors and retailers know exactly what needs to be done to sell our products through traditional on-and-off trade. Once the buyers get it, you can see the glimmer in their eyes when they see the potential ahead of them!
JP: For almost 100 years, THC has been villainized in the United States and every day we are working to uproot that deeply ingrained bias. At every stage, there’s a monumental education component to our product that overshadows everything we do. From educating our manufacturing partners to our distributors and retail partners, all the way to the consumers that have very little to no experience with THC drinks. It’s a Herculean task, but it is the core belief on which our brand is founded.
HS: For those who might be unfamiliar with this type of product, what would you tell them?
AM: For those folks who have never tried a THC product, this will be like trying beer or a cocktail, wine or spirit for the first time. You will quickly know how a single sip, two sips, a full can, or several cans feel and consumers will figure out quickly what’s their preferred level of happiness!
JP: THC isn’t for everyone, but I think any adult that uses a substance to unwind, relax, have fun, or get out of their head, should try it. Even my grandmother and her friends drink them and they LOVE them!
HS: What’s next for Cycling Frog?
AM: Our 2 MG Light Seltzers will be coming out before summer and we are in R&D with Non-Alcoholic beers, wines, spirits and coffees as we speak. We will be partnering with more beer, wine and spirits distributors and forming strategic partnerships with the vape, smoke, CBD, independent convenience and grocery markets. We will soon be launching in strategic international markets as well.
JP: We’re planning a nationwide road trip this summer to engage with people one-on-one and give them an opportunity to try our drinks. We’re still a loooooong way away from THC going mainstream, but that’s our ultimate goal – being on store shelves next to beer and wine.
HS: Where can folks find/purchase Cycling Frog? Or get more information?
AM: The easiest way to try Cycling Frog is to order it online and we can ship to all 50 States. In many states, you can find Cycling Frog products on the shelves of local convenience stores, bodegas, vape, smoke, CBD, local grocery stores, bars, restaurants and clubs. Just start asking for it and hopefully soon, Cycling Frog will be everywhere!
JP: To reiterate Art’s point, currently, our products are available throughout the United States in CBD/speciality stores. In certain select states, such as New York, Colorado, and Minnesota, where we have more traditional distributors, it’s available in bars, restaurants, grocery, and gas stations. We are also available online at cyclingfrog.com.