By Gregory Daurer | May 25, 2021
Pilver and Magic Number co-founder Alex Berger share a commonality with other craft enthusiasts in Bend, Oregon. "Both of us, like a lot of people here, have a passion for beverages," he says. Given that top-rated breweries abound in Bend -- like Deschutes, Crux, and Boneyard -- the duo took a novel approach to that trend by starting what they call a "canna-brewery."
And it looks the part: With 10-, 15-, and 20-barrel tanks at its manufacturing facility, Pilver says he has heard, "Oh, this looks just like a brewery!"
Its output, however, is notably different: Infusing its products with live resin cannabis, Magic Number makes sodas with flavors like Classic Cola, Mandarin Lime, and Cherry Vanilla. There are Piña Colada and Passion Fruit-flavored tinctures. The company has also produced a sparkling bubbly, made from fresh apple juice sourced from nearby Washington State, with additional hibiscus and elderflower flavoring. And, just like a lot of breweries keeping up with market trends, the company recently released a line of seltzers -- although theirs are infused with strain specific cannabis grown by operations like Buddies and East Fork Cultivars.
Even though Oregon has legalized cannabis, Pilver notes how many people still maintain negative perceptions about those who smoke it. "Beverages are such an accepted part of socializing," he says. "We saw cannabis beverages as a non-threatening way to introduce people to cannabis."
People aren't shying away. Magic Number regularly has the number one, two, and three best-selling beverages in the recreational market in Oregon, according to statistics compiled by data and analytics company Headset. Pilver writes, "In 2020, Magic Number produced 470 barrels of cannabis infused beverages, and we anticipate producing 1,100 barrels in 2021." The company's products are in more than 350 of the state's 700 dispensaries, so he says there's "still room to grow." And while the business still operates out of a former Pizza Hut -- with only half of its 3,500 square feet suitable for production work -- the company plans to open its new, 6,000-square-foot facility, this fall.
And then there's that set of numbers which currently inform the company's name: the respective choice of either 10, 25, or 50 milligrams of THC per 12-ounce can of soda. While Magic Number originally offered only a conservative three milligrams of THC per bottle -- with the reasoning being that people could responsibly enjoy more than one, that way -- it soon turned out that the market demanded higher dosages for much higher tolerances. "The 50 milligram beverage is our number one seller," says Pilver, who admits that he generally prefers 10 milligrams, himself. The company's name serves as an educational vehicle, informing newbie consumers about how different levels of THC might affect them, says Pilver: "It's a cannabis beverage, but what is your Magic Number?"
In order to make its Ginger Beer soda, Berger -- the co-founder who oversees production -- juices organic Peruvian ginger. The ginger is then boiled in a brew kettle with water, sugar, and spices for about an hour. After filtering, the syrup gets added to a brite tank and diluted with more water. Then, a pre-prepared yellowish liquid (a homogeneous mixture of live cannabis resin, water, and an emulsifying gum agent) is added to the tank in an amount which testing has revealed contains the right amount of milligrams for the potency they're trying to achieve for the batch. Carbon dioxide gets injected into the soda to add fizz, then the soda sits in the tank where it is constantly mixed, while a sample of the beverage is sent out for compliance testing prior to packaging.
The ginger beer might take only three days to make, but getting test results back could add another week onto the schedule. Luckily, the shelf life for a finished soda is one year -- and it doesn't need to be refrigerated during that time.
After canning (the company fully switched over to cans in 2021), the sodas are shipped to dispensaries. A promotional slogan that has often accompanied the packaging and labeling is, "What's your Magic Number?"
Pilver, who also works professionally as an educator when he's not assisting with artisanal soda-making, says, "We really wanted to make [cannabis use] more mainstream, more acceptable -- and spread that education piece out there as well."
Challenges: "The federal regulation," says Pilver, noting how interstate commerce is presently forbidden for cannabis products. "We would love to distribute to California, to Washington, to Canada, Alaska." He adds, "If we want to continue growing we really need to expand to other states."
Opportunities: "Other products to expand our line," says Pilver. He notes how the company employs Becca Loo, who previously worked at an Anheuser-Busch InBev Innovation Pilot Brewery, to assist with new creations. "She's just been a wealth of knowledge, really helping us think outside the box and move product development along," says Pilver.
Needs: "More production space," says Pilver. "We're pretty full as far as our capacity goes."
The business has come a long way since producing its first 12-bottle batches in 2014, under the purview of the state's medical marijuana system, which still allowed for home manufacturing. Now a typical batch size is around 5,000 cans.