Lyden Henderson has an active mind that can’t stop to rest. Starting out work life as a pit boss at a casino, he has risen to become an innovator in the cannabis field. As the COO of High Style Brewing, he is part of a team that is taking the cannabis field by storm.
High Style Brewing has developed a cannabis infused non-alcoholic beer which has a rapid onset effect. The high hits the user between 15-30 minutes. This product is hot and the flame will burn even more brightly in the years to come.
Lyden sat down to talk to Irish Liquor Lawyer about a vast array of topics, ranging from Washington State football to how his career has developed.
But the sexy part of the interview that readers will truly enjoy, is Lyden explaining how his product works versus an edible.
Enjoy the read folks and Happy Valentine’s Day!
Lyden Henderson Interview
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from?
Lyden: Camas, southwest Washington across the river from Portland.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: You started out at Washington State, you were a Cougar it looks like!
Lyden: Ya, go Cougs.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Go Cougs.
Lyden: The football team was terrible when I went there, I had to suffer through a bunch of 2 win seasons, it has paid off now, we had a few nice years and I am enjoying it.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Absolutely, they had a good program through the last 20-30 years. The Cougs have great fans, I met a lot of them when they played Notre Dame in South Bend
Lyden: A couple of bad years, but generally pretty good. Did you go to Notre Dame?
Irish Liquor Lawyer: No I went to the University of North Carolina but when you grow up Irish Catholic in Chicago, Notre Dame is your team.
Lyden: That makes sense, I was close to going to Notre Dame for grad school. I went up there to South Bend, interviewed, it was a beautiful day, it was in January, the sun was shining. I audited a three-hour class, I got out of there and there was six inches of snow and my flight was cancelled and pushed back to the next day. And I decided I needed better weather than this. So, I came to San Diego instead.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: I saw you started out your career as a pit boss.
Lyden: Ya, that was while I was at Wazzu, I was never really a gambler, still not really. I had a roommate that worked at the casino that was going in to pick up his paycheck. I decided to ride in with him, I was feeling I need to get a job, and I walked in and said “this looks like a good place are you guys hiring?” Well they picked me up first as a security guard at the casino. Which was interesting, and I moved to dealing, I saw how much money the dealers made, I wanted a piece of that for myself and learned how to deal. I was good enough at that and maintaining the rules, that they asked me to be pit boss.
So, I got to run the schedules and got management experience and helped me launch me off, an exciting time in college. I thought it was a great career as a college student. It made me pretty complacent with my position, it made me pretty good money there, made me never really bother to get an internship, kind of set me back a couple of years after graduating from my undergrad.
You live and learn and get past all that.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: You went to the corporate world for a little bit?
Lyden: I graduated from Wazzu in 2009 to a very depressed job market, so I went back home to work at a Credit Union, one of the only jobs I could get. My girlfriend and I got pregnant, had our son, were enjoying life, and got married. After a little over a year, though, I wasn’t really feeling happy at the Credit Union, wasn’t achieving my potential, really felt the pull to do more.
This goes back to what we previously discussed, I didn’t do the necessary internships and make the right connections and relationships to really achieve my career goals and set me on that path. So, I decided the best thing to do was go to graduate school and with more knowledge and experience would setup my connections and network and achieve my career goals that way.
Started looking at a bunch of schools, I looked at Notre Dame, I even looked at a school in Switzerland, which I was actually excited about doing an international program with them. But ultimately decided to go to the University of San Diego. Just because, San Diego was always a dream city, and going to school there, would allow me to build up my network and stay there.
That is where I am at currently.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Before you went into cannabis you had a couple of other jobs, tell me how they advanced your career and how they helped with working in the cannabis industry?
Lyden: During grad school, I got hired on as an intern with Cymer, they are in the semiconductor business, they manufacture light sources. A light source, in this context, is a laser that patterns the blank silicon wafer, allowing chipmakers to then add the necessary features on the chip for its intended application. Cymer’s responsibility was to shrink the wavelength of the light for the laser beam and that would allow the chipmakers like Intel and Samsung to fit more features on the card, leading to more processing power or more memory with a lower power draw. We were helping advance Moore’s law.
It was an exciting company to be with, worked with some great teams, had some great mentors, the CEO I was lucky enough to meet him and have some one on one conversations with him. Get some advice and mentorship. I impressed them well enough during my internship that they offered me a full-time position when I graduated.
Really, I stayed with them for 5 years until I made the full-time switch into cannabis.
With Cymer I did rotational leadership programs where I took 2 years and went throughout the company learning all the different facets of the company. And then finally ended up managing the global service program. All the lasers have a certain number of consumable modules that get worn out as the light passes through them. Prisms, mirrors, etc. all have an expected lifetime in the billions of pulses of light, which eventually stressed them, decreasing performance and requiring replacement. And so, I managed the logistics, planning, and labor of those programs.
Pretty exciting, 2013 we got bought out by ASML, a huge Dutch company and the culture changed.
It wasn’t for me so I started exploring the cannabis industry. That would have been about June 2016, when I met the first player in the cannabis industry. A friend from high school was doing graphic design for him. And so, my high school friend made the introduction between us and ended up working with that individual on business planning, business forecast, and then brand development over the next 9 months.
I didn’t end up well, the individual ended up being pretty dishonest, wasn’t the most positive experience but I learned a lot from it. We ended up going to Australia and consulting with the Australia Doctors Association about medical cannabis. So, I had some good experiences, he ultimately ended up being dishonest and extremely self-interested.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: From that bad experience, where you gained some positives, you went to the company you are at presently. I know the brewing process for alcohol is different than cannabis. One, cannabis is not soluble with water, and the other one is the onset effect. Because right now we know when alcohol hits you!
But it is different when it is cannabis in an edible form and we are in new ventures with the liquid form. Can you tell us about the onset effect of your product, and how you are dealing with the differences?
Lyden: Absolutely, with traditional edibles you are absolutely correct the onsets are you know can take a long time, they are very delayed, it can take 1-2 hours for most people with traditional methods of consumption. And that is because the way the THC is actually extracted. A lot of edibles are made with a butter or coconut oil extraction, and so the THC molecules are fairly large. And that means they have to pass through your digestive system and be processed by the liver before actually being distributed to the blood stream. That is the reason why traditional edibles can take 1-2 hours before people can feel the effects.
And that is something I never really enjoyed as a consumer. It is something I know a lot of people are frustrated with, because you eat it and say “I don’t feel anything”, you take another and another, all the sudden you get the onset of the first edible and then you are in for a wild ride.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: That has never happened to me of course (jokingly)!
Lyden: Of course not (jokingly)!
So that was something that was really unacceptable to us, we wanted to people to enjoy a beverage and feel the effects within a reasonable amount of time. And so, we worked really closely with our chemist. What they do, they break down the THC into a smaller molecule and encapsulate it within a water-soluble shell which allows it to remain in full, uniform in our non-alcoholic beer and will not separate or rise to the top.
When we were first formulating our THC compound and infusing it into beer, we would come back a week later and see the oil on the top which is how we knew we didn’t have a true water-soluble product. Our chemists went back to the drawing board and discovered the key to making our THC a water-soluble product through a combination of decreasing the molecule size and traditional chemist-wizardry.
The process of making the THC water-soluble through reducing the size had another benefit as well, it allows the THC to absorb through your soft tissue linings (gums, stomach, intestines, etc) long before it arrives at your liver for processing. This means you are not going to have to wait the full one to two hours which you would with a traditional edible. To be on the conservative side, I suggest that consumers should expect to feel effects within 30 minutes, but feedback from budtenders and other consumers is an onset within about 15 minutes.
We are very excited about this, as we feel we have created a “self-regulating product”, similar to alcohol, we know when alcohol is affecting us. With our beer you will know how the THC is affecting you and by the time you finish with the first beer, you will know whether your tolerance will let you have another one. We felt that this was really important to the socialization of cannabis, especially in edible or drinkable forms.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: That is interesting, clearly you can’t put cannabis into beer.
Lyden: Yep the TTB doesn’t like that.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Ya you wouldn’t get it past the TTB. So how hard was it to get your product approved by California?
Lyden: Really not a ton of resistance for the product of itself, as it’s a non-alcoholic beer. As far as California and cannabis, they have a pretty rigorous set of tests (potency, microbial, heavy metal content, etc) to ensure the safety of the consumer, so it was simply a matter of making a good, clean product.
I would say the most trouble we have had with getting our product approved is the actual labeling of the product itself. As we are creating a new category here, it is important to accurately communicate to the consumer what they are purchasing, and the regulating bodies in California wanted to make sure we were not creating a misleading impression that our product contained alcohol. We actually had to do a complete label redesign and re-label a considerable number of bottles to remove the phrase “Craft Brew” because it could imply an alcoholic beverage.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: I should sue Starbucks then because they claim they brew and yet I can’t get drunk.
Lyden: Exactly and you are not getting drunk, so this is a misrepresentation. The cannabis market is young and the regulating bodies are proceeding cautiously, but caution leads to uncertainty and that leads to discomfort in the industry. To combat this discomfort, we try to stay in constant communication with the agencies, discussing our concerns and providing input and feedback whenever possible.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Let’s talk about potential expanding markets. They will look way different four or five years from now. Do you see yourself in other states?
Lyden: We are lucky we started in California it is a huge market, there is plenty of demand. It is going to take a while to meet demand in California.
We definitely see High Style as being a nationwide if not a global brand. We are in talks regarding partnerships with licensees and investors about how we could bring High Style into other states. There are various ways to structure expansion from California to other states, it is still something we are working through.
But we expect we can be in Western states and Colorado by the middle of Q2 this year.
Our social media marketing team is always busy responding to potential consumers across the country asking when High Style will be available in their area, there is a clear demand for this type of product nationwide. Not only is there general interest from cannabis users and beer aficionados in general, we have received a lot of feedback from recovering alcoholics telling us they are excited, as traditional non-alcoholic beers typically don’t live up to the flavor of their alcohol-heavy relative and consumers obviously don’t get a buzz off it, either.
We are really proud of what we put together here!
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Let’s talk about your reach, you are in dispensaries only?
Lyden: State law dictates only dispensary sales. There are only 500 dispensary licenses in California right now, but one thing we are really excited about is cannabis lounges, which will help further socialize our beverage.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Will we see a day when I am at the baseball game and the vendors are selling High Style?
Lyden: I do see that day, I am extremely optimistic, with federal legalization that will happen quickly. There is a lot of negative information around cannabis that is shifting quickly the other way.
There are a lot of benefits to selling cannabis at a baseball game, alcohol dehydrates people, it is a toxin for the body, it makes people more aggressive, it lowers inhibitions. Those are not always great things for a hot day in a crowded baseball game. Don’t get me wrong I love beer, I love drinking beer, but High Style nonalcoholic cannabis infused beer is hydrating, it won’t leave you with a hangover, you get the same rapid onset affect as alcohol, you are not going to be aggressive. I think there are a ton of benefits of cannabis consumption. Once the economic case has been recognized by the federal government, I think it will be pretty easy for the socialization and normalization of cannabis and the sale of cannabis in licensed alcohol areas will definitely occur.
But I think right now with TTB being a federal organization, they won’t let anyone that sells alcohol also sell cannabis in the same location. Until federal legalization happens, we won’t see it.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: Does Trump legalize it before the election?
Lyden: I would not be surprised at all, it would make a ton of sense for me. Honestly during the last election, we were waiting on election night and everyone in my previous company thought cannabis would flounder if Trump got elected. But my perspective, he is a business man, and he never said it was bad or should be illegal. Ultimately it is a business decision and there is a lot of dollars, I wouldn’t be surprised if legalization happened under Trump.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: I think flipping Colorado and Nevada could influence him to legalize it.
Lyden: Absolutely, I don’t follow politics closely, that is something he could do to get these votes.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: How do you like Irish liquor lawyer?
Lyden: I enjoy the topics, and you interview some interesting people.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: I love the name High Style because in Chicago we have Old Style which is our old junkie beer, this name, High Style, is a cooler classier version of that.
Lyden: That’s awesome, I had no idea.
Irish Liquor Lawyer: I want to thank you for your time
Lyden: I enjoyed talking with you!