With Climbing Kites, Lua’s Flying High

Can-do spirit: Zack Dunbar, left, joined Whitney and Scott Selix to concoct Lua Brewing’s most popular potent potables.

Writer: Karla Walsh
Photos: Duane Tinkey

When a company dreams up a new food or drink, it usually takes years for the product to hit shelves. But Lua Brewing’s Climbing Kites, a sparkling water infused with THC and CBD, hit the market in a mere six months.

The 2018 federal Farm Bill legalized the sale of hemp-based products nationwide but let state legislatures work out the fine print. The following year, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Iowa Hemp Act, which allows Iowans to use hemp in lotions, edibles and drinks — essentially, anything that’s not inhaled. As long as the product contains less than 0.3% THC, it’s not classified as marijuana.

“The act passed quietly. It’s taken a few years for us all to understand what is and isn’t possible,” said Scott Selix, who has a law degree from the University of Iowa and co-owns Lua with his wife and business partner, Whitney Selix, and Zack Dunbar. They realized in October 2022 that THC-infused drinks were legal in Iowa, but few were taking advantage of it.

So the Lua team moved quickly. They focused on branding and marketing in December, formed the Climbing Kites LLC in January and tinkered with recipes over the following months.

Since both cannabis-derived ingredients — THC (psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (non-psychoactive cannabidiol) — are essentially flavorless, the Lua team could scale them up or down in an array of creative concoctions. The current flavors include Mixed Berry, Orange Mango, Peach Prickly Pear and Pineapple Passion Fruit.

Like beer or wine labels that denote the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV), each can of Climbing Kites displays the dosage, ranging from 2.5 to 10 milligrams of THC and 5 to 20 milligrams of CBD. Each can also has a QR code, which leads to a website that details the ingredients in each recipe. The company pays an independent lab $1,500 per batch to verify its safety and quality. “Climbing Kites is far better tested than anything sold in the supplement aisle,” Whitney Selix said.

Lua released its first can on May 15, 2023, and since then, sales have gone wild. The co-owners said they sold more Climbing Kites in 2023 than all of their beers combined.

It may seem unusual for a brewery to sell something that’s not beer and doesn’t contain alcohol. But Scott Selix said they’re filling a gap. “In many parts of the world, socializing is built around having a drink in your hand, so a CBD-and THC-infused drink is a good nonalcoholic alternative,” he said. “Tolerance levels vary, but our recipe is designed to offer a reasonable dose. We’re not trying to put people on the couch for six hours.”

Climbing Kites is Iowa’s first cannabis-boosted beverage, but similar brands like Olala, Klaus and Fable have popped up elsewhere. The trend may be just taking off.

“The world knows that alcohol isn’t great for you,” said Dunbar, Lua’s other co-owner. “People often turn to alcohol for an escape or to be social, and we wanted to offer a more sustainable alternative” — without calories, gluten or hangovers. He added that Lua offers customers a safe place to learn about THC and CBD with clearly labeled products from a brand they can trust.

Lua sells Climbing Kites at its original location, at 1525 High St. (no kidding), as well as Either/Or, which the same co-owners opened last summer at 6222 Grand Ave. Customers can also find cans at Campbell’s Nutrition, the Downtown Farmers’ Market (in season), various local festivals and online at climbingkites.myshopify.com.

Lua plans to expand its business this year with new retail partners, new flavors and new drinks spiked with adaptogens, such as herbs, roots or other ingredients like mushrooms, which can help ease stress and restore balance.

Other Canned Concoctions

These days, the soft-drink aisle is more than a sea of sodas and seltzers. Besides Climbing Kites, you can find all sorts of canned nonalcoholic options around town.

If you like Campari or Aperol . . . try Ghia. This nonalcoholic aperitif offers spritz alternatives in tempting combinations like ginger-lime-salt and sumac-chili. Find it at Eden, 418 E. Sixth St.

If you like coffee . . . try We Will Cold Brew. Proceeds from this black coffee with a hint of citrus benefit Iowa State University athletes. Find it at Northern Vessel, 1201 Keosauqua Way. 

If you like kombucha . . . try De La Calle Tepache. Unlike tea-based kombucha, which originated in China, tepache is a low-sugar fermented fruit juice (typically pineapple) that probably got its start more than 2,500 years ago in Central America. Find it in flavors like ginger, mango-chili and pineapple spice at Gateway Market, 2002 Woodland Ave.

And if you like Katy Perry . . . try De Soi. The pop star co-founded this line of adaptogen-boosted, nonalcoholic, sparkling aperitifs that come in four rainbow-hued flavors: Champignon Dreams (strawberry and grapefruit), Golden Hour (citrus and herbs), Purple Lune (blackberry and vanilla) and Très Rosé (raspberry and rooibos). Find it at Fresh Thyme, 2900 University Ave. in West Des Moines.

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