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Blunt Talk: Craft Cannabis


craft cannabisPeople have been getting high since before recorded history, but in the last 25 years a growing subculture of aficionados has explored and defined the boundaries of the art of cannabis.

It seems virtually every gustatory pleasure can be refined into a craft variety, but the term started bubbling into our lexicon in connection with craft beer, where it came to signify a drastic departure from mass-produced beer.

Craft beers looked different, tasted stronger, and appealed to the imaginations of hardcore beer drinkers with educated palates and brewers looking to test their skills. Craft brewing was about being in love with the details — and the result was a new universe of beers and a new breed of beer drinker intrepidly exploring it.

When it comes to the beloved details, craft brewing and craft growing aren’t far off from each other. Craft brewing ties its emergence to the development of Cascade Hops and other relatively obscure ingredients being grown and released in small-batches. The high-end cannabis set prizes unique strains, with the most special cuttings fetching as much as $10,000 per plant.

Brewing and growing parallel in that they’re both dynamic processes. Brewers control the environment and feed the yeast to drive the fermentation process, and manipulate the product throughout the process to create a specific result. Great growers do very much the same, and the final product is the result of dynamic relationships and carefully refined processes.

The difference between craft cannabis and any old jar of schwag is the focus on aesthetic appeal. Sure — it gets you high — in many cases, a lot higher than commercial produce. But craft cannabis is special. The grower evokes the expression of the full gamut of sensory pleasures from the humble flower.

There is a clear focus on the aesthetics of the bud: the look, smell and taste, and even the mouthfeel come into play. The margin between good herb and great herb is careful attention throughout the grow process. While commodity flowers can be grown in massive populations, manicured by machine and rushed to market. True connoisseur cannabis starts with carefully and individually tended plants that are harvested and painstakingly manicured by hand, and slowly and carefully dried and cured to develop and lock in flavor.

When it comes to gauging good ganja, we consider four dimensions: how it looks, smells, tastes and smokes. A decent grower can create something special in one or two of these categories, but a jar of bud that’s spot on in all four virtues is a product worth celebrating.

Appearance is how you can determine the bud’s ripeness, how expertly it was grown, and how lovingly it’s been handled. Ripe bud will be made of swollen clusters, and the stigma (often mistakenly called ‘hairs’) should be dark and withered. Flowers should have organic shapes to them — machine trimmed herb can take on a rounded appearance from the way machines tumble the flowers.

Leaf material that’s not well-covered in resin should have been removed before the bud reached the shelf, and completely or partially remaining stems and leaves make for a harsher green-tasting smoke. When it comes to resin, a true pot snob will use her phone’s zoom to check that resin glands are intact (with a visible head rising above the stalk), and the heads’ color is becoming opaque. The heads of these mushroom-shaped glands are where the plant stores its magic, and they transition from clear to opaque as they finish their magnificent alchemy.

Cannabis is a perfumer’s dream, with a spectrum of smells broader than than any other flower’s. Aromas range from culinary herbs and exotic spices to diesel fuel and skunk, cheese and rotten meat to fruit, flowers and candy. Try to identify distinct smells in your herb — properly cured herb will permeate the jar and jump out when you crack it, and open up to a sharper more pungent smell when the flowers are squeezed or broken up. There are no wrong answers, and everyone’s olfactory apparatus is unique, but real high grade will smell like oranges or incense or baked goods far more often than it’ll smell like the weed you got in high school.

Great herb should taste like it smells, with layers of flavor catching your attention on the inhale and exhale. Really superior batches leave your palate and sinuses flooded with flavor long after your hit, and can surprise you with their nuance and complexity.

Just like the veteran cigar smoker appreciating the tip of his Cuban, the cannabis aficionado knows that for all the complexity of a flower, nothing can hide when it’s burned. Meticulously cured cannabis is remarkably smooth on the throat and lungs —  more smooth and herbal than smokey. Properly grown herb will burn to a snow-white powdery ash — darker colors can indicate residual fertilizers and pesticides, or water trapped by careless drying and curing.

If you’re ready to explore craft cannabis, ask your dispensary about how their herb is grown, trimmed and cured. Look for grower-owned shops where the bud may be a little pricier, but a lot more lovingly produced. And don’t be afraid to jot down notes and develop your tastes and standards — taking the time to examine and appreciate all of the elements of finely grown cannabis adds enjoyment to the experience and layers of complexity to the intoxication the plant has to offer.

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