They say there’s no accounting for taste, but professional tastemakers can’t afford to tell that to the guys in accounting: In a cannabis market where the persistent demand for novel flavor profiles and unique “exotics” is the driving force behind success or failure for cultivators, a taste test is a crucial moment of truth.
San Francisco at dusk: I step off the sidewalk, turn up my collar against the cold and turn down an alley as wispy tendrils of fog begin to slither up from the concrete. A half-block stroll and a few raps on a graffiti-battered corrugated metal door whisk me out of the creeping evening chill and into the relative warmth hovering beneath the vaulted warehouse ceilings of Meadow SF.
My eyes are greeted by familiar faces; a handful of industry movers and influencers, some Meadow regulars (decent amount of overlap there), a choice selection of fellow ink-stained wretches working the weed beat, and of course, Neil Dellacava; co-founder of Gold Seal SF, the top shelf indoor cultivator hosting this event.
We’ve all gathered under the same roof to facilitate a crucial part of the cultivation process — phenotype selection. For me, it’s a full-circle return to my first visit to Gold Seal’s “Cheesecake Factory” grow facility, where I first witnessed the lengths the company goes to in search of fresh flavors and sensations — you can read about it in Issue 28 of Cannabis Now Magazine.
And there, nestled between a table lined with pizza (because testing cannabis is hungry work) and an arrangement of tables that serves as the tasting area — complete with bongs, papers, grinders and lighters — there is the centerpiece of the evening; the phenos.
A row of shiny, metal counters sits bare, save for six or seven clusters of jars and bags, filled with premium cannabis flowers and marked with letters and numbers, because this is a blind tasting. The letter represents a strain group, the number represents a distinct phenotype from that strain.
Dellacava hands out strips of paper and pens so everyone can take notes, which he will ultimately review.
My first sweep of the table is done without taking any notes. Eventually I give each pheno a full examination, but this first round is less scientific observation and more matchmaking; I’m seeing what phenos I “click” with — it’s about seeking chemistry and seeing which strains leave an impression that’s still lingering once the pen and paper does come out.
As expected, only two or three phenos hit me in a visceral way, leaving an impression strong enough for me to remember their number and go back for a more detailed examination.
Weeks later, I won’t be able to remember all the details from tonight, but two alphanumerical combinations will still stick out in my memory — J2 and W4.
The J2 is a zesty melange of sweet and citrus fruit aromas with a subtle but persistent tinge of something sharp and herbaceous, like grapefruit pith and freshly chopped spearmint leaves. The outsized joint I roll from it provides a sweet, mild smoke with only a whisper of the sharp complexity of its nose. The effects are mildly stimulating but relaxing on balance with a bias towards euphoric.
The W4, which I dub “Independent Contractor Kush,” is an aggressive expression of fuel-soaked sugar with deep, musky undertones reminiscent of unburned Nag Champa incense. The pungency is intoxicating on its own, and when packed (repetitively) into bong bowls, the effects are like getting a shiatsu massage on your cerebral cortex.
The distinction between genotype and phenotype gets kicked around all night, with everybody competing to create the most concise analogy — everything from makes and models of cars to breeds of dogs gets discussed. Ultimately, I settled on this parallel, which gamblers and fantasy tabletop role-playing gamers should find especially relatable: The genotype is the die you roll, the phenotype is the number you get.
So if you plant ten seeds with the same genes, you’re still going to get ten distinct expressions of those genes. The idea of a pheno tasting is to decide which expressions will be most desirable to cannabis consumers.
At some point Evan X., the master hash maker behind High Noon SF — the best hash company you’ve never heard of — doctors one of the bong bowls with some of his criminally under-marketed water hash. Then another bowl gets load and more hash gets piled on…
When it comes to specifics about what happens after that, your guess is as good as mine.
TELL US, what factors do you use to determine if a strain is good or not?