Cannabis legalization in New York City means things are a little looser at the Astor Club, a cannabis speakeasy located somewhere on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (and, like everyone else in the weed game, reliably found 24/7 on Instagram). The club’s owners recently welcomed in a writer and photographer from The New York Times, where they caught a distinct whiff of gassy strains from the offerings behind the counter – a little different from the clouds appearing in Los Angeles, Seattle, or Denver.
Gassy Cannabis: An Underground Original
Like everywhere else with millions of people and an enormous appetite for cannabis, New York City’s market for marijuana is measured in the billions of dollars. But unlike, say, Chicago – headquarters for several of the U.S.’s billion-dollar publicly traded cannabis companies, including some that are buying licenses and setting up shop in New York – New York City has a homegrown cannabis culture, represented in strain names that have survived contact with legal adult-use cannabis’ currently West Coast-dominant culture.
“New York City Sour Diesel,” an indica-dominant hybrid with distinct sharp notes – as if someone kicked over a gas can while filling up their lawnmower – has been a mainstay at seed banks as well as dispensaries coast-to-coast (and in Amsterdam) for decades.
And there’s gas on the menu at Astor Club: a couple of different cuts of Sour Diesel, plus a few more of Chem Dog, another strain with fuel-like notes and East Coast origins. Off-menu, there’s even more: the clubs’ proprietors and a few close friends are passing back and forth enormous glass jars of their treasured private head stashes – and every single one of them is a gassy, fuel-y, chemmy varietal.
On the West Coast, a growers’ ball would be all Gelato and Runtz. Here, it’s a gas party.
Cannabis plants produce terpenes in response to environmental conditions and stressors. Why cannabis plants started pumping out a fragrant mix reminiscent of petroleum – an elixir of modern life, completely unknown for the first few thousand years of human-domesticated cannabis – is an unsolved mystery.
Maybe some insect or pest in the Afghan mountains didn’t like the piney, earthy cocktail of pinene, linalool, humulene and guaiol. Whatever. Humans seem to love something about the invigorating distortion that segues quickly into a pleasantly aware relaxation. At least that’s what gassy strains tend to do to me. And people seem to agree with me.
“Some of my most popular strains come from the gas terpene profile,” says Jessie Grundy, the founder and CEO of Oakland, California-based Peakz, a licensed distribution company active in Oklahoma and Arizona, as well as California. Peakz’s first popular proprietary strain, which Gundy mischievously dubbed “Grandpa’s Belt,” came from a cut of Sour Diesel.
If you’re being technical, gassy strains are everywhere in popular cannabis. OG Kush’s earthy and piney scent is part of the bouquet in most cuts where Cookies is in the lineage. However, as much as gas seems to trigger something in the human brain and body, the market is still moved by aesthetics.
“I know people want that gas profile, but they want that purple look, too,” Grundy added. “It’s about finding that balance.”
Still a Gelato-World
The wise heads at Astor caution that gas isn’t taking over cannabis anytime soon, and a preference for gassy strains might be a sign of aging than anything else: you’ve just been smoking so long that you associate a gas terpene profile with nostalgia.
“Everyone still wants Gelato,” one of the Astor owners tells me (we’re offering anonymity for now, given the legal gray area in which the club operates). “We’re just old-school heads.”
Still, there’s something here. If legal commercial cannabis is still in its infancy in the United States, the East Coast is an unborn homunculus, still waiting to see the first light of life.
How the national market will respond to New York’s entrance is still an open question. But even West Coast entrepreneurs and cultivators think gas is primed for a comeback – and if tastemakers’ palettes are any indication, gas is already everywhere premium cannabis is found – and just waiting for the right moment to reclaim center stage from the purple-tinged, Cookie Family-inspired cuts currently in the jars (and lungs) of the hype beasts whose appetites move dispensary menus (and keep legal cannabis entrepreneurs in the black).
“I really miss the gas, personally,” says Neil Dellacava, a San Francisco-based industry veteran and co-founder of the Gold Seal brand.
“A lot of people are really flocking towards the purple weed,” he admitted, “but sours are still really popular, at least with the underground market.”
If that underground market maintains its habits in the commercial space, it’s not impossible to imagine an industry powered by gassy cannabis strains.
“As the East Coast opens up, hopefully it also opens up a plethora of palettes: more flavors and more things coming out,” Dellacava said. “I’d really love to see gas make a comeback. More gas! That’s what I’m all about.”