Judging a Concentrate Cup: Chalice California
Dabbing in the desert at California’s biggest hash festival.
Eddy Lepp crushes the nugs between his fingertips and pulls his fingers to his nose to smell the aromatic terpenes. After serving eight-and-a-half years of a mandatory 10-year sentence in federal prison for growing cannabis, he’s returned to California — where marijuana use is now legal for adults — and is basking in the moment, wearing two chains of ganja flowers dipped in gold and cruising the booths at the 2017 Chalice California festival. He doesn’t shy away when people want to take photos with him or ask him to assess the quality of their purchases. The buds are slightly airy, he says, but the aroma is good. No, he can’t smoke, he’s still on probation, but thanks anyway.
Despite triple digit heat, Lepp is one of thousands in attendance at the three-day festival, held July 7-9 in the high desert east of Los Angeles. Upon being asked to assess the Purple Punch from an admirer, he has unknowingly provided his own judgement of the award-winning Jungle Boys strain that took home first place in the indica category.
“I’m working on my third decade now,” he says as we dart from booth to booth at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds while he tells me about his admiration for the festival’s organizers, comparing the event to the parties he used to throw at “the farm.”
“They understand what we did,” he says.
In September 2004, Lepp’s farm was raided by enforcement officials, including both local and federal agents who confiscated more than 20,000 plants as well as processed cannabis and equipment at Eddy’s Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Ministry Of Cannabis and Rastafari. According to DEA formula, the crop was worth $130 Million. Lepp served the last of his sentence in Colorado, the first state to open legal cannabis sales to adults in January 2014, where he told me he could see a cannabis garden “growing right over the fence.”
As we scope out the vendors together, Lepp points to a rack of clones describing them as “risky.” When I ask why, he explains that not only is it risky to sell clones in this heat, it’s even riskier to buy them. He tells me in case I didn’t know (or manage to guess by his dress or full sleeve of cannabis tattoos) he is an “old time ganja man,” and says when festival organizer Doug Dracup (better known in the cannabis industry under his Instagram handle Hitman Glass Dougie) asked him if he was surprised at how far cannabis has come his answer was “no.”
“I knew where it was going, I knew what was happening with this industry,” he says. “So I’m thrilled and I’m pleased and I’m honored, but I’m not surprised.”
Judging the Chalice
Opening the judging kit for the solvent concentrate portion of Chalice competition feels like discovering a treasure chest buried by a modern day outlaw. It’s an extremely valuable haul, only these days the doubloons come in the form of a huge box of resplendent golden-hued coins of cannabis concentrates. As California works to implement the first changes to its medical marijuana program in its 20-year history — while simultaneously establishing an adult-use cannabis marketplace set to begin in January 2018 — the state’s concentrate market exists within in a strange grey area that means while consuming and purchasing cannabis concentrates is sanctioned by California law, in most cases, producing them remains an illegal act. Despite the potential risks, this sector of the cannabis market is booming and companies catering to the terpene-hungry crowd are revving up to maximum overdrive to meet the surging demand. Winning a cup like Chalice can be an invaluable way to set a concentrate company apart from the others in the pack.
Now in its fourth annual iteration the Chalice Festival is a cannabis competition at its core and, unlike other cups, the majority of results come from the appraisal of public judges who are not necessary cannabis experts, but rather enthusiasts who have paid several hundred dollars each to participate. Judging kits, which included the categories of flower, solvent-based concentrates, rosin and non-solvent based concentrates and CBD, come with the cannabis, edible and topical samples as well as a huge box of products including a special Chalice rig crafted by Dracup’s Hitman Glass company. Dracup tells me he spent $100,000 on creating the judge’s kit rigs alone.
To pick up my judge’s kit, I set an appointment time, choose one of two pick-up locations and embark upon my roughly six-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area into the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Pick up is set for the weekend before the festival itself in order to give the judges time to rank the samples. Upon arriving at my pick-up spot, an office that offers medical marijuana recommendations wedged next to a pho restaurant beneath the freeway, I sense there might be a problem. Despite arriving a few minutes prior to my 1:30 p.m. pick-up time, the line inside the windowless waiting room is stagnant. I soon discover that not all of the needed judging kits are at this location and those that are there are missing a few key elements, the quartz nail that will be necessary to begin properly assessing my samples. In order to placate the annoyance of the growing crowd, an organizer offers full bottles of medicated juice for the wait which, in the end, turns out to be nearly three hours.
I down half of the juice, which is delicious and cold and tastes almost exactly like an Orange Julius, and quickly begin to feel the 50 milligrams of THC surging into my system. Because I’ve yet to eat lunch I’m now almost too high and become fixated on watching a seemingly endless loop of Katy Perry music videos in order to pass the time with the crowd of roughly 20 people who are also waiting. As more time passes, the crowd begins to commiserate and share stories, first joking that unlike say, a rowdy group of cocktail enthusiasts, we are all pretty baked and therefore, relatively patient people.
In my group there is are people from Arizona and Las Vegas. One young man from Houston, Texas who purchased two flower kits and a concentrate kit tells the room he plans to resell the product portion of the judge’s pack in his headshop back home. The wait is over when a van wrapped in graffiti art finally pulls up and my judge’s kit is secured. It’s only later that I realize I was not given the edibles or topicals that were set to be included. I chalk the missing items up to the hiccups involved in orchestrating such a large and complicated cup and take the box of samples to my hotel to get started.
Sampling the Flavors
The solvent judge’s kit contains a box of 56 samples each weighing out at a tenth of a gram, allowing for one or two dabs each. Some of the samples are in jars and some are in envelopes depending on the consistency of the concentrate. Chalice California has also provided an official judge’s journal which asks for notes on appearance, aroma, sensation and taste; a graph area to measure strength over time; a section calling for rankings of one through five of appearance, aroma, taste, strength and duration; an overall one through five ranking section; sections to document the experience and medical benefits and two yes or no questions, noting whether the sample is recommended and would be purchased again.
In order to properly assess all the samples, my husband and I buy day passes to visit Hitman Coffee, a bring-your-own cannabis and coffee lounge located in downtown Los Angeles. This is not a lounge for medical marijuana patients, but rather a groundbreaking membership-only space for adults 21 and over to enjoy cannabis together. We were already familiar with the lounge, having visited during a Stoney Sunday filming with Coral Reefer a few weeks prior when we spent hours sampling concentrates off of the elaborate Compound Collection rigs and smoking flowers in the garden area out back. The space is also glass gallery and is clean and bright with a sophisticated vibe.
Upon our second visit the coffee shop is relatively empty with only a few other patrons. The whole Hitman crew has been preparing for the massive festival in the Mojave Desert the next weekend and judge’s kits are stacked in large pink boxes almost to the ceiling. We begin taking notes on the samples and try what turns out to be the winning entry that day. Known then only as entry #31, my notes on the winner describe the selection as a tiny yellow smear with the consistency of shea butter. I picked up an aroma of honeysuckle and tasted papaya on the overall award-winner for solvents, Pancea, Luxe and Hive’s Blood Orange strain.
Later in the week, the judges were alerted to submit their entries online so the winners could receive their awards at the event. In order to get through the entries in time a fellow judge told me he took upwards of 20 dabs a day.
“It was great,” he says with a beaming smile when we reunite at the festival itself.
Hash in the Desert
The heat is absolutely brutal at the fairgrounds on the first day of Chalice. As I wait nearly an hour in the VIP line to gain entry around 2 p.m. a young woman next to me gets heat stroke in the 109-degree weather and begins to vomit in line. She is rushed to a chair and provided water from an emergency professional as I enter the gates and head straight for an air-conditioned building.
Once inside the setup is very similar to a typical county fair, minus the livestock element. Those who have been verified as medical marijuana patients can buy cannabis flowers, edibles, vape pens, concentrates and seeds. In addition, there are plenty of booths providing free samples of the dabs. There is also no shortage, or clear separation, of cannabis and alcohol at the festival and the local Sheriff’s Department, which has been brought on by the county to provide security, is also present in full force.
Later, when I get the opportunity to ask Dracup’s fiance Niki LaVale why they choose to host an event in the desert in the heat of July she explains that San Bernardino County is very friendly and open-minded about hosting cannabis events and said Dracup sits down with the Sheriff’s Department each year before Chalice to explain what they might see at the festival. Last year she said an officer even fired up a torch used to create glass art.
LaVale said the musical performances at night were her favorite aspect of the event, along with the kind and positive attitudes of festival goers.
“People come with the best attitudes I’ve ever seen,” she said while comparing Chalice to the plot of “Field of Dreams,” in the sense that her husband found the place for the festival, but stating that it’s the whole community of organizers, vendors and attendees that make the gathering a success. “Even the performers usually do a little extra.”
When I first spot Dracup himself on the first day of the festival he is wearing a tie-dye T-shirt and a perma-grin smoking the last of a blunt while driving around on a golf cart. I speak to him about the festival on the second day when he tells me that his favorite part of Chalice is “the people, man and the community vibe and the vibe to party and celebrate each other.”
Dracup said he had lost money on events during the prior years and is only now breaking even. He emphasized that he puts in a large amount of his own income in order to put Chalice on and noted for every one person who was frustrated, there were 20 who were happy and grateful. The quality of cannabis concentrates is improving as are the methods in which cannabis is grown and processed, he said.
“It’s a really bright future,” he said, noting that it’s an exciting time to be in his early 30s and watch cannabis become mainstream. “I want to be a leader in the space. I want my brand to be a sign of our culture’s evolution.”
The Hunt for the Best
When Adam, the hashmaker behind San Francisco-based Hashbury Extracts, arrives at the festival he’s already inspected the event map and makes a beeline for the Archive Seed Bank booth. Archive announced that it would be releasing seeds of the OGKB BX1, an acronym which stands for OG Kush Breath backcrossed with itself, only hours before the festival started. The Cookies cut is special, he says, because it is one of the most original representations of Girl Scout Cookies, a strain he fell in love with from the moment he first tried it in 2011. OGKB is a strain that, like another popular Archive strain, Do-Si-Dos, produces a limited amount of seeds, meaning that acquiring them is a rare opportunity. Once the prized seed packs were in hand Adam joined his partner Allie Butler, the force behind The Hepburns solventless hash cones, in line in one of the most popular locations at Chalice California, the Jungle Boys area.
The lines to acquire flowers and concentrates from the Jungle Boys — breeders who are based in Los Angeles and provide their strains through the TLC Collective — did not let up throughout the weekend, with many people spending multiple hours in order to buy phenotype-specific selections of strains such as Mimosa, Wedding Cake and Sunday Driver. At 11:30 p.m. on Friday night, I witnessed a man with braces would could not have been more than 25 years old drop $3,000 on Jungle Boys strains and concentrates. Due to the sheer volume of purchases from almost everyone around me, it became clear that getting these ultra-hyped strains was about more than securing a personal stash. On Saturday, I waited in line for two hours to purchase a half ounce of the Sunday Driver #12, which was priced at $150 and made me feel like the lowest spender in the vicinity. Ounces were priced at $275.
Before entering the Jungle Boys line, I spot cannabis entrepreneur and rapper Berner at his Cookies SF clothing booth personally weighing and selling eighths of Biscotti, a Gelato 25 crossed with South Florida OG. The strain is priced at $50 an eighth.
“I want everyone to get a taste of it,” he says. “[The taste] reminds me of a biscotti cookie with a kind of menthol, minty, gassy flavor.”
Berner said performing at the event the day before had been his Chalice highlight so far as well as a Jungle Boys and Exotics strain called Strawberry Shortcake.
Waiting in line in to get Berner to sign her Cookies hat, 24-year-old Andrea Galindo of Long Beach described her disappointment at her five hour wait to pick up a judge’s kit at the same location as I had.
“This experience has been a hassle,” she said. “[The event] seems really big, but so unorganized. I expected more.”
In contrast, like Dracup said, there were also many people gushing about the experience including 21-year-old North Hollywood resident Kat Bianez, who came to Chalice excited for the Jungle Boys as well as the chance to connect with extractors behind Creme de Canna. Creme de Canna is based in Santa Cruz so meeting with them at Chalice was a special occasion for Bianez.
“My favorite is Golden Pineapple for sure,” she said. “It tastes really good. Its definitely a sativa and it tastes very sweet.”
A Blur of Hash, Glass & Music
I couldn’t stay for the full three days of the massive hash festival, but did manage to jump in the Jungle Boys ferris wheel to smoke a joint and assess the whole scene from above. On Saturday evening I watched an energized performance from Big Boi before catching another glimpse of the Chalice area devoted to the art of glassblowing. Ice Cube, set to be the night’s headliner, was late to arrive and so I began to head for the gates, but not before hearing an encouraging message from announcer on stage who had been previously trying to keep the peace by throwing heaps of concentrates into the crowd.
“This is Eddy Lepp,” he said as Lepp joined him in front of the audience. “He is a hero.”
TELL US, did you attend Chalice? What did you think of the event?