The ice-water hash is pressed with heat to activate the THC and each selection is closely inspected under the light. If these dabs were rare pieces of amber, my eyes would search for remains of the ancient forest – debris such as seeds and leaves trapped and collected by time that offer depth to fossilized tree resin. But today we’re dealing with the resin that an ice-water bath shook from the leaves and buds of coastally-raised, sungrown cannabis and we’re looking for clarity. Crafting hash from the fine glandular hairs of the cannabis plant is an ancient art, but for Brian, choosing and pricing the concentrates he’ll sell is a day-to-day hustle. It’s a random Tuesday night in February and somewhere into about the fifth sample of hash I’m forced to ask my question again, “You do this every two weeks?”
“This is the thing I have to do,” Brian says with a smile, “it’s like my job.”
Brian is a type of hash broker. As the face behind Swerve Confections and Melts, he serves as the front of house in a network of growers, producers and dispensaries in a complicated California medical marijuana scheme that considers the production of concentrates an illegal act, but continues to allow these concentrates to be sold and purchased in medical dispensaries. As the state works towards implementing the first regulatory model on a medical marijuana program put in place by voters more than two decades ago, Brian predicts he’s hit a sweet spot for business with an approximate two-year shelf life. The tides of California cannabis are shifting and within two years the three legislative bills signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2015, the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, will have forever altered cannabis commerce in the Golden State.
Brian arrives on Tuesday afternoon complete with a cooler filled with ice-water hash and an irresistible pitch: learn the tools of the trade by helping to sample and price the hash for sale. As we spread the concentrates out on the table for closer inspection, I begin to comprehend the breadth of the work before us. There are at least 30 samples, a bevy of varying grades dictating the fineness of each grain of hash. There’s a lot to try, more hash than two sensible people really should dab on any one occasion, but we proceed full dab ahead.
Once we’ve regrouped in the home-based office of Swerve Melts, Brian begins the lesson. We take the hash, extracted from either trim or buds using ice and water, to decarboxilate the concentrate and prepare the dab. This action melts the hash, releasing some of the wax and grease present in the resin glands and transforming the THCa present into THC. It’s in this step, when the sand-like substance melts and presses against the parchment paper, that it becomes easiest to understand the differences in the size grading with respect to the quality. The hash that is 120 microns is the finest, but is also often the driest and, to the touch, can be best described as feeling like a dry cake batter. Ice-water hash measured at this size doesn’t typically release much grease upon pressing and, when dabbed upon the e-nail we have set up in the center of the room, doesn’t really melt and leaves a lot of residue on the titanium nail. While we do our best to dab the hash of this micron size, it just doesn’t melt correctly and the majority ends up blended in an oversized Ball mason jar of varying strains. This hash will be used to create Swerve’s edible line, the brainchild of Brian’s partner Eden, who pops in throughout our evaluation to ask insights on the edibles she’s baking. While some of the hash we are sampling will also be pre-pressed and sold as an up-and-coming concentrate known as rosin, what we are looking for is a full melt, meaning it will melt away completely from the nail without leaving any residue. The ice-water hash that we deem has the most quality – I found a personal sweet spot in the 73 micron range – will be packaged and sold at dispensaries. As the face behind the cannabis farmers and hashmaker behind Swerve, Brian’s reputation is on the line.
“Sometimes you get the right strain at the right time, super fresh, you wash it and it comes out like amber glass and you’re just like, ‘Wow!’” he says. “No residue on the nail, super flavorful, terpy, greasy. It’s kind of about that right time in this hash game. There’s a timeline coming down from the point they start to harvest the plant to the point we get it and every second it gets worth less money because the quality will go down and the flavor will go down.”
While ice-water hash can be kept indefinitely, aged and enjoyed in much the same way as fine wine, cannabis starts to degrade once trimmed. This degradation process results in an increase of CBN, a cannabinoid understood to cause drowsiness.
“The plant itself starts to destroy the trichomes,” Brian explains. “That’s when it turns into CBN. I’ve seen it on the lab results. In the summer, when our farm is dry and a lot of other farmers are dry and we’re just sourcing for materials that basically are a year old at that point, we get higher levels of CBN because the THC has started to decarb into that naturally over time – from the light and just time.”
Much of the art in the modern day hash marketplace can be found in sourcing material and creating a product that will dab alongside increasing popular selections extracted with butane. The downfall for most, Brian says, is stretching too thin and putting out low-quality products.
“It’s hard because sometimes you stretch yourself out too thin and you can’t keep up with it,” he says. “People put out inferior products, that’s why a lot of hash companies, cold-water hash companies, have fallen off the market because you sell some hash to a dispensary and it doesn’t dab, it doesn’t taste good, they just buy it because of the name. The patients aren’t going to keep buying it and your brand falls off.
“I take a dab of everything, multiple times, test out the flavor and really look for that quality control and look for ideal products that we think are hitting the market at a good price and are good values for the consumers and clean products – that’s what we’re all about.”
What’s your favorite cannabis concentrate?