By Benjamin M. Adams, Jimi Devine, Ellen Holland, and Ashley Kern
Brand-building is big business, particularly in cannabis where customer loyalty reigns supreme when it comes to success. Whether it was in making new types of cannabis, growing quality flowers, or crafting terpy and potent concentrates and delicious edibles, here are our picks of some of the brands that defined 2022.
Compound Genetics went into 2022 riding on a high and just kept on sailing along. Massive seed drops and a variety of people taking home trophies all over North America with their gear are seemingly commonplace for them at this point, but it’s still impressive.
We’ve had a front-row seat to their breeding efforts since the move to San Francisco a few years ago and then the eventual partnership with Node Labs where they phenohunt and stress test the new gear to make sure it’s commercially viable. From that work we’ve seen names like Jokerz, Red Bullz, and Pave explode onto the scene.
“2022 has been a year of adapting to my surroundings, opportunities, and adversities,” founder Chris Lynch says. “High levels of success bring new challenges that constantly test your ability to perform and stay consistent. I’m grateful for where I am in this industry and what I’ve achieved with Compound Genetics. Being in my position is something I take seriously, it’s a unique responsibility that’s driven by my passion for quality. I’m excited for the next chapters with this special plant and where they take me.”
Don’t expect anything to slow down in the near future. This year for The Emerald Cup Compound is releasing the Jokerz line. The pairing of Jet Fuel Gelato and White Runtz was one of the strains that Compound used to launch their flower line earlier this year. The community is thirsty for a new round of crosses from it.
It’s also fair to expect Compound’s international profile to continue to build. There are a few factors contributing to that including their collaboration efforts with Green House Seed Co. and their partnership with Paradise Seeds to facilitate European distribution.
As for what strains to keep an eye on, we saw a phenotype of Apples & Bananas x Pave that was batshit heat, but we’re sure you can expect a few more than that in 2023. -JD
As we mentioned in our strains of the year write-up, few have ever had a year similar to the one the Blueprint team had in 2022.
Even a couple months before they hit shelves in the summer of 2022, the hype was percolating hard. A lot of the biggest names in Sacramento, and hence elite cannabis in general, were saying to keep an eye out for what Blueprint had in store. They were not wrong.
The first drop featured names like P90 and Triple Lindy. They are still top of the food chain heat a year-and-a-half later as we noted in our favorite strains of 2022 where we highlighted the Triple Lindy.
One of the things that we got a kick out of about Blueprint was how close they’ve kept the cards to their chest when it comes to genetics. Most of the time lineage has a lot to do with what gets people excited. A lot of the hype we see in weed in general comes from the next generation of something with a known pedigree. Unlike these companies that push their genetics lines and work as the basis of their ethos, the fire behind Blueprint is pure heat. And the community figured that out quickly. Never will you hear anyone complaining because they don’t know the makeup of Blueprint’s genetics, they’re just happy they got to smoke it in the first place.
Blueprint sifts through roughly 140 new flavors every couple of months. We will continue to be wildly excited to try what they find and grow to some of the highest quality levels on the globe. We expect 2023 to see the same level of heat that won them the second edition of Zalympix and what a lot of people thought was the best flower at the industry mega show Hall of Flowers where they could be compared directly against the rest of the pack. -JD
Since its founding as a delivery service in the Prop 215 era between cannabis powerhouses San Francisco and Sacramento, the Backpack Boyz have had a complete dedication to the absolute flame.
“So what I was trying to do at the time, was I was trying to get all of the buds that everyone wanted to smoke but didn’t have access to,” Backpack Boyz founder Juan Quesada told High Times. “I wanted to get that all under one banner and kind of be that one guy that you can see and can get everything from. So, long story short, that was kind of really where it started.”
When he first got the ball rolling he had a lot of deep connections on the cultivation side, but a lot of the product he was moving was white label heat from Sacramento. Eventually, the people coming for that Sac heat started asking Quesada about the flavors he was curating more locally. It was a big confidence booster for him.
Most famously, he would pop Lemon Cherry Gelato from bag seed in 2017. (We go into the full tale in our strains of the year section.) This would catapult the Backpack Boyz into California’s elite. They would eventually open their first retail location in early 2021. Two more would follow by the end of the year.
The brand has done particularly well in making inroads in Southern California after its initial founding up north. Quesada says having the heat helped but he gave his SoCal partners a lot of credit for helping him handle all the local hurdles that came with expanding the company’s footprint across the state.
In 2023, you can definitely expect the Backpack Boyz to keep stocking all the most elite cannabis in the state while continuing to curate a few exceptional flavors of their own. -JD
The third and youngest son of L.A.’s favorite weed family (his older brother Serge is behind Cookies Maywood and his other older brother Aram is behind Gas No Breaks) saw one of the most epic 2022s of just about anyone and his new cultivation facility didn’t even open until the end of the year.
Helping backbone the big year was the rise of the hash hole, arguably the most exotic pre-roll currently available in California. Fidel first encountered the hash hole in Barcelona years ago at Spannabis. The locals would roll up an eighth with some rosin in it to celebrate the weed making it from California—or just to flex.
Back then, Fidel was already growing heat. After spending six years in Beirut from age 12 to 18, he returned to Los Angeles where he spent many years working in a hydro shop. Those years at the grow shop was where he dialed in his game and earned the name Fidel Hydro.
On a trip back to visit friends and family in Lebanon, one of his friends designed the now well-known logo. After that, the race was on. Things have gone so well with his brand that he’s even got his parents in on the act these days. He bought a printer for their house where they do quality control on all his packaging.
Earlier this year at Spannabis, he hosted one of the event’s most popping parties, the Hash Holes and Donuts event at Cookies Barcelona. Later in the summer, Fidel’s would take home top honors at The Transbay Challenge IV: Hollywood with his pairing of Kush Mints and Zkittlez.
And we can’t emphasize enough that all this happened before his facility was even open. Expect to see Fidel’s flower on even more dispensary shelves across California soon. Until that day, you can still get your hands on hash holes—if you see them on a menu, pull the trigger quickly. They don’t last long since they’re worth big money outside the state, they are one of the few packaged products there is true value in moving compared to bulk flowers in big quantities. -JD
The name 710 Labs is synonymous with small batch quality with myopic attention to detail. Every good concentrate must begin with a good strain, and the company’s cultivation operations are steadily growing. 710 Labs attributes that growth to their commitment to integrity in the cultivation process.
“We’ve had a lot of growth in the past year, which wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t stay true to what got us here: quality focused small batches with a wide variety of flavors,” says Richard Sciascia, vice president of cultivation.
Even though 710 Labs has expanded from its homebase in Colorado to California, they still adopt the same principles they’ve observed since the beginning when they launched as a much smaller operation a decade ago. Part of that is allowing the unique and individual traits of cultivars to shine. That can’t happen when producers pump out mass amounts of a single strain.
“We aren’t monocropping rooms with one genetic, we flower rooms with one cultivar per bench,” Sciascia says. “Other companies—a fraction of our size—are growing batches many times larger with one genetic. That doesn’t excite us.”
Some of that quality is lost when companies bank on strain yields alone, or other aspects that don’t necessarily benefit the consumer.
“We love this plant and all her expressions, and want to see cultivar diversity in our offerings to the consumer,” Sciascia says. “Palate is subjective, and if we limited ourselves to the 10 hottest strains of the year, we’d be doing a disservice to the connoisseur and casual smoker alike.”
710 Labs houses a genetic library that varies between 150-200 unique cultivars, rotating between old, new, experimental, and the tried-and-true. Some classics associated with 710 Labs—Ghost Hulk #25, Black Mamba #6, and Randy Watzon—are grown regularly, sometimes shelved for six months, and others are discarded quickly to make way for new additions. Over 80% of their library has been selected by the 710 Labs team from seed. Pheno hunting is part of the agenda and selections depend on whether the end result is hash or dried flower.
Currently the focus at 710 Labs is finding rare terp combos in newer cultivars.
“The never ending terp quest is what excites us, and we hope you feel the same,” Sciascia says.
Beyond flower, 710 Labs live resin pens passed the bar among highly critical vape reviewers. Their solventless water hash, rosin, and rosin sap are no joke, as they begin with flavorful flowers. Persy sauce is also a squishy new addition to their concentrate lineup, as the trichomes are preserved in the first wash to maximize flavor. -BA
“Veritas” is Latin for “the truth,” and it’s all about transparency at this Colorado-based operation. The Veritas team is currently working with Node Labs to produce new genetics, and with that, they will be producing healthy clones set to be released to the public in early 2023.
Narrowing down those clones is a long, meticulous process, and incorporating the right technology is key in keeping things organized and avoiding losing track of special genetics.
“We take about 400 different cuts, and then those have been removed from the mom and manicured [and placed] into our cloners,” says Jordan Plunkett, marketing director of Veritas. “And from there, it takes about 14 days.”
Part of their operations incorporate equipment that is exactly what you’d expect, while other processes are unique to the company. Veritas plants flower in atmosphere-controlled environments under high pressure sodium lights. The crew then adds as many as 100 bamboo stakes to help spread out branches and maximize trichome development.
“We have bamboo stakes that we use in our plants,” Plunkett says. “This is something that we have not seen any other cultivators doing. The reason behind it is that we believe it gives more stability. And then they actually utilize these stakes to track where it’s at in the process. So this is a very unique kind of opportunity to really take care of our plants the right way. It’s definitely not an easy process; We don’t take the easy approach to this by any means, but we do believe that this will give us a better quality.”
Veritas recently released infused joints, containing 1 gram of Veritas flower and 0.25 grams of ice hash. In 2021, they also released a limited-edition half-ounce offering that resembled a drink holder you’d get from a fast food joint and contained a four-pack of eighths. Stay tuned for more unusual products that you won’t find anywhere else. -BA
Al Harrington’s Viola Brands, named after his grandmother who turned to medical cannabis to battle glaucoma, is a blueprint for success in the world of cannabis. You can tell by the company’s high-end promotions, packaging, and most of all—their consistent quality flower.
This isn’t by accident. No spur-of-the-moment decisions are made when it comes to narrowing down cultivars at Viola. The company’s cultivation team will grow new genetics several times over before deciding if it makes the cut.
“When bringing in new genetics, we grade each on bag appeal, yield, and testing both THC and terpenes,” says Tanner Steele, Viola’s vice president of operations. “Generally, we like to grow new genetics three to six times before releasing them to market. This ensures everything we produce thrives in our environments to provide a consistent customer experience.”
Both cultivation and processing take place at Viola’s original 12,000-square-foot facility in Colorado. The company has expanded well beyond the limits of Colorado, however. In Falls City, Oregon, Viola operates an 80,000-square-foot facility. In Detroit, Michigan, Viola operates a 46,000-square-foot cultivation facility as well as a provisioning center. In Detroit, 40 cultivars are rotated each year. The process begins with the seed.
“When we look to bring unique or different genetics to the market, we start with seeds,” Steele says. “Most Viola strains are a result of several rounds of pheno hunting to get the best genetics for our environment.”
Clone mothers are rotated and replaced on a regular basis. “When re-populating our flower rooms we clone from moms whose genetics have already been proven to provide yield, appeal, and testing for THC and terpenes,” Steele says. “We keep our moms alive for two to three months maximum before replacing them with a new mom from the genetic line.”
Beyond cannabis, the Viola Cares community engagement branch works to reinvest in struggling communities and promote social equity inside the cannabis industry. Last year, the company launched the Harrington Institute of Cannabis Education, with the help of the Cleveland School of Cannabis to provide an online curriculum designed to prepare students to work in the cannabis industry. Viola also launched an accelerator to help cannabis start-ups get a foot on the ground, and it has a very specific goal: to create 100 Black millionaires within the cannabis space. This is because they believe Black business owners face the most challenges in this industry. -BA
Pirate-themed Freddy’s Fuego, a Tier 3 producer/processor in Washington state, adopts a more interactive way of narrowing down the finest fire in the state from an assortment of breeders. Freddy’s annual pheno hunt called “The Hunt” is a spectacle, as the public judges new cultivar cuts on the Hunt Scorecard with questions about visual aspects, taste, aroma, and overall appeal. It’s almost like hunting for booty and gold.
“Freddy’s embodies the pirate archetype—the fearless soul of exploration and a loyalty to evolution as we navigate the uncharted waters of the industry,” says Freddy’s Fuego Marketing Director Blake Stango. “Always on ‘The Hunt’ to find the freshest and rarest genetics.”
Freddy’s Fuego was founded in 2013 by Ben Davis and Tim Haggerty. Since then, Freddy’s has won numerous awards including Best Indoor Grown Hybrid Flower for a fire batch of LA Cookies at Dope Cup Washington in 2018 and three awards in one year at the 2019 High Times Cannabis Cup Seattle for Larry Cake flower and pre-rolls, as well as Guava Jelly, named after a sensual Bob Marley song.
Like High Times People’s Choice Cannabis Cups, during The Hunt, they don’t limit the judges to exclusive experts. Anyone can login, fill out a Hunt Scorecard and begin judging.
“This year in August, we popped 520 different seeds from about 10 to 15 different breeders—40 different strains,” Freddy’s Fuego Director of Cultivation Roger Hale says of the event that generates a fair amount of excitement in the Northwest region.
“Our process for running through the pheno hunt is we pop all those seeds out of the rockwool, grow them for X amount of time until they’re large enough to basically go into flower,” Hale says. “At that point, we take a bunch of clones from them to produce moms stock, throw them into flower, flower those babies out, get strain notes on them: how they grew, what the yield is, the output inside of our environment, how our feed was, everything.”
Judges choose their favorites in the Hunt Scorecard based on flavor, uniqueness profile, all the good things that everybody’s looking for.
The first iteration of The Hunt begins in January every year, with subsequent judging rounds taking place in the following months. “We release all of those flavors to the public right around January and let everybody try them out,” Hale says. “Everybody gets to vote on which strains they want to have go into the next iteration of The Hunt.”
They continue to narrow down strains in subsequent rounds going into the summer. Freddy’s Fuego then takes that information and advances to the next step of The Hunt, the harvest, when the team gets the strain data back. “The last iteration of our hunt, we run those through the end of summer, choose our top four to six cultivars that we’re going to put into finalists based on what the public chooses,” Hale says.
Then Freddy’s throws a big party at the end of the year and lets everybody check out the new strains and vote on their favorite phenos. The company then takes those and begins producing them for the next year under their exclusive Freddy’s Finest label which is basically their black label collection. This allows the public to take part in the cultivar selection and judging process.
Consumers can buy limited edition eighths of The Hunt selections. -BA
Few companies have racked up as many Cannabis Cup wins as Exotic Genetix. This seed bank, based in Washington state, has produced so many classic cultivars that if you haven’t smoked at least one, you better start the roll up right now. A standout includes the 2018 classic Rainbow Chip, a winning combination of Sunset Sherbert and Mint Chocolate Chip. With Kush and Cookies in the family tree, Rainbow Chip has gas.
“That was pre-Runtz people wanted the gasses, the fuels,” breeder Mike explains of the older Rainbow Chip release. “They range in aromas, the gassy fuel to some of the Rainbows are kind of funky, soggy. Some of them have like a nice ice cream/sherby/gas element to it.”
Founded in 2008, Exotic Genetix also gave the world Kimbo Kush and Grease Monkey. In 2022, we tried a lovely version of Funky Charms, Rainbow Chip x Grease Monkey, grown by Wood Wide High Craft.
In 2022, Exotic Genetix released a line of Red Runtz crosses in feminized seeds, a follow-up to the success of a 2021 Red Runtz line release.
“It was super popular, it erupted,” Mike says of the 2021 release. “I told myself after that release, like I’m only going to once, I’m not trying to stick around on Runtz because, you know, it’s the hype thing. And don’t get me wrong, Runtz is hype, but also there’s a reason for it because it’s good shit.”
He says Runtz, when paired with his genetic line-up, gave it a different edge by providing that “Runtz flair candy” taste the market was craving.
“Now, I’m going to try not to do any more Runtz. It’s hard, because people ask me every day like when’s the Greasy Runtz going to drop and I’m like ‘Fuck. I’m not doing Runtz anymore,’ but I do have a Greasy Runtz line-up just waiting to be released,” he says with a laugh.
Working with feminized seeds has been a key in his success.
“When you do feminized seeds, you take an amazing strain in female form and you manipulate a few things and you can reverse that female and make it release male pollen,” Mike explains. “When you do that, and you use that pollen on your receiver, so to speak, all your other strains, it makes all those seeds that you made feminized. So, now you end up with seeds that you don’t get any males from.”
When creating new kinds of cannabis the results generally either suck or are amazing, there isn’t much in between, he says.
“Ever since I started reversing things that started awesome and making feminized seeds with those amazing starting plants, or the starting plant that I reverse, most of the things they come out amazing,” Mike says. “I don’t mean that like I’m full of myself. I mean like when you choose a male that you can’t see how it’s expressed in female form. It’s hard for you to get a predisposition of how that’s going to breed until you do it a couple times and see what your offspring do. But with the female that you reverse, you already know… it’s kind of a cheating step, but it’s there for a reason and ever since it’s been a told that I’ve used I haven’t turned back because it saves you a lot of time of hunting, going through stuff that isn’t what you’re looking for.”
Mike gained the nickname “Big Stimmy” during the pandemic for Instagram live broadcasts during the time of government stimulus efforts in which he was giving away seed packs. Big Stimmy hosted the “Milk Show” which was full of people pouring milk on unsuspecting victims for prizes.
In the future, look out for the next release of Gary Poppins, Gary Payton x Red Pop. -EH
Archive Seed Bank
Ask a legendary cannabis breeder what they’re smoking and they’ll likely flip the question around to the one thing that is ever-present in their mind: selecting, creating, and cultivating new types of flowers. That was the case when we caught up with Archive Seed Bank breeder Fletcher Watson as he drove to his grow room to continue sifting through what will become a new line of genetics, the Flavour Pack reversal feminized line. The journey breeders go through to bring new cultivars into our lungs are immense. When we speak, Watson’s getting down to the final stages of selection. He’s taken the Flavour Pack cultivar he created and reversed the plant to produce male pollen. Next, he took that male pollen and combined it with 60 different varieties of cannabis. He’s grown out 30 types from the seed stock so far, this is only the initial run.
“I’ve got about 150 to 200 seed plants of those Flavour Pack hybrids with all kinds of other stuff that I’m literally on my way driving to right now, to go through the samples and start picking through the population,” he says over a phone call in early fall.
Flavour Pack, which is only one of the seed lines Watson is working on simultaneously with others, blends together old and new genetics in the cannabis family tree. It’s a cross of Hollywood Pure Kush, an OG Kush cut, with a newer one of Watson’s creations, Moonbow (Zkittlez x Do-Si-Dos).
“Essentially what we do is try to improve certain cultivars that are either popular in the market—the terpene profile is popular in the market and I just like it personally a lot—and mix it with a bunch of old weird stuff that may not have market appeal,” Watson says. “The reason I breed cannabis is I want to, in one way or another, improve upon a variety.”
Watson was 16 when he started growing weed and career-wise, it’s all he’s ever done. His nickname “ThaDocta” comes from a screen name he chose back in those days, one he gained from his time at the skatepark, where he hurt himself so often he started carrying a medical kit.
Archive was founded in Oregon in 2011 and has since blessed the world with many award-winning strains. Archive’s OGKB was one of the parents of Do-Si-Dos. Rainbow Belts (Moonbow x Zkittlez) came out in 2017 and is still crushing the competition scene. Watson sent out Rainbow Belts genetics to about 50 people in 2020 and once it reached the clone-seller market it exploded. It has the fruity Zkittlez terps that people love, combined with a kushy dankness.
“The reason you don’t see too much Zkittlez on the market is it’s such a difficult plant for most people to grow,” Watson explains. “By expanding a line that has that terpene profile really well stabilized within the population, people are able to take advantage of that market that wants that smell and flavor, but get better plants, with better yields and higher [THC] tests making it more marketable to the broader consumer.”
And when an Archive cultivar reaches that stage it can really pop. In 2022, Archive Seeds released Dark Rainbow 2.0. On its website Archive explains the first generation, Dark Rainbow 1.0, used GMO combined with Moonbow and carried the gassy flavors of the GMO alongside the lime candy taste of Moonbow. The second generation is GMO combined with Planet Purple, the offspring of which is generally not sweet, but “raunchy stank breath rotten meat gas tank stank.” Watson says this one is great for hash, which Archive also makes and carries in its Portland, Oregon shop along with house flowers and clones.
“My breeding is less of knowing exactly what I’m trying to make, it’s more of throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks,” Watson says. -EH
Sunday Goods (owned by its parent company The Pharm) is based in Arizona and focuses on producing quality cannabis combined with feel-good vibes.
Although Arizona is often associated with brutally hot temperatures, Sunday Goods and The Pharm’s flower is grown in a 7-acre, 300,000-square-foot Dutch glass greenhouse in Willcox, Arizona. The climate in Willcox is mild compared to other parts of the state and often sees more rainfall than Phoenix or Tucson, making it a good place to grow quality cannabis (although many other agricultural goods thrive there as well).
Some of the brand’s most high-demand products include high-potency THC strains, including one called Bangers x Mac.
“That’s a cross between Headbanger and Miracle Alien Cookies (MAC), and it’s a super dank, very diesely, piney strain,” says Matt Daley, vice president of marketing for Sunday Goods.
Not only does Sunday Goods flower take advantage of the mild climate, the location of the grow is also home to a geothermal well that The Pharm uses to reduce heating needs during the colder months, helping to reduce energy consumption.
Alongside its own flower Sunday Goods offers a wide variety of other local cannabis brands, all of which align with the brand’s desire to offer consumers with the best products to help them feel their “Sunday best.”
Sunday Goods is dedicated to the support of the cannabis community, having partnered with the Last Prisoner Project to raise funds and help the organization continue to fight against cannabis injustice. In November 2021, Sunday Goods joined with Arizona NORML to host expungement clinics for those who have low-level cannabis offenses on their records.
“We’re just looking to provide relief, a pathway to creativity, an outstretched hand to an elevated sense of being because I think all of us here at Sunday Goods believe that everyone stands to benefit from what this plant can deliver,” Daley says. -AK
Wyld is one of the most recognizable and popular cannabis edibles brands. Praised for its consistency across multiple markets (it began in Oregon but has since spread to Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington), Wyld earned its place as a top brand by producing a line of fruit-forward gummies.
According to Wyld Corporate Communications Specialist Rachael Smith, there are three flavors in particular that consumers have fallen in love with.
“Our top three national bestsellers are elderberry 2:1 THC:CBN indica-enhanced, raspberry sativa-enhanced, and huckleberry hybrid-enhanced gummies,” Smith says. “Most states follow this same trend with elderberry leading the pack. Recent sales data shows Wyld leading the country nationally with the top six edible products in the U.S. and with nine products in the top 20—more than any other single brand.”
The Wyld supply team goes to great lengths to ensure that each product includes the advertised amount of potency.
“We use a three-test process to ensure a high-quality end product,” Smith says. “Test one: cannabis extract is tested before we receive it to ensure quality and potency. Test two: Our cannabis-infused coconut oil is tested again in house to ensure appropriate dosing in our products. Test three: Once made, the edibles are tested again to certify they are consistent with our exacting potency standards. The last test also includes random selection of products for testing by a third-party lab. All of our third-party testing is conducted by state-certified lab partners.”
Wyld is also dedicated to sustainability, going as far as providing an annual social and environmental impact report (data for 2022 is set to be released during the first half of 2023).
“We’ll be launching our new solventless hash rosin gummy brand in select markets in the fourth quarter of this year,” Smith says. “In 2023, in addition to rolling out compostable packaging in the U.S., our plans include expanding further into the Midwest and East Coast and, as always, we look forward to offering new real fruit flavors with innovative cannabinoid content—keep your eyes on Wyld, we’ve got so much more to offer.” -AK
High Road Edibles
Montana is known for its vast landscapes, pristine natural beauty, and as of Jan. 1, 2022, adult-use cannabis.
High Road Edibles predates this monumental shift from medical to adult-use sales, having established itself in 2019. The brand was founded by Michael Zens and Ben Miller, two college roommates who enjoy spending time outdoors and sought out to develop a cannabis brand exclusive to their home state.
All of High Road Edibles products are made with full-spectrum cannabis extract. Hybrid cannabis strains come from Sacred Sun Farms, and indica- or sativa-leaning strains come from Collective Elevation, both of which are farms based out of Bozeman, Montana, located in the southern part of the state. High Road Edibles is also partnered with a local dispensary, Dancing Goat Gardens.
The brand features an assortment of gummies, chocolate bars, and mints.
“We started with kind of trying to pick flavors that we thought match the mood state and the strain types we were using,” Miller says. “So more kind of bright, energizing flavors for things like sativa, and more kind of deep, rich flavors for the indica. And then for the hybrid, we kind of just tried to hit those quintessential candy flavors that we all really enjoy, you know, peach and green apple on the gummies, cinnamon on the mint, and then that coffee almond on the chocolate bar.”
Zens adds that their sativa-leaning strawberry flavor gummy sells the best in the Bozeman/southern Montana area, where people tend to be more active. However, in the northern part of the state, around Kalispell and Whitefish, there are more older consumers who prefer the indica-leaning blood orange gummies. This summer, High Road Edibles released a huckleberry flavor, in honor of the berry of the same name that populates the northern parts of the U.S. and is a celebrated summertime ingredient (Zens and Miller joke that huckleberries are a prominent food source for wild bears, as well as tourists).
While the state’s medical cannabis program was restrictive, Montana’s adult-use program has helped open things up. According to Zens, it has allowed the local cannabis community to develop and grow.
“It’s been really kind of fun to actually like, get out there and meet everyone,” Zens says. “Because in the restrictive market, everyone was kind of competing against each other a little bit more. We’re in this wholesale recreational market, everyone can kind of specialize in something and support each other and link up, and kind of create a community that wasn’t there before as much.”
Both Miller and Zens enjoy floating in the various rivers in Montana, but agree that cannabis consumption can be an enjoyable companion for numerous other outdoor activities including hiking. The founding duo alluded to new flavors and products coming out in 2023. -AK
Located in the northeast corner of Las Vegas, Nevada, Aether Gardens’ state-of-the-art facility covers 120,000 square feet divided into numerous sections including cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, and distribution. It was recently ranked #10 on a list of MJ Unpacked’s hottest Nevada-based cannabis brands, which is no surprise since it won two placements in the Cannabis Cup Nevada: People’s Choice Edition in 2021: 2nd place for best indica with Slurricane #7, and 1st place for indica concentrates with Banana ice water indica live rosin. Aether Gardens also has a 2019 High Times Cannabis Cup Nevada 1st place win for hybrid concentrates with Zweet Insanity.
According to Aether Gardens Cannabis Officer Justin Hernandez, consumers should keep an eye out for the popular strain MAC that has been thriving in the facility. Strains like Blue Cheese, Banana, and Blue Java are also popular. Online, Aether Gardens recently showcased its ultra-sweet, flavor-packed strains Mimosé (Mimosa x Rosé) and Terple (Tropicana Cookies x Slurricane #7).
Aether Gardens has been producing cannabis out of its facility since 2018, and, over the years, has continued to develop its tissue culture lab, which now houses 400 cannabis varieties. All of the strains are grown in a structure that takes advantage of sunlight through the use of glass panels. The company also formulates its own nutrient line.
Other areas of the facility are dedicated to the creation of numerous extraction products, from concentrates to edibles. Aether Gardens’ production also serves many other brand partners, such as house brand The Fifty Five as well as STIIIZY, Binske, Huni Labs, Pro Canna, and Hervé. -AK
Mountaintop Extracts has been helping patients gain access to clean, effective cannabis medicine since 2012, but now that adult-use sales is legal in New Mexico (effective as of April 1, 2022), the brand continues to offer quality cannabis products to a wider market.
The Mountaintop Extracts logo features a towering mountain inspired by the Sandia Mountains, which overlooks the city of Albuquerque where the brand is based. Mountaintop Extracts is 100% family-owned, and founder Eric Merryman holds his brand to the highest standard when producing cannabis products for consumers.
“At Mountaintop [Extracts] we really focus on clean, consistent safe medicine and are committed to the educational process so much needed in our industry,” Merryman says. “We are extremely passionate about what we do and have been very fortunate to attract like-minded employees who are making a difference in our industry.”
Joel Krukar, director of business development and marketing at Mountaintop Extracts, explains that the brand utilizes proprietary methods and techniques, which it’s been perfecting for years, to ensure that all of its products are of the highest quality.
“That’s what makes our edibles different. Our vape cartridges are live resin true full spectrum…We don’t cut it with anything. Nothing is reintroduced,” Krukar says. “And our diamonds became a huge success, [they were] really big in the beginning because we were one of the first [in the state] to actually really master growing large grade diamonds. I believe the largest diamond, it was like 7 grams, actually. So we have techniques to really grow very rich, large diamonds.”
And Mountaintop Extracts has the accolades to prove it too. At the 2018 Essie Awards hosted by Kurple Magazine, Mountaintop Extracts took home awards for best infused product, best edible, and best concentrate.
A longtime favorite of medical cannabis patients, Krukar says that the brand’s gummies are one of their biggest sellers.
“Our gummies are by far the highest velocity products we have. We are producing more units of gummies per month than anything else,” Krukar says. “But it’s also sometimes a condition of the market. And I personally love our vapes, and people love our vapes as well too, because we’re the only ones providing that live resin, true full-spectrum, full-integrity vape cartridge.”
In the very near future, Mountaintop Extracts has plans to reveal a new logo, new packaging, and a new patent-pending product to add to its current lineup. –AK
3rd Coast Genetics
There’s a reason behind why Michigan-based 3rd Coast Genetics calls itself “the swank of dank.” As purveyors of some of Michigan’s finest cannabis, 3rd Coast Genetics focuses on the strange and the unique. The team behind 3rd Coast Genetics are the creators of Smorez, Butterfingaz, and many other strains that are sought after in the Midwest. 3rd Coast Genetics cultivar names will grab your attention, and they’ll stand out from the typical strains that you see every day.
“I am the creative force behind 3rd Coast Genetics,” Max Yields tells High Times. “The 3rd Coast is the shore of beautiful Lake Michigan—the place where I call home.”
Yields is the creator of Oreoz, Pure Michigan, Tagalonz, and many other strains, armed with a passion for breeding and love for pushing the boundaries of quality. “3rd Coast” generally refers to the Great Lakes area in the Midwest. It’s too easy to ignore the fire that comes out of Michigan when it’s overshadowed by countless other brands.
Some of these rare finds include crosses like Walfredo (MAC 1 x Peanut Butter Breath) or Thick Strawberry Goo (Red Pop x Pure Michigan) with 10 beans per bag.
Some other strains that caught our attention—with a little help from the creative names—were Spock’s Brain (Grease Monkey x Peanut Butter Breath) and Wolverine (Animal Cookies x Pure Michigan). But don’t get distracted by the names, because 3rd Coast Genetics retains the quality you want, preserving those subtle traits.
“I feel the most important thing that I do, the one thing at the epicenter of all of my hard work, is the practice of selecting unique and amazing traits,” Yields says. “Everything is dependent upon genetics and being able to recognize the component that makes something so special or unique, even if those traits are subtle.” -BA
Pure Options/Pro Gro
What makes Pure Options unique? Perhaps it’s the company’s connection to the local community in Michigan. “Our success ultimately is deeply rooted in our community here in Lansing,” says Pure Options Director of Pro Gro, Jacob Nelson.
Pure Options has been in operations since 2011 and has become a staple source of craft cannabis in Michigan. One of the team’s long-term goals has been to make it into the spotlight and operate a craft cannabis business at a larger scale.
“We built our foundation as a very small team operating in the traditional market taking great caution to keep our heads down and stay focused on this mission,” Nelson says. “It was during this time that we built our culture in preparation for our future. So, when people ask us what makes Pure Options unique our answer is always the same, it’s our team and it’s culture.”
Pure Options’ uniqueness isn’t defined by any particular special process or “secret sauce.” The entire team Pure Options are students of cultivation. Small details matter, and cutting corners for profit is never an option, Nelson says. Every day is an opportunity to learn, refine processes, and improve the final product. This mindset is fueled by passion for the plant.
“Thankfully for us our love for the craft and attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed,” Nelson says. “Our team’s passion and culture has helped us deliver high quality cannabis to the Michigan market at scale and along the way we’ve been able to secure some amazing partnerships by proxy.”
Some of Pure Options’ partnerships include collaborations with Archive Seed Bank, DEO Farms, Wizard Trees, and Skunk House Genetics. This has given the team the opportunity to raise their platform with exclusive strains from some of the best breeders in the industry.
“The entire Pure Options team is excited for what the future holds,” Nelson says. “We cannot wait to operate on the national stage next and are thankful for everyone who has helped reach our goals along the way. It was all a dream, and teamwork truly does make the dream work.” -BA
Aerīz, pronounced like “arise,” is the producer of aeroponically grown flower, as well as full-spectrum hash oil, sugar, diamonds and sauce, budder, and many other products. They are “the largest aeroponic cannabis cultivator in the world,” according to their website. The company probably focuses on root health more than most typical producers.
Roots are misted in Aerīz’s custom-fitted tables, where cultivators have full control over nutrient uptake. The closed-loop system helps the team to minimize nutrient waste. While it’s a system that would cause a novice grower to most likely fail, the team at Aerīz have perfected the practice.
“We grow aeroponically, for basically two main reasons,” Aerīz Senior Producer Ian Krass tells High Times. “One is the quality of the flower. And the second is the environment. So the easier thing is the environment, which has an aeroponic growing process.”
Krass went on to say that the grow medium is recyclable, and that they’re not using any soil, so there’s a lot less waste. “Our water nutrient solution that the roots get nested with is recycled in a closed-loop system,” he explains. “So, you know, basically, it’s the least waste you could possibly generate growing cannabis. And, you know, being environmentally friendly is definitely at the core of our mission.”
Aerīz’s aeroponically grown flower is sometimes converted into full-spectrum hash oil, distillate, sugar, shatter, budder, and infused honey sticks.
Aerīz is currently partnering with a company called Pachamama, that does carbon offsets. Quality is achieved using a closed loop, computer-controlled nutrient delivery system. The team is very precise in terms of giving the plants exactly “what they need, when they need it.”
Aerīz has expanded beyond Illinois with operations in Arizona as well. Be sure to check out their powerful cuts of Jenny Kush (generally accepted as Amnesia Haze and Rare Dankness #2) and Pink Kush (King Kush x King Kush). -BA
Helios Hash, a solventless hash producer based out of Maine, rocked the hash world in 2021 with a win at the Ego Clash. The winning entry, a mix of Rainbow Belts with a small amount of Ice Cream Cake, represented a major victory for the family-run brand. After all, they won the well-respected hash event with sungrown plants from their first commercial harvest, and 2022 was only their second season growing.
“It’s your classic Zkittlez,” Stav Anagnost says of the Ego Clash-winning entry. “It’s one of the more sought-after type of terps. We hit it at a good time. A lot of people are growing Rainbow Belts.”
Anagnost runs the company alongside two of his brothers, Alex and Demetri, and believes their Rainbow Belts edged out the competition because of their growing style, which he describes as “West Coast.”
“We grow sungrown and our entire operation is based off of sustainable regenerative farming,” he says. “What we do is we are resin farmers so we strictly grow outdoor plants one time a year, seasonally done for resin and our resin is for hash.”
Hash produced from the resin of sungrown flowers is incomparable and is more flavorful than hash made with indoor flowers, Anagnost says. In sunny California, sungrown flower is decidedly more common than in Maine, where the weather is colder and harsher. But Anagnost argues the weather challenges in Maine contribute to the quality of the hash.
“Resin is a defense mechanism to the plant,” he explains. “So the more that the plant gets certain stressors in its environment allow the plant to produce a better quality and more luscious resin.”
The goal at Helios is always full-melt.
“At the end of the day there’s nothing that can compete with the sun,” Anagnost says. “We’re strictly a hash-based company. Everything we do is sungrown and we believe that’s the best representation of the plant and of the resin.”
Looking ahead, Helios is hoping to start a breeding project. Their hash, only produced once a year, mirrors the successful wine industry model of select year limited releases. -EH
When it comes to building a brand built on hype, heart, and heat, Kolektor’s got it down. The only things this Bronx-based underground cultivator says he won’t put out is the stuff that you can find everywhere. Don’t look to Kolektor for Gelato or Runtz; he came up in the era of Platinum Girl Scout Cookies and started growing after getting tired of seeing the same old flowers. “I feel like the market is so oversaturated with those things. You can get them anywhere so there’s no point in me growing those cultivars,” he says over a phone call. “Everybody else is doing it and I’m trying to create my own lane.”
Right now, his lane seems wide open as he looks towards licensing and continues to mingle with California cannabis elite heading across the country to explore the burgeoning New York scene. He’s got West Coast growing experience and, through Instagram marketing, has already met a few major players in California cannabis.
“California knows that New York is a bigger market,” Kolektor says. “California has always been at the top of the game in production, and New York has been just buying. So now you have a bunch of local growers popping up, which is really cool.”
When we speak in early fall, Kolektor has just got through the last of other breeders’ genetics and popped 100 seeds of his own to grow out. The male he’s currently working with is a Black Mamba crossed with four different female cultivars. The results are just unnamed crosses for now, Candy Cane x Black Mamba, a Honey Banana x Black Mamba, a Grape Pie x Black Mamba, and an unrevealed fourth. Kolektor’s also creating his own genetics with Purple Taipan (Grape Pie x Black Mamba) pollen and says the hope is that the brand can create a menu “fully curated, bred, and grown by us.” When we connect, he’s just harvested a Sherb Breath, Sunset Sherbert x Mendo Breath.
“It’s super heavy on the Mendo Breath so you get a lot of that like savory terps, almost like a beef soup, beef stew or something, it’s real weird,” he says.
Kolektor grew up in the South Bronx and never thought he’d be able to grow cannabis. Serving in the Army in Afghanistan he saw acres and acres of weed growing in the desert and it hit him that growing it himself might be a possibility. After he got out of the Army, he took some seeds back with him to New York and started experimenting. He’s making plans in terms of gaining official state cultivation licensing and wants to stay close to the Bronx.
“That’s where we can serve the community the best,” he says. “A lot of investors want us to go upstate, but if we go upstate we’re just going to service a bunch of white folks, like our social equity plan will be shit at that point, you know? I’m from the Bronx apartments in Yonkers so we understand how bad the communities have got due to the War on Drugs and the Stop and Frisk era so we want to be able to offer some good opportunities to people in the city that we love.” -EH
Solar Cannabis Co.
Solar Cannabis Co. grows indoors in its main facility in Somerset, Massachusetts within a 67,000-square-foot space. Its solar production allows the company to operate completely energy independent; solar panels cover the entire facility roof as well as an adjacent 4-acre lot. The cultivator also utilizes two high-efficiency CHP (combined heat and power) generators, making natural gas the only utility that Solar Cannabis Co. is hooked up to. It cycles through 10,000 gallons of water a day, but reclaims 90% of that water to be recirculated back into their fertigation watering system (a process which adds fertilizer into an irrigation system).
Solar Cannabis Co.’s Director of Marketing and Communications Derek Gould says the company is constantly striving to reduce its energy footprint.
“A lot of these states where you can only cultivate indoors, at least all year round, it’s definitely important to take a look at the energy footprint and the carbon footprint that we’re leaving, because, it’s huge, it’s massive, and we really just want to do it the right way,” Gould says. “We want to do it upfront, and be a model for other operators, whether current or upcoming, to take a look and identify that, hey, we have a corporate responsibility to operate in a sustainable way.”
Solar Cannabis Co. is a vertically integrated company, but they also grow vertically to fully take advantage of their facility space. Cannabis plants are cared for on a three-tier rack system, allowing Solar Cannabis Co. to house anywhere between 2,200 to 2,400 plants per room.
“The way that we have designed our facility is for constant production, we are harvesting a room every week-and-a-half and we’re pulling down. I would say close to 350 to 400 pounds of dried flower per room every one-and-a-half to two weeks. So, you know, we are constantly in mass production,” Gould explains.
Solar Cannabis Co.’s Vice President of Cultivation Brendan Delaney has a background in cultivation in Trinity County, California and has helped make connections with West Coast cultivators like Compound Genetics and Humboldt Seed Company. A few of their current best sellers are recognizable cultivars like Cherry Punch, Gas Truffle, Hella Jelly, Jelly Runtz, Pink Certz, The Bling, Waffle Cone, and Wedding Cake.
“What we’ve brought from the West Coast here to the East Coast, they’ve been game changers, everything’s been home runs, for the most part,” says Gould.
In Massachusetts, vertically integrated cannabis companies are limited to having three retail licenses, and with Solar Cannabis Co. having two in operation and one coming soon to Dartmouth, the brand is expanding its ethos into other markets and holds a retail-only dispensary license in Rhode Island. -AK
Using cannabis as a way to support Black and brown communities that have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs is a worthwhile commitment. Good Green (owned by Green Thumb Industries) strives to sell affordable cannabis flower while also providing funds to worthy nonprofit organizations.
Split between sativa, hybrid, and indica offerings, Good Green is in several markets: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, Green Thumb Industries was one of seven multi-state operators to participate in New Jersey’s first day of recreational sales which began on April 21. As a vertically integrated company, Green Thumb has its own grow facility in New Jersey that supplies an “ever-growing portfolio of strains.” Strains like Banana Cream, Animal Face, L’Orange, Jack Herer, and Rebel Sour are a handful of popular strains in New Jersey.
Good Green isn’t just a flower producer though, it also offers its Good Green grant program to help support worthy nonprofit organizations (hence the brand motto “Green that does Good”). There are currently eight nonprofits that have been chosen to receive the Good Green grant, based in various locations such as Illinois, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
Jai Kensey, director of social impact at Green Thumb Industries, explains why it’s so important that cannabis brands give back to the community.
“It’s an obligation and I always say as multi-state operators, it’s our duty to give back to the communities,” Kensey says. “This industry has been built on the backs of Black and brown people, and who have been the most harmed by it. Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis use. And so it’s definitely something where I say it’s very unique for our industry, where it should be part of every bit of our operation in terms of giving back to the communities that have been impacted by it.”
With an extensive, thorough, and rigorous review process, Kensey, along with Social Impact Program Manager Alyssa Estrada and the Good Green brand team, sift through many applicants and score them based on a number of factors. They closely examine each one, scoring them fairly based on three areas: expungement, employment, and education, as well as geographical location and the organization’s financial records to ensure that their funds go toward various programs.
When High Times spoke with Kensey, she shared that they were currently in the process of reviewing over 70 applications for the third round with the intention of choosing four, which will receive a split of $200,000 which was announced in November 2022. This amount helped the brand meet its goal of granting a total of $1.3 million to nonprofits by the end of the year. -AK
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