Why The Marijuana Industry Needs Sommeliers

Wine has its sommeliers, beer its cicerones, coffee its cuppers. But cannabis is all alone, with no exacting methodology or specialized class of professionals to elevate it from stoner culture into this clique of sophisticated intoxicants. What a shame. What did cannabis do to merit being left behind without a competent steward and advocate? Cannabis was both common and legal until the first decades of the 19th century, when powerful groups turned against it. Tobacco farmers saw cannabis as a competing crop and lobbied to outlaw it. Farmworkers came to associate it with imported Mexican labor, which they viewed as depressing agricultural wages. Perhaps most importantly, industrialists used “reefer madness” to villainize cannabis, the many uses of which they saw as a threat to new industrial goods.

And so America had not one but two Prohibitions. Indeed, the embargo on cannabis has functioned much the same as the far briefer one on alcohol. For one, sanction did little to curb its usage — more than half of adults in the United States admit to trying cannabis. Similarly, fortunes have been made providing this illicit inebriant to the masses, much the way the Bronfmans built their empire during the 1920s. Perhaps most importantly, legal sanction has dampened what should be a verdant culture of thoughtful and rigorous appreciation. There were, of course, no sommeliers during prohibition — just bathtub hooch and dirty jugs.

But the edifice of prohibition is crumbling. Beginning in the 1990s, states like California — recognizing what millions have long known — acknowledged the beneficial effects of medicinal cannabis and created a legal framework for its supply and distribution. As we all know, this “medicinal” system quickly morphed into a faceplate for recreational use. Following Canada’s lead, Colorado and Washington State have legalized cannabis, and similar legislation is pending in other states. Cannabis’ best days aren’t behind us — they’re ahead of us.

So we must get the hooch out of the bathtub, trade our dirty jugs for proper stemware, and turn ourselves to the craft of cannabis. Interpening imports to cannabis the visual, aromatic, and taste philosophies on which wine tasters rely. When looking at several strains of cannabis, you will notice many differences in structure, aroma, and flavor. It’s easy to smell such diverse aromas as pine, flowers, nuts, citrus, skunk, and pepper, or even strong chemical smells like diesel fuel. These varied aromas are caused by differing ratios of certain terpenes — organic hydrocarbon molecules that make up the essential oils in everything from cannabis to oranges to pine needles to roses. Terpenes are important because they give us clues about the composition, high, and pharmacological effects of a certain bud. For instance, buds that smell like diesel or other chemicals indicate a strong sativa. They will have an effect that is extremely uplifting and mentally stimulating. By contrast, buds with a strong aroma of earth or chocolate typically identify a strong indica. These aromas tell us that this bud will have a sedative effect and more of a body high.

Just as we use aromatic characteristics to determine the presence of different terpenes, we also rely on visual cues to assess type and quality. Beyond ensuring there are no fungi, bugs, or burns, these cues help us determine bud structure, hair color, hair structure, and the amount of trichomes (tiny appendages that stick out of the bud). Indica and indica-dominant hybrids have tight, round, dense buds. By contrast, sativa and sativa-dominant hybrids have longer, wispier buds with long hairs that like to stand up and out. Another visual characteristic that cannabis connoisseurs pay attention to is the amount of trichomes: because trichomes house cannabinoids and terpenes, denser trichome coverage usually indicates increased potency. Just as you can tell the ripeness of a banana by its peel’s color, trichomes’ varying shades reveal the ripeness of the bud. The plant is unripe when the trichomes appear clear and glassy, ripest when they turn cloudy and milky, and overripe when they hue amber.

Interpening also helps users navigate the world of cannabis. It is both frustrating and humorous to see people care so much about the name of a strain when, in reality, strain names are commonly mislabeled or even purposely changed to move product. What matters is knowing whether you’re getting an indica, sativa, or a hybrid, and how the type of marijuana, and its specific mix of cannabinoids, will affect you. Wine sommeliers have evolved a methodology and lexicon that allow us to evaluate the product and find the right glass for any given moment. The more recent phenomenon of “cupping” has created the same refinement in third-wave coffee. Interpening replicates this precision, complexity, and thoughtfulness in the context of cannabis. It allows you to predict and perfect your high.

Canary is launching this year in Seattle and Denver, the Uber for at-home cannabis delivery. Vaporizer bars, the cannabis analog of fancypants wine bars, represent just one form of this now-bourgeoisie business of cannabis. Unencumbered by the artifacts of prohibition, cannabis is revealed to be just another intoxicant, and one worthy of our concerted appreciation.

For more information, The Art and Science of Everything Cannabis, which covers the above material and more, and is available on Inkshares. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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