Every cannabis strain has a story, but some strains like Sunset Sherbet have become fantastic tales of genetic lore. Sunset Sherbet is allegedly the product of a grow-room mistake. That room was filled with Pink Panties and GSC, something caused the Pink Panties plants to misfire pollen into the air impregnating the GSC plants and Sunset Sherbet as born. There is only the scantest trail of this on the internet, but nothing concrete. Other popular strains are straight-up mislabeled online. Major websites like Leafly.com and Allbud.com list Wedding Cake and Pink Cookies as the exact same strain, but that’s false. Seed Junky Genetics created Wedding Cake by crossing Triangle Kush with Animal Mints and there are receipts to prove it. These examples highlight the loosey-goosey nature and novelty of cannabis genetics and strain names, something House of Cultivar is leaning into with their newest strain classification methodology. Their Families of Cultivar are aimed at expanding the conversation around the nuances surrounding cannabis genetics, breeding, cultivation, and consumption.
House of Cultivar (HOC) is a tier-three Washington producer. They’re recognized as one of the most popular brands in the state and have won awards and the hearts of budtenders all over. It’s easy to move product with selling points like multiple Dope Cup awards, environmentally sustainable growing practices, and an incredibly deep genetic library with hundreds of strains to choose from.
House Of Cultivar Present: The Families of Cultivar
HOC created their own cannabis strain periodic table to help teach people about their expansive menu. This is a customized visual representation of their cannabis genetic library. Each square showcases a picture of a bud, lists the strain’s name and genetic lineage. Each family was created from a combination of flavor and genetics, according to Daniel Peterson, who works in processing on top of handling marketing and design responsibilities. This concept was first conceived in the garden. The graphics loosely represent how the team organizes the plants in the grow rooms themselves.
Their first five flavor families are Purps and Pie, Fruit Trees, Floral and Haze, Citrus and Sap, and Gas Pack. These classifications aren’t meant to be concrete labels, rather an ever-evolving and fluid method of teaching budtenders and consumers about the variety and nuance of cannabis strains, according to Jason Hutto, HOC’s founder, and CEO.
“This is the way we see our cannabis. Do you wanna come along for a ride and have a conversation about it?”
The Families of Cultivar table has an accompanying flavor wheel that describes the range of flavors of each cultivar family. For example, the Purps and Pie family has two main flavor profiles: tart and sweet. Strains in this family could have aromatics akin to things like grapes, rhubarb, cherries, figs, roses, licorice, and black currants. The Gas Pack family has the widest range of flavors by far and includes HOC’s signature, the Chem Diesel family. Here you’ll find polar opposite flavors in sour-motor oil, garlic, onion, and truffle. Like a color wheel, opposite values are placed on the opposing side of the wheel and everything is color-coordinated to match the Families of Cultivar periodic table.
A Little About Terps’
All of these flavors are generated by natural oils secreted by plants called terpenes. Terpenes are incredibly volatile chemicals that need to be carefully preserved in order for consumers to taste and feel each cultivar’s unique characteristics. Terpenes not only provide flavor and aromatics, but affect how cannabinoids move through the blood-brain barrier and bind with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Terpenes also have individual medicinal qualities like cannabinoids that consumers can take into account. This is why judging a marijuana strain’s potency purely off THC percentages can be misleading.
More Complicated Than Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid
In theory, the Families of Cultivar graphics can open up the general consumer’s mind to ideas like terpenes, flavor profiles, and strain genetics. All of these details can not only tell you what a strain will taste and smell like, but can give a ball-park-estimate of the effects as well. While it’s more complicated, considering all of these factors are a much more accurate way to describe the cannabis smoking experience than the current method of “hybrid, indica, or sativa?” said every budtender ever.
Using hybrid, sativa, and indica classifications are the industry standard for describing the psychoactive effects felt from smoking cannabis. There are several problems with this. First of all, these words are too generalized to describe the hyper-personalized effects people feel when smoking. Another is these descriptions mean completely different things to someone who grows cannabis.
When a grower or producer hears “sativa, indica, and hybrid,” they think about the distinct characteristics that define a cultivar’s growth structure. Sativa plants tend to be taller with large fluffy flowers and thin, skinny leaves. Indica plants are short with small and dense flowers and broad leaves. Sativa plants tend to be lighter green in color while indica plants like to produce a wide array of dark-greens to vivid-purples.
The biggest problem with these three generalized classifications for smoking weed is it gives the perception that every indica strain makes you feel the same, every sativa strain makes you feel the same, and every hybrid strain makes you feel the same. Sure, there are some similarities, but each strain is made up of a completely unique cannabinoid and terpene profile and a completely different genetic make-up. HOC’s staff is full of cannabis connoisseurs and stoners like many of their customers and they’re trying to deepen the shallow nature of the common budtender to customer interaction.
Craft at Scale
The conversations about cannabis genetics and strain names are the fun, the office hours House of Cultivar relishes. However, quality control and standard business operations take up the vast majority of Hutto and his team’s time. Running a commercialized cannabis business has a ton of moving pieces, but the variables needed to grow good weed remain the same: lights, humidity, grow mediums, room temperature, cure time, trim methods, pest control, etc. The trick for Hutto is teaching his team to see what he sees in the garden while he’s off managing the business. Cannabis cultivation is one-part science, one-part art, and one-part experience. Producing consistent craft quality cannabis is definitely difficult to manage at scale, but in theory, it isn’t impossible.
“That’s your challenge,” Hutto stated. “How do you do these things at the level and quality that I want to see them done across more employees and more people?”
The tissue culture lab is one area of the business that was never about generating revenue, rather preserving House Of Cultivar’s genetic library long term. It’s been hard contributing enough resources to allow it to grow, but it could be an important play if or when federal legalization occurs and nursery models become more prevalent, according to Hutto. “It’s one of those things I wish I had more time for.”
Curating Genetics and Chasing The Hype
Breeding, pheno-hunting, and keeping up with the newest hyped strain demands is something of an ever-evolving process. Runtz is crazy popular right now (seriously, rappers love this stuff) for its insanely unique flavor profile. However, it doesn’t have the best production qualities, according to Hutto. The question then becomes – how do you create a strain that tastes, smells, and sells like Runtz but grows like a proven production strain like Blue Dream?
The best strains come from playing the genetic long game and selecting plants for the best characteristics and breeding them together over several generations to slowly hone in on the best traits to create crops that will make the business money and satisfy the customers’ needs. Breeding is a science, but discovering the factors that turn a strain into a certified hype train like Gelato or Runtz is still a mystery. Quality, branding, and marketing are all factors, but there’s one simple thing that might be the most important. The strain’s name.
There’s no denying the strain’s name, no matter how arbitrary it may seem, is a defining factor of its success. The Pink Prosecco strain wasn’t always called Pink Prosecco, the original name and genetic makeup is the one and only Jack Herer. Apparently, HOC fans just didn’t fuck with the Jack Herer strain. Why? Nobody really knows, but it’s a common strain that’s been around since the ’90s.
After some brainstorming, Jack Herer’s terpene profile reminded Hutto of an effervescent sweet wine, so he took a dart throw at the name Pink Prosecco. This simple change transformed the strain into something dispensaries couldn’t keep on the shelf. There’s a rumor that the Wedding Cake strain has a similar story, as it was once named Triangle Mints and nobody cared. Allegedly, once that Triangle Kush and Animal Mints cross was renamed with more decadent flair, it became one of the best-selling and most popular cannabis plants of 2019.
Hype doesn’t have a scientific formula, but growing good weed does. All of the hype in the world doesn’t matter if the weed behind it sucks. Keeping craft-quality consistent at a tier-three scale is a welcomed challenge for House of Cultivar. The Families of Cultivar are a step in the right direction in expanding the consumer’s knowledge around genetics, breeding, terpenes and the nuance of enjoying and medicating with cannabis.