Jake Browne – Pot Critic for The Cannabist

Jake Browne

The New York Times calls Jake Browne “The First Pot Critic.”
Jake is the critic for The Denver Post’s “The Cannabist” Column

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Key Takeaways

– Jake reveals his favorite strains for people who are trying cannabis for the first time

– How Jake evaluates buds, looking for evidence of disease or insect feces

– The best cannabis for sleeping

– Jake’s favorite strain

– Jake’s favorite vaporizers

– A special discount on a Hempbox.com subscription

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a fresh episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the leaders of the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. Do you know that feeling when you sense opportunity, when you see something before most people and you just know it will be successful, then you're ready. Ready for CannaInsider Consulting. Learn more at www.canninsider.com/consulting. Now here's your program. While the world of food and wine has had formal critics since the printing press was created, the same isn’t true for cannabis. Today we have on the show Jake Browne who’s perhaps the best known pot critic out there. The New York Times recently followed Jake around for the day to see what it’s like to be him; sampling strains and digesting the unique experience of each one. Jake is also the co-founder of HempBox, a monthly service that provides a curated selection of the best hemp products that Jake handpicks. If all that wasn’t enough Jake is also a comedian and co-host of a podcast called Whisky and Cigarettes. Welcome to CannaInsider Jake.

Jake: Matt thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Matthew: Jake I have to say you’re a busy guy with an interesting life. Can you tell listeners how you got started in the cannabis industry and became a pot critic?

Jake: Yeah. I actually back in 2009 had a friend that opened a dispensary, and I was working part-time, and so you know hey do you want to come in and help me, you know, with some office work. And so I started off helping them kind of get their papers in order. I remember initially they had their files organized by first name because it was always oh, yeah Matt’s coming in, we’ll look him up under “M”. So you know, helping them provide structure. But since then I’ve worked as everything from bud tender to general manager, marketing director and consultant in the industry on top of doing social media management and then blogging, which I won several awards for here locally.

Matthew: Okay and what’s your day-to-day life like as a critic? How do you spend your time?

Jake: You know I’m a freelance journalist first. So, you know, I may be working on something else. When I am doing reviews, I’ll go and check out maybe a couple of dispensaries in a day trying to find something that A) hasn’t been reviewed already by myself or one of the cannabis’s two other critics or I’m, you know, really trying to find something that I think people can find across the United States or even across the world. So I tend to try and find genetics that people should be familiar with and then, you know, take a sample home and give it a shot.

Matthew: You said you were a bud tender before. Since you’ve been on the other side of the table what do you think that bud tenders in general could be doing differently, or how do you think they could be helping consumers more when they come in?

Jake: You know that’s really interesting. I had a big article about this right around the time that recreational shops started opening here in Colorado because a lot of times they weren’t addressing the fact that people still had medical needs, that they weren’t just shopping for recreational purchases. That there were a lot of people that didn’t ever opt into the medical system and some people that couldn’t, for example, veterans with PTSD aren’t covered under Colorado’s medical program. So just that they would actually, you know, make the effort of, you know, at least trying to engage people in that dialogue.

When I, you know, kind of graduated from bud tender to GM, one of the things that I would do every morning was give my bud tenders a blind test and say, listen I’m going to pull five strains that are on the selves, strains that you should be familiar with. Can you identify them by scent alone? Can you identify them by sight alone? And I think that was one of the first things that really peaked my interest in reviewing strains and really getting to know them intimately.

Matthew: Now I’m sure you get a lot of feedback from people because cannabis is such a subjective experience. What kind of criteria do you use to evaluate a strain so people can make sense of it?

Jake: You know I think that with my body of work, you know, over 25 reviews now, I have a pretty good baseline established for at least how strains will affect me. So, you know, even subjective you could say oh well, you know, this strain definitely had a much more dramatic effect on him than others, and people have their own baselines I feel like in a lot of cases. So you know, kind of listening to themselves if they find that sativas tend to make them sleepy for whatever reason and those people do exist, then you know, kind of just read my reviews, you know, opposite or you know it’s a bizarre review for them. But most importantly I think that what I’m trying to do is help people identify strains. That, you know, there isn’t, you know, some governing body that says, “all of the Sour Diesel must have these characteristics.” You know, you can walk in and see things mislabeled or misidentified all of the time. So I’m just trying to give, you know, consumers a tool by which they can go in and say, well you know you’re saying this is OG Kush, but it’s clearly, you know, has these, you know, Sour Diesel notes and body and structure. So, you know, I don’t believe you.

Matthew: Now if someone has a cousin or a parent visiting from out of town that’s really never consumed cannabis before, is there a good kind of toe in the water strain where they can have a good experience that you would suggest?

Jake: For a lot of people that are really trying to make that toe in the water, you know, try if you will, I generally recommend getting one of the vaporizer pens or even just a really low dose of edibles because I tend to find that vaporizing is going to be a little bit of a duller high. It’s not quite as racy. They’re also a lot more accessible for people who aren’t interested in smoking. But, you know, if I have to recommend a strain, and this is one of my least favorite strains that I had reviewed that I Flow is perfectly accessible for someone. I think I even refer to it as the training wheels of pot. You know it’s one of those strains that I never find, you know, all together too overpowering. And you know, I generally find the effects don’t last that long either. But the biggest advice that I can give is no matter what you’re starting with just start slow. You know, there’s always more there to try. I did an interview with a guy who does fitness training out here and incorporates edibles, recently. And he probably made the best analogy that I’ve heard is that edibles or marijuana in general is a lot like salt. You can always add to a recipe, but once you add too much salt, it’s very hard to go back.

Matthew: That’s a great, great way of saying it.

Jake: And it’s so easy for people to understand. It’s like oh yeah we’ve all had something that was too salty. It’s just trying to find that perfect amount of seasoning. And you can tell I’ve been watching too much Top Chef lately.

Matthew: What are two or three of your personal favorite strains. I know you review different strains, but if you were just to go out with some buddies and just grab two or three, what would you grab and why?

Jake: I just recently did my top ten strains for 2014 over at the Cannabists, but that was only the top 10 that I had reviewed and enjoyed from these specific shops. You know, Super Lemon Haze is one of my favorites if I’m looking for a very creative energetic sativa. And, you know, that didn’t make my top 10 because the particular one wasn’t the best example of the genetics, and it was also $24 a gram which is way more than anybody should be paying in Colorado. So I would recommend Super Lemon Haze and sativa. For hybrids I really love Blue Dream. And then in an indica I like kind of old school pre ’98 Bubba Kush, although there’s been some really nice Tahoe OGs that have come out lately, especially Swerve from Kelly Connections Cut. If you can find good Tahoe OG, I always recommend that as a good one to kind of set you down at the end of the night.

Matthew: I love it. How do you compare dabbing to smoking flower to concentrates for people that may have just smoked flower once or twice, they’re not familiar with dabbing. Can you describe how that feels?

Jake: Yeah I mean I don’t do a lot of dabbing anymore, mainly because my tolerance just goes way up whenever I do. It’s best for people that need a large amount of THC in a short amount of time.

Matthew: Okay, moonrocket.

Jake: I mean it’s marijuana but on steroids. You’re talking about, you know, upwards of 90 percents now where these are super, super strong. When you compare high end, you know, flowers are 20 to 30 percent THC right now. So you’re getting a ton all at once. And you know, again with dabs it’s hard to start small I guess would be the easiest way to put it. You know, it’s definitely going to be, you know, that same high experience. I just, I worry that people that aren’t familiar with dabs and want to start off with, you know, a quarter gram at once are going to be in for a really bad time. You know, and it’s not to say that dabs, you know, aren’t for anyone. It’s just it’s really something that I feel like came out of necessity for people that had serious medical conditions and now are becoming kind of this recreational version of Everclear, which might be the easiest way to put it is just, you know, if you’re usually going out and having a white wine spritzer, don’t go out and order two shots of Everclear.

Matthew: You know, you mentioned the vape pens and then we talked about flower having 20 to 30 percent THC at times. I noticed they’ve done some tests on some of these vape pens and some of the vape pens don’t even have as much THC as the flower. Is there any vape pens where you feel like they’re doing a good job and they work pretty well?

Jake: I think, if you’re talking about pre-loaded cartridges, it all comes down to what the material that’s going in is. For example I went to Buddy Boy Brands which is a shop out here and they have these new kind of e-cigars,it looks like a giant cigar and lights up, but it’s, you know, a vape pen. But the one reason I really like them is because they have mahatma concentrates in there, and they’re one of the best, you know, kind of locally strain specific Bruce Banner which I really enjoyed. So it really just matters on what the concentrates are that are going in. I think for, you know, just regular, you know, vapes the Pax is getting some really great reviews out there. I’ve done the Fireflies well, and I really like the Firefly for flower. It’s nicely portable. It’s about the size of a cell phone and it looks really nice too. You know, I think it really depends on what you’re looking specifically for in a vaporizer. And if somebody has specific questions always feel free to hit me up on Twitter on Facebook and I’m sure we’ll talk about those later.

Matthew: Yeah. You had on your 2014 List of Favorite Strains, Blue Dream, and that’s definitely a popular strain. Can you describe what you experienced for people that haven’t looked at that review why you like Blue Dream so much?

Jake: One really interesting thing that people always talk about with Blue Dream is it stimulates the same thing runners high. I don’t know if I’ve ever run so much that I’ve become high from it. It’s just their experience on that one. It’s very much an active strain for people that are worried about, you know, couch lock or you know, I never want to do anything other than sit down with Netflix and catch up on, you know, old episodes of Frasier. It’s a really go kind of body mover to get you up. It’s not ever too, you know, immensely engaging where it can start getting a little anxious or possibly paranoid. For me it’s just very balanced and good for a lot of different times during the day, maybe not right before bed. But, you know, from waking up to, you know, kind of a happy hour strain when you get off work. It pretty much does it across the board for you.

Matthew: Now I’m glad you mentioned, you know, different strains and particularly going to bed in you know for relaxing and things like that. If there’s somebody out there that has monkey mind like me that never shuts off, is there a strain you recommend for that, for just a good night’s sleep?

Jake: Yeah absolutely. I mean I think that there are a lot of new OGs, specifically that Tahoe OG earlier that I talked about or pre ’98 Bubba Kush is always a really good one for me. You’re generally looking for indicas that are lower on the THC side. The White is another example that’s been really prevalent out here in Colorado that I would highly recommend. No pun intended. I mean, it’s so subjective I guess in terms of what helps people sleep, but you know it’s avoiding those hybrids. You know, anything with haze or diesel in it, you know, you can hybridize and you can call it indica dominant all you want to, but if there’s a little bit of those strains in there, your mind can still latch onto that. So it’s really having that conversation with your budtender and going, you know, what’s the closest you have to 100 percent indica and what makes this strain up. I mean, what goes into it because a lot of times they can tell you oh year well it’s got some of this, but it’s really understanding all of those components that will give you a better understanding of what exactly you’re smoking.

Matthew: So when you grab a bud for the first time and before you put it in your pipe, can you just describe, you know, other than scent what you’re looking at, you know, when you’re evaluating it. I meant you’re looking for, you know, obviously maybe some pests or maybe some, you know, gunk on there that you don’t want. How do you evaluate what you’re looking at?

Jake: Yeah, I mean, one of the big things I look for is stippling or stippling in the leaves which are little white spots which generally indicate that a bug has been eating there, and so you’ll kind of notice an absence of chlorophyll. Also mites leave behind little black chunks of, you know, mite gunk I guess. Can we say poop on this podcast?

Matthew: Sure, yes we can.

Jake: So I mean, they’ll leave behind like little tiny bits of fecal matter which nobody appreciates ever. You can also be on the lookout for powdery mildew which looks similar to those white spots, but it’s almost fuzzier. And it will be different than trichomes in that it won’t have the tiny heads on top. You can also be looking for bug mold. This tends to be in denser nugs and you’ll notice towards the middle it’s where moisture couldn’t escape and so the bud will actually start rotting from the inside out. And the best way to look for that, it’s called botrytis, is that it will almost look grey or brown in the middle and you’ll start to see little bits of mold in there as well. So on the kind of pest or fungus mold side that’s what I’m looking for.

But I’m also looking for a stereotypical bud growth. So I’ll be looking at the calyxes. Are they rounded or they’re fox tails, what color are the pistols. And then what was the cure like. Is there a lot of amber in the trichome heads? Are they cloudy which is going to indicate a more sativa high or are they clear which would indicate to me that maybe it was harvested a little prematurely. So there’s all kinds of things that I’m looking for with every sample. And you know, I don’t necessarily write all those up, but they help kind of inform me what kind of smoke I’m in for.

Matthew: Now as we get to the end of a life cycle of a plant before it’s harvested, you’re supposed to, you know, cycle through a lot of water to get, you know, the fertilizer and so forth out of the plant. If that doesn’t happen as it should, what do you taste in your mouth if you were to smoke that?

Jake: There is some people out there, I think William Breeds who reviews for our local Village Voice paper Westward, he is amazing. He can tell what type of nutrients they used by smoking it. You know, for me I’m looking for kind of like a fertilizer, metallic kind of taste to it. Generally it’s going to be a little bit harsher and you’re looking for how it burns, you know, is it going to burn to a clean ash or is it going to be kind of gray to black.

Matthew: Now you’ve attended the Cannabis Cup here in Denver. For somebody that’s never been to one of those, can you kind of paint a picture of what it’s like and also what happens at [4:20]?

Jake: So it’s kind of like going to a trade show, but then on half of the trade show it’s just people that want to get you high. Like you walk up to the booth and instead of handing out like little samples at like Costco on the weekend, they’ve got flower or dabs were huge at [4:20] here last year. I mean people, there were so many different dab stations. So I mean it’s every product that you can think of under the sun. One of my favorites last year was there’s a guy that just had these cool hammocks that you could put up wherever. And so it was like, yeah you know I’ll just go take five in the hammock booth.

Matthew: I like that.

Jake: Yeah, exactly. There are edibles. It’s a little bit of everything. I think that, you know, if you’re interested in being a home grower, there are people that can talk to you about lights or different soils or grow mediums. And then there’s also very much the, you know, the fun side of people hey, we’ve got this new pipe or this new type of rig. It’s literally everything under the cannabis sun that you can think of.

And then [4:20] down at Civic Center Park is a very different experience than it used to be. It used to be a little bit more unstructured. You kind of just walk in and then there’s people passing joints around and throwing Frisbees. And then last year it was a very different year. There was, you know, security checkpoints and everybody goes in. You couldn’t bring your own food or drinks. So there’s been concessions, bands that were playing, things like that. But it’s interesting, [4:20] at Civic Center Park is a much different experience than it used to be, but they’re still very different in that, you know, there aren’t people that are just giving things away at Civic Center Park.

Matthew: Now you’ve kind of watched the market evolve here in the last year. What has surprised you since Cannabis became recreationally legal that you weren’t anticipating?

Jake: I mean prices fell. I think that everybody who was just kind of waiting for prices to fall, but they did so a lot quicker than we had anticipated. And I think that that was kind of due to a lot more shops coming online than I had initially expected. You know I’m not sure what the count is here, you know, in the City of Denver, but it’s got to be over 50 shops at this point. So I think that that competition is been really strong. But, you know, the medical market continues to outpace the retail market. I think that a lot of people were interested in, you know, marijuana but they still don’t want to pay tourist prices. So you’re seeing a lot more interest there. But I also think that you’re starting to see some interesting things in breeding that it’s no longer being done in basements. It’s now being done in laboratories and that plant selection has advanced a lot with the, you know, with testing technology coming along as far as it has. And now a lot of that guesswork is gone because you can take plant samples in and say, you know, how is this testing for CBD, for example, and people can, you know, really pick out those strains where it used to be, well this one looks and smells the best so we’ll keep breeding with that.

Matthew: Now if someone were to just come out and hang out with you for a couple hours who’s never been to Denver and they wanted to consume some cannabis and have a great afternoon, what would you advise them to do?

Jake: Actually we offer a concierge services through my website. If you wanted to come out to Denver and really have a curated experience. But I mean there are a few great dispensaries downtown. I like to show people a few different feeling, couple of different shops where they really get a feel for, you know, what this legalized experience is because not all shops look the same. You have some that feel very much like a day spa. You’ve got some that feel like an Apple store, and then you’ve got some that feel very much like an old school dispensary as well. And you know, one of the nice things too is that I’ve been involved in the food and beverage industry for many years here. I always know good places to drop in and eat, you know, depending on exactly what you’re looking for. And then there’s a great late night scene here as well, and I’ve actually done a few pieces kind of travel related on, you know, if you’re a tourist coming here what is there to see out there, you know, where are the spots that you have to hit and all of that is available on the Cannabist as well.

Matthew: Now switching gears to HempBox, can you tell us what that is?

Jake: So what we did was we started essentially what is a hemp of the month program where people sign up and we’ll send them four to five items, usually one to two full sized items of hemp consumer goods. So it’s not, you know, a necklace and a bracelet every month, but different bath and body products and different nutrition products because hemp is so good for you whether it’s inside or outside. And we’ve found amazing response from people that are using, you know, hemp topical, hemp hair care products, they’re also adding hemp hearts to their smoothies or a protein powder. Every once in a while we’ll do hemp bars or raw chocolate. And so really trying to get out there that hey, you know, you may use hemp in this one aspect of your life, but there’s so many different ways to incorporate it. And I think that, you know, with industrial hemp now being legal here in Colorado and a lot of other states that are looking at bringing industrial hemp online, that very soon we’ll start to see it out pace what we’re doing in the legalized cannabis sativa and indica markets.

Matthew: Can you highlight one or two products in HempBox that you put in there recently that you were just really excited about?

Jake: Yeah absolutely. I mean we helped a company out of Ohio launch called Hemp and Honey Plus, and it was probably one of the best reactions that we’ve had from our subscribers. They went nuts over this body cream. It was just… feels like you’re rubbing a tiny hemp cloud onto your skin. This stuff is amazing, and it not only highlights hemp oil but also manuka honey which has antioxidant properties and antimicrobial properties that they’ve used in this tribe forever.

In our latest box we just shipped out something called Ultra Shake which is such a cool concept. What they do is they use freeze dried berries, hemp seeds and a lot of other different super foods. And then what you do is just add cold water and shake it, and it becomes a smoothie that you can have anywhere on the go, and we’ve already had some really great feedback about that. They offered not only a smoothie sample, but then also a free 4-pack for any of our subscribers. So really excited as we start hearing more and more rollback from there. But, you know, one of the nice things is that we’re always coming up with some really cool products. And you know, we’ve worked with some of the big names in the industry like Dr. Bronners or Manitoba Harvest is another one that comes mind, but we also support some really cool small hemp businesses as well. People that, you know, are going from boutiques to hopefully big box stores pretty soon.

Matthew: Now we had Doug Fine on the show recently, author of Hemp Bound, and he was talking about how they’re using hemp in Europe to create a concrete or a hempcrete out of it and it sounded just amazing. Is there any kind of strange applications like that you’re hearing about?

Jake: I loved the Doug episode by the way. He is such an interesting guy and has been doing amazing work in the hemp industry for so long. And hempcrete is fascinating to me. They’re talking about doing different hemp applications in batteries. I think the thing that I’ve been the most interested in is how much they’re really interested in massage oils. There are so many people that, for example, we just sent out a candle that after it’s done, you know, lighting up your living room turns into a massage oil that can be applied however you see fit. But just the amount of kind of ingenuity that’s going into this, when we got into it I’d always worked in the, you know, medical marijuana industry and people would always give me, you know, hemp products and I would go okay thank you and then it would kind of go into a drawer. And then, you know, we started going through some of the stuff, and I was like wow these products are amazing. You know, now that we’ve really delved into it, I’d say we’ve had contact with over 500 different hemp product companies at this point. So it never ceases to amaze me what people are doing out there and what kind of ingenuity and the entrepreneurs that are in this space, just consistently blows my mind.

Matthew: It really is a super food too because you know, you’ve got the complete protein. You have the Omega3, 6 and 9 in there. You have the fiber. I mean it’s really, it’s incredible.

Jake: You know what we’re seeing too is that there are a lot of athletes that are starting to move over, you know, that don’t want whey protein because it leaves them bloated and they’re switching over to hemp protein. On It is a really good company that we’ve worked with in the past that does a lot of work.

Matthew: Yes we had the founder of On It on the show, Aubrey.

Jake: Yeah we love their products. It’s such a smart way to really fuel your body for the day, and it’s such an excellent protein source that I think a lot of people are missing out on.

Matthew: I agree.

Jake: Very cool.

Matthew: Now Jake as we close how can listeners learn more about your articles and find your reviews, find HempBox, find you on Twitter. Can you let us know?

Jake: Totally. Yes so www.hempbox.com is how you can find out all the information about the boxes. Check out all of our HempBox approved companies, and you know stay up to date there. www.jakebrowne.com has all of my kind of social links. I’m on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and then you can always check out the Cannabists, that’s www.thecannabist.co, go over to the Strain Reviews portion and you can always find my latest reviews there or sign up for my mailing list at www.jakebrowne.com and we’ll just get it right to your inbox whenever they come out.

Matthew: Jake is there any special offers for CannaInsider listeners who have never tried HempBox before?

Jake: Yeah if it’s your first time and never seen a HempBox before just enter the code CANNAINSIDER on the checkout page and we’ll get you your first box for 50 percent off. So it will be only $9.99 and you’ll get 4 to 5 different hemp products that will show up on the first week of the next month.

Matthew: Well thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today Jake. We really appreciate it.

Jake: It was so much fun Matt, thanks for having me on.

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