All photos by Randy Robinson or courtesy of incredibles
Over the past few years, cannabis-infused gummies have become some of the hottest edibles available in the legal industry. According to BDS Analytics, gummies made up just over a quarter of all edibles sales in Colorado in 2016. That's a sizable chunk of the market, considering gummies are competing with chocolates, lollipops, bubble gums, cookies, cakes, and countless other food items that can be heightened with THC. But crafting the perfect infused gummy requires pin-point finesse, since striking the ideal ratio of oil-to-flavor is a perpetual balancing act.
And now that cannabis consumers are developing refined palates not just for tasty edibles, but also for custom-tailored highs (aka "directional" or "functional" highs), the industry faces a new challenge: transferring a strain's specific mood into concentrates or foodstuffs. It's no longer about simply getting lifted; for today's cannabis connoisseurs, it's about how we get lifted and what that particular lift feels like.
incredibles, founded in 2010, say they've invented a process for making gummies that preserves a signature strain's heady properties. Think about the jolt of energy one gets from sparking Durban Poison and Blue Dream, or the couch-lock that follows after hitting a strain like Platinum Kush. The edibles maker wants their products to offer the same consistency, or customizability, with regards to what type of high consumers feel after munching on one of their tasty treats.
For those unfamiliar with incredibles, the company is practically a household name in Colorado. Walk into any dispensary in the Centennial State and chances are you'll see their colorfully-named chocolate bars – like Peanut Budda Buddha and Blueberry Bliss – or their infused mints and tarts.
incredibles took their sweet time, as it were, designing the new gummy line. That said, the company has been long-established for its primo genetics and handcrafted edibles. Since 2013, incredibles has won five High Times Cannabis Cup awards between the edibles and concentrates categories. In 2016, their Black Cherry chocolate bar won 1st place for Best CBD Edible, and their Orange Soda concentrate won 1st place for Best Hybrid Concentrate.
How did incredibles get here? The company's strategy relies on blending only the best ingredients, with cannabis (naturally) being one of them.
"We're using hash that would've been sold on the shelf," explained Ryan Hubbell, the company's lab manager. "Normally, when most people think of distillate, they think that it's crude oil, that it's recycling. We're taking our top-quality hash and separating it, instead of just trying to refine leftovers until we get something useable [to make edibles]."
"We're not trying to turn hay into gold here," Hubbell continued. "We're taking our gold and just separating it, really."
And to get gold, incredibles starts with its green. For a detailed rundown on how the pioneering canna-business produces its next-level treats, MERRY JANE met with Lily Colley, the company's national marketing director, for a guided tour of the company's primary facility in Denver, Colorado. We also spoke to various members of the incredibles team to gain insight into the science behind making something so, well, incredible.
MERRY JANE: What makes incredibles stand out from other edibles manufacturers in the legal market?
Lily Colley (National Marketing Director): What our secret sauce is, and one of the reasons that I came to work for this company — previously, I worked for some of the biggest brands, like Dixie — is that incredibles really invested in product quality first.
For instance Rick Scarpello, who helped found Udi's Bakery, is one of the company's founders and owners. The people behind incredibles have backgrounds committed to things like holistic food, sound SOPs, and best manufacturing practices. That's what you see in our chocolate and why the quality is so good and consistent. It's all sustainably-sourced oils and gluten-free ingredients made at the industrial scale. We're pumping out thousands of bars a day. That's what we're really about, the quality. What we've developed here is a manufacturing powerhouse.
Gummies can be tricky to make, especially when combining them with cannabis. How did incredibles approach the new gummy line?
Megan Brown (Executive Sous Chef): We took our time moving into gummies because we wanted to ensure we were introducing an authentic product. We knew that the market was starting to demand more than just a cannabis gummy. Our traditional formulations, our hybrid products, are what everyone knows and loves.
We also have some of our own proprietary genetics, such as Orange Soda [concentrate], which is a hybrid that we developed. We're the exclusive keepers of it. It won the [High Times] Cannabis Cup both years we entered it in Colorado, as well as in California, in the extracts category. It's become our cult-classic. But from the market-demand perspective, everyone now wants an indica or sativa edible. What that represents is either feeling sleepy or awake, respectively.
How do you translate a strain's specific effects into an edible?
Ryan Hubbell (Laboratory Manager): We spent a lot of time in our lab figuring out a genuine way to extract strain-specific materials and then reintroduce them into the gummies so that each product offers the natural entourage of compounds from those strains that gives the gummy those effects. It's beyond a placebo. It's a natural entourage because our formulation keeps the strain's elements together.
Lily Colley: It's been a really fun project for us, but we're not saying exactly how we did it. We believe our gummies are probably the most authentic and true indica or sativa edibles on the market right now. Also, we're hoping to challenge some of the other brands to see how they're doing it — if what they're making really does spark [a particular mood or] effect... or whether it's just an innovation of marketing.
We're at the grow room now, and it's huge. Can you tell me about the set-up?
Max Eisler (Director of Cannabis): We have three grows across the state. We also control all of our inputs, which is important for the quality of the ingredients: strong genetics and our own proprietary extractor technology — a closed-loop hydrocarbon extractor called the incredible Extractor. Designing this extractor played a huge part in increasing the quality of our concentrates.
We needed a system that could achieve connoisseur-level quality, as well as commercial volume to keep up with the demand. No extraction system at the time produced extracts that met our standards, so we decided to build our own. Now, we're getting 85 to 95 percentiles with our distillates. That's what we're exclusively using in the gummies.
The gummies are delicious because they don't contain any extra oil, so they have a totally pure taste that allows us to do additional things like formulate them with natural fruit juice, which keeps them really light and tasty.
Can you tell us a little about the cannabis genetics used for incredibles' products?
Derek Cumings (Creative Director): We have Orange Soda, Sourband, Chem D, Chem 91, and Chem 4 — all verified by the original guys who popped the first seeds. Now the creators of these strains literally run our grows. What you're seeing is the continual grow cycle, which means we plant different sections [of the grows] with different strains at all times while continually harvesting. That's because for our extracts lines and concentrates, we want to make sure that we have enough of each plant that's in demand.
We just introduced our Liquid Black Label pen, which is essentially pure THC distillate with our strain-specific terps reintroduced. We designed our grow process to keep the terpenes in their most optimal phases. We also harvest a little early and keep everything fresh-frozen to ensure those profiles are as full as possible.
Your veg room is a little unconventional. It looks like you've got some mature plants here.
Max Eisler (Director of Cannabis): This is where our mothers are housed and where all our clones are made. Before they transition into the 12-hour light room, here they're in light for 24 hours. That helps to get them to propagate when they're nice and young. It also gets them to grow really quickly by kind of fooling them.
As I noted before, we also keep our mother plants here. Mother plants allow us to consistently replicate a valuable plant. Breeding cannabis is like breeding dogs. You can breed a pure-bred golden retriever and an award-winning golden retriever, and their puppy could still have a hip issue. Very few cannabis strains are 'stabilized' and are therefore difficult to replicate. Everything is kind of a crap shoot with genetics, so if you want something to be replicated, you clone it. It keeps the genetics truly consistent.
The terpene profile that you had on the perfect plant — one that's testing high for THC or CBD — is passed down. You make a new plant every time you clip and clone. That genetic archive, our mother plants, are some of the most valuable things around. Chem D, Chem 91, our Orange Soda, our Sour Band — a lot of these other strains that are really the cat's meow, and we managed to get them into the METRC system [for tracking inventory] in Colorado.
That's why our extracts line is so loved, because of our commitment to this process. We only extract, in our Black Label line, our own products. You'll never see Black Label that isn't grown here, with our genetics, processed during that terpene window. All of our extracts products have their full terpene profiles.
A lot of companies just throw shake from several strains together and extract from that. This could explain why some edibles don't have the same effects among different batches.
Lily Colley (National Director of Marketing): Exactly. Consistency is what it all comes back down to.
Other companies use non-cannabis additives, like artificially produced terpenes, to create a "sativa" or "indica" effect from their products. Do you believe that's a good way to make or market edibles?
Max Eisler (Director of Cannabis): We know that customers want a reliable effect. That is the consumer's primary request when they come to a dispensary and ask for an indica or a sativa. But when you look into the science of how cannabis changes when you ingest it — like when Delta-9 THC metabolizes to 11-Hydroxy-THC — it changes so significantly that a lot of the science behind how and what isn't so clear.
One of the things we've done is find the most authentic way we know of to make products that are indica or sativa. We know that the synergy of those components helps to perpetuate those effects. We also know other companies are saying they're making indica or sativa products, and we challenge them to be transparent about how they're accomplishing that. We've heard things like, 'The fruit in our gummies is what makes it sativa,' or 'We put some sort of other ingredient in there.' For us, true indica or sativa constituents come directly from the cannabis plant's elements. That's what makes our formulation unique.
It's a bit of a balancing act, and we pride ourselves in being obsessive about product quality. We have connoisseurs at every point of our production line, and they won't consume something that isn't of the highest quality. We like to think that everything we make is of that quality, and that's why we keep the snobs on staff. [laughs]
Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter