“Would the gentleman prefer a sativa with the Chateaubriand?”
This question, asked by a white-gloved maître d’ in a candle-lit restaurant, may not ever become a regular occurrence, but the emergence of the “Cannabis Sommelier” is something that is certain to happen. Some, like Max Montrose of the Trichome Institute, have already begun. The process of classifying, assessing and documenting the subtle differences between strains and identifying qualifying characteristics is called “interpening“.
How Does Interpening Work and Why Do We Care?
The decriminalization of marijuana has led to a broad variety of strains becoming widely available alongside hybrid strains and a whole plethora of cannabis products. Experienced cannabis users are generally capable of determining strain quality for certain purposes and users, but lack a standardized framework they can use to communicate the elements of quality with others.
Since the legal cannabis industry is still in its infancy, there is a lot of guesswork to be done when it comes to identifying strains and specific strain quality. What one local grower in Portland, Oregon calls, “Trainwreck” could be entirely different from what another grower in Washington uses the same name for. Furthermore, some dispensaries even mislabel their Sativas and Indicas—something that may not seem too important in the grand scheme of things, but if we go back to the sommelier analogy, you’d never bring Pinot Noir to a discriminating customer who asked for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Determining and Standardizing Quality
Apart from the objective standard of learning how to identify specific strains by their appearance and structure, there is a subjective art to classifying the aroma of various cannabis strains. The terms that wine aficionados use to describe the taste of their favorite vintages are carefully defined and very specific. Likewise, veteran cannabis users describing the qualities of their preferred strains are fond of using flowery language—pun intended—but without any clear definition for the words being used. The Trichome Institute’s goal is to change this and bring a complete set of descriptive terms for cannabis experts to use.
There are also practical benefits to this type of training, such as identifying unhealthy flowers. Without specialized training in quality control, it’s very possible that an upstart dispensary could accidentally sell flowers suffering from bud rot and not even know it. Interestingly enough, bud rot is caused by the Botrytis fungus, which is primarily known as a pest that affects grape vines.
These classifications can help dispensaries and consumers gain a common ground to communicate about cannabis. Identifying patterns in cannabis aroma can also educate customers about how to achieve the smoothest, most enjoyable experience with their chosen flowers. Interpeners know, for instance, that a salty aroma may indicate a poor flush, which results in harsher, less enjoyable smoke. Although it may take years before these become industry standards, the process has begun and it will further legitimize cannabis throughout the wider domestic community.