product review:

A bud by any other name

Up until the last decade, even as a regular pot smoker in B.C., I knew two varieties of weed: the cheap, and the good stuff. During this time there was a vibrant culture of dedicated cultivators operating with regional knowledge and genetics, but I just wasn’t part of that culture.

But that changed with my introduction to Red Congolese. My friend, Alex Robb, introduced me to this cultivar in the summer of 2016. It was pretty much my introduction to regionally specific weed. A version of this now exists on the legal market, and I have come to learn is actually called Roberts Creek Congo. BC Organic Creek Congo, by Simply Bare Organic (from Rubicon Organics) is the real deal. Whoever grew this flower seems to have the place-based cultural knowledge that is such a key aspect of terroir.

I can confidently say this is very good weed. I don’t even need to qualify that statement with “for LP weed.” It is not the very best representation of this cultivar I have ever tried, but it is definitely good.

Getting the weed

During a break from responding to a request for more information from Health Canada (oh god, the security alarm logs) I rode my bike into downtown Victoria and picked up an eighth, then headed straight back to Rock Bay.

There was a sense of mild excitement from the budtenders when they started talking amongst themselves about this brand new Creek Congo offering that just came in the day before. None of the staff had tried it yet, but the person serving me mentioned that it was organically grown in living soil.

The flower was $50 an eighth, taxes in. Steep, yes, but not entirely out of line with the $12 to $15 per gram price that, just a year and a half ago, local dispensaries were charging for the same cultivar.

Everything but the smoke

The first thing I noticed about the packaging was not the reasonably sized glass jar, but the Pepto-Bismol-smeared-on-terracotta colour of the jar. The branding is not my cup of tea, but design is an art and maybe someone out there likes it. The brand conjures associations with face moisturizer.

Something I am wondering about is why they chose to name the product “BC Organic Creek Congo.” I would have preferred to see it named “Organic Roberts Creek Congo” because I think it pays more homage to the regional specificity of this flower and its history. From what I understand, what I had been introduced to as Red Congolese, was a clone-only cultivar from La Mano Negra.

Now, it appears to have made its way into the Canadian legal system under a name that detracts from the company’s focus on locality. I mean, come on, Roberts Creek in the Sunshine Coast region is an awesome part of the world that is totally distinct from the Cariboo or the Rockies, or other B.C. regions. By removing “Roberts” from “Creek”, the consumer is presented with a cannabis flower lifted and distanced from its regional roots. I know this opinion sounds a little precious, but keep in mind that in Simply Bare Organic’s own promotional words, “Simply Bare works hand-in-hand with nature every step of the process, starting with living soil. It's made with 100 per cent organic inputs including Douglas Fir bark, kelp, and fish meal found right here on the B.C. Coast.” If that isn’t marketing aimed at evoking a sense of terroir-driven weed, then I don’t know what is. I say run with it and call it Roberts Creek Congo.

But then again…. Settler society in B.C. is going through an interesting period in history. Settler place names, which are the result of a political history in which newcomer geographies are imposed on Indigenous territory, were taken for granted; growing up I very rarely even connected location names with the settlers they’re named after. However, the last couple hundred years of persistent resistance by Indigenous peoples in B.C. has created a vulnerability in the settler consciousness where place names are becoming historicised and contextualized as political interventions. So maybe having a cultivar named after William Roberts, the first settler in the region surrounding Roberts Creek, isn’t the best way of representing locality.

How cannabis farmers, gardeners, cultivators, or whomever, choose to portray a concept of terroir—or some other place-based cultivation concept—is going to evolve, but I think it is a worthwhile conversation to have about the political and social nature of place. Can Roberts Creek Congo be grown by someone without any connection to the growers of the Sunshine Coast that perfected the regional expression of this cultivar? Is there a necessary cultural knowledge of growing techniques and grower networks that is inextricably linked to place? Or, alternatively, can anyone with the right cut of this plant produce the same end product anywhere in the world? Can the concept of terroir, with so much attention to the outdoor climate and environment, be applied to something grown in a controlled environment like a greenhouse? Can developments in the wine world, and debates about “low-intervention” farming and terroir inform cannabis growers about place-focused products? Can one reproduce terroir in a lab?

Ok, so back to this specific iteration of Roberts Creek Congo that I just purchased. Yeah, the branding is ugly in my opinion, but it is in a nicely sized glass jar. From a strictly quality-driven perspective this is a major improvement over the plastic jars prevalent in the legal system. I’m not informed enough to understand the complexities of the life cycle of glass, and recycling, or answer whether glass is actually less bad for the environment, but I know that consumers like myself have the perception that glass is better. It certainly preserved the flower inside nicely.

When I cracked open the seal I was greeted with a familiar aroma that brought me back to my first experience with this cultivar. The nose was there! The bouquet is a heady mix of spice (clove), bark mulch, and earthy garden-fresh carrots. The smell is bang-on what I would expect from this cultivar.

I weighed the flower and it came in at 3.55g. That’s a type of material variance I can respect.

The buds were decently sized, and a bit denser than what I’m used to. This weed is sometimes a bit ugly (unless of course you love sativas and appreciate their lanky character). I’ve never cared about how tight or dense buds are, but this has a nice bud structure. The trim was very close, giving it an almost machine-trimmed look. For some reason I wish it was a bit less manicured, which is sort of a weird thing to say about hand-trimmed flower. The buds had a nice moisture content and rolled nicely. Under a jeweller’s loop I noticed the trichomes were mostly amber. I’m used to this cultivar being taken down a little early resulting in a mix of clear and milky trichomes; I wonder how long this crop was flowered?

Before lighting the joint I did my usual dry-pull and knew pretty much what I was in for.

The Smoke

The flavour on the smoke is similar to the aroma, but a bit muted. The smoke didn’t pack a huge flavour punch, however, it did seem to get better as the joint burned. The joint burned slowly and had white ash (if you care about ash colour).

I did find the smoke to be a tad harsh at the back of my throat. My two session partners didn’t notice any harshness and, in fact, noted the smoothness of the smoke. Maybe my soft tissue is just a bit more sensitive to this particular terpene profile and content. I have noted a bit of harshness in other grows of this cultivar that were definitely grown with care, so I’m not going to be too critical about this characteristic. By the end of the joint there was a small amount of resin build up on the paper.

Now on to the $50 question: how were the effects? The high from this cultivar is, for me, what dreams are made of. If you appreciate the more energizing effects of cannabis, this will float your boat. It almost doesn’t feel like weed, but rather something more akin to a substance one might purchase to increase metabolism in order to survive the cold at the post-apocalyptic, Antarctic outpost-esque, crust punk bar Doomhammer’s in Montreal. I’ve also heard it referred to as “Ritalin weed”. The point is that the high provides clarity of thought and eloquence in speech with a twist of emotional uplift. You don’t really need to eat food if you smoke this weed. Coffee and Robert’s Creek Congo is a balanced diet, right?

So, yeah, the high was pretty much what I expected, but I did feel some burnout and felt that it wasn’t as racy as other local iterations of this cultivar. That could be due to “set and setting”, or it might have to do with the very mature amber trichomes. I would love to see a full laboratory analysis of all cannabinoids and terpenes for BC Organic Creek Congo to learn more about what the heck is going on with this cultivar that I love so much.

Adam Carmichael holds a PhD in political science and runs a cannabis processing facility in Victoria, BC.

BC Organic Creek Congo by Simply Bare Organics

14/17

Conclusion

Very good, but there’s still a bit of room for improvement. The effect was not quite as energetic as what I have come to expect from this cultivar, but overall it was great! Good aroma, good smoke, good high that generally kept in line with the cultivar style. It’s my favourite legal weed I’ve tried so far.