product review:

The strain that saved Christmas

When legalization first popped up on our radar, I wondered what would happen to small brands that had built themselves up as notable growers and processors on the black market. While some might be inclined to assume any cannabis sold in an unregulated store was grown in someone’s garage and chock full of pesticides, I can think of (at minimum) five different brands that made a name for themselves—at least in Vancouver—that were coveted by smokers and shop owners alike.

As we moved closer to October 17, 2018, I wasn’t very confident that many of the brands that I had come to know and love would make the transition. Some announced on social media that they’d be packing it in, but a small handful seemed eager to make the jump. Many others continue to operate outside of the law.

When I heard that Top Leaf had been acquired by Alberta-based Sundial, I assumed that while the familiarity of the name might drum up interest in consumers wary of the legal market, I wasn’t exactly convinced that the product itself wouldn’t measure up to the reputation the company had established at cannabis markets and dispensaries across the city.

Holy shit; was I mistaken.

Getting the weed

Let’s not beat around the buds: I am a legal cannabis skeptic. I’ve visited a few different stores and only twice have I visited with the intention of making a purchase. But in the days leading up to Christmas, I realized that my stash was running low, and I knew there was no way I’d make it through the holidays with my crazy-but-loveable Mennonite family without at least the option of toking up in between meals. I wasn’t sure what I’d purchase, but I did go in with the intention of buying something.

I visited the Village Bloomery in Vancouver for the first time since its legalization makeover, and was surprised at the way storeowner Andrea Dobbs was able to maintain the spirit of the shop, even with opaque windows and locked cases around every accessory. The store’s format also remained in tact post-makeover—oils are found in the front, while flower is toward the back of the store. (I’ll resist the urge to make a mullet joke here. You’re welcome.)

After a quick catch-up, Andrea invited me over to the counter to smell a few of her favourites. The first strain she pulled out to show me was Top Leaf’s Strawberry Cream. At first glance, the viewing/smelling bud appeared larger than average, and covered in a light green frost.

Previous sniff jar experiences had left much to be desired, so let’s just say I wasn’t prepared for the explosion of sweet, full-bodied aroma that was about to fill my nasal cavity. If I felt this pleasant after a little waft, I had to put my reservations aside and give this cannabis a chance.

The per gram price of Top Leaf’s Strawberry Cream at the Village is $14.20, but the price of an eighth offers a slight discount at $47.23 ($13.49 per gram). It was certainly a little higher than I’m accustomed to paying for an eighth, but less than I anticipated for a desirable strain with high THC content (18 to 24 per cent depending on the batch) and an invigorating scent.

Everything but Smoke

One of the first things consumers complained about when legal weed first came on the market was packaging, and folks, I’m thrilled that over a year later the designers at Sundial seem to have figured things out. I appreciate the thought that went into the box—the unique shape definitely makes it stand out—but it was the opaque glass packaging and straightforward childproofing that really won me over: one cardboard box, one glass jar, and an easy peel-off seal. Had I left the simulation? It sure felt like it, and I hadn’t even popped the jar yet.

(Take note, LPs: now that this sort of packaging exists, there is no excuse to pump more plastic out into the market. It looks like shit, it’s bad for the environment, and most importantly, it kills the quality of most of your already questionable cannabis.)

Upon lifting the seal of the jar, the scent of berries and sweet cream that had sold me in-store filled my nose again. (Even while writing this review with just one sad nug left, the stuff is pungent.) And, not unlike the buds I saw before buying, the eighth I had acquired had a notable dusting of trichomes. Moisture content also seemed to be on-point, as the buds weren’t crumbling apart under pressure from a little squish between my fingers. The smell and feel alone had me eager to give this stuff a try.

Smoke

An eighth of product gave me several opportunities to come to a conclusion about this particular strain. The flavour—both in a (freshly cleaned) bong and a joint—was superb. There is nothing misleading about the name: the first inhale definitely provided notes of sweet, juicy berries, a slight zest, and finished with a smooth, creamy flavour. After one toke in particular, my partner noted that I smelled not of “pot”, but of fruit—something this pot smoker has never, ever encountered after a puff.

Labelled an indica hybrid, and with such high THC content, I was anticipating a relaxing stone with a pretty heavy body-high. This is typically the route I like to go when it comes to cannabis as I’m constantly working to bring myself down to a more manageable level of anxiety.

Now picture the scene: It’s Christmas morning, and I am feeling pretty rough after one too many Christmas Eve eggnogs with my old man. My mother is in the kitchen freaking out about something in the oven and I’ve just gotten into a text argument that has my head spinning in a million different directions. Anxiety is peaked and my body is holding onto tension that is (of course) only aggravated by all the spiced rum I’d consumed the night before. It was time for me to take a walk outside, and I’d come prepared with my last few buds of Strawberry Cream.

Just the experience of consuming such tasty, meticulously grown cannabis brought me down a few notches, and by the time I was back in my parent’s house, I felt like my anxiety had floated up above me and I could get out from under it for a little bit. Granted, smoking an entire joint to myself definitely had me glued to the couch, but I was able to fend off the urge to fall asleep as the promise of mountains of delicious food kept me awake. And that hangover? Puff, and poof—it was gone.

In the bong, one or two hoots were enough to set me on a path to counting sheep. This is definitely my kind of cannabis, and a strain I can assure you I’ll be trying again soon.

Top Leaf (Sundial) Strawberry Cream

15.5/17

Conclusion

Freaking delicious. Flavourful, sparkly, and packs a punch. Checks all the boxes on anxiety relief and sleep induction.