Weed’s Independence Day is coming up on 4/20 (naturally), and Sweet Grass Kitchen has something new cooking
I’VE VISITED TWO INDUSTRIAL-POT KITCHENS NOW, and here’s one important thing I’ve learned: Nobody looks good in a hair net.
They made me wear one during my visit to Sweet Grass Kitchen, on Denver’s industrial south side. And I get it. This is a food-service operation, and stray hairs in the cannabis cookies could close down the business, either from dissatisfied customers or those tetchy regulators. Despite the many contributions of canna-biz to the Colorado economy and tax base, it’s anything but a most-favored-business here. More like the unruly pet you keep tightly leashed, so he doesn’t get into mischief. So Sweet Grass’s kitchen is a high-security zone, with unblinking cameras high on every wall, providing a live weed-feed back to the state regulators.
Sweet Grass is based on South Jason Street in Denver, a neighborhood dotted with auto parts warehouses, an industrial sealant company, the obviously lost “Washington Park [not hardly] Cross Fit,” and lots of beat-up delivery trucks. But a distinct tang of cannabis hangs in the air. Weed is irrepressible, making its terpene-laced presence known even through multiple layers of security doors. Jesse Burns—a West Virginian-turned-Coloradoan ski-and-rafting-bum/ CU-MBA/cannabis intern/ Sweet Grass marketing director—welcomes me, introduces the staff dog (who isn’t allowed in the kitchen), and begins a tour. The place has a just-pulled-together look. The staff is way too busy baking delectable dope goodies to attend to office decor. The company sells several million cannabis experiences yearly, and it takes hard work to make that many people happy, high, or pain-free.
First stop is the trailer where the owner of Sweet Grass, Julie Berliner, housed her fledgling edibles business nearly a decade ago. “The regulations were changing rapidly, so if I needed to move, I could drive my kitchen to another facility with minimal loss,” she says. “My original vision was to park it in a field “Breaking Bad” style, but (I) quickly learned that the state wouldn’t allow that — shocker.” Now Sweet Grass has expanded into an 8,000-square-foot space, so it easily accommodates the original trailer inside, like a Smithsonian exhibition.
OK, hairnets on; we’re entering the grow zone. Jesse introduces me to “the ladies,” an indoor field of marijuana plants that (who?) live in a 120-square-foot room. The nearly mature plants are all females, so they can produce the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-laden buds that drive this business. They’ll be ready for processing in time for 4/20, cannabis’ national day. Pot legend has it that one of the original groups of stoners, at a high school in California, met at 4:20 pm each day, before they adjourned to nearby woods to indulge. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., recently nodded to the former delinquents when he introduced House Resolution 420, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. If you don’t believe change is possible, just contemplate that.
It’s headache-bright in the nursery 12 hours a day, and fans blow down from the walls to stimulate sturdy growth. Each plant has its own RFID tag, required by the regulators; when the harvest comes, each plant will be snipped at the base, weighed and logged, as it moves down the heavily monitored progression from seed to sale. That gently wafting smell in the neighborhood is a sledgehammer in the grow room, intoxicating by mere force of suggestion. Their tags say “medical,” but their fragrance says, “I’m gonna f… you up, good!”
Next stop after harvest: a giant cook pot, suitable in size for stewing missionaries, or Jeff Sessions. Jesse Burns explains the complicated chemical processes whereby Sweet Grass’s buds and others from suppliers around Pueblo are infused into the cannabutter they use in all of their edibles. We step into a freezer — there’s a chilly camera (freeze frame?) in there, too — and Jesse opens up a half-gallon container for me to sniff: It’s the essence of green plus savory fat, and my head swims.
Yours might too when you get a crack at Sweet Grass next blockbuster product: Cannabutter for the home chef. It’s soon to be available in a dispensary near you, in 100mg THC sticks. Butter, only better. Go to sweetgrasskitchen.com, click on BUZZ, and then hit “BUTTER” in the drop-down menu, for recipes. Your vegetable sautés will never be the same. Serve it to the in-laws! Sweet Grass’s current most popular products: canna cookies with chocolate chips, peanut butter, and snickerdoodle. Never has the latter name been more apt, or potentially hilarious.
Next step on the tour is a really big easy-bake oven for trays of chocolate chip/THC cookies. The head chef of this joint, Lauren Finesilver, joins the tour at this point. She’s flashing lavender highlights in her hair. While studying baking in Brugge, Belgium, she never dreamed she’d enter the canna-business in Colorado. She admits to being a pot enthusiast earlier on in her life, but now she barely touches the stuff. But she’s proud and happy to be providing an alternative to side-effect-laden prescription drugs to the people who need pain relief, a balm for insomnia, or who simply need to chill a little. I inhabit all three categories and am thrice grateful.
Lauren speaks the gospel of therapeutic marijuana, then cuts a glance at Jesse: “Of course,” she says, “he likes to remind me that some people just want to get high.” In fact, the majority of Sweet Grass Kitchen’s business is on the recreational side, those medically committed “ladies” in the other room notwithstanding. It’s Mom’s home cooking — with benefits.
On into the packaging room, where a much-tattooed young woman is using a laser-printer to etch a THC! warning onto every cookie. That symbol is also visible at the base of every well of gummy goo. The regulators are understandably touchy about the prospect of an adult, or God forbid a child or beloved pet, who didn’t know they were ingesting waaaay too much THC from some innocent-looking candies or cookies. That’s why they label the hell out of packaging and the edibles themselves. Thank goodness we live in the era of digestible lettering.
Soon I was out the door into the bright afternoon, blinking away the intoxicating atmosphere of the weed industry. My Uber driver gave me a look — did I smell like 1970s-era college dorm room? — and then weaved our way out of the industrial zone, where medicinal and recreational highs are the product, and cookies and candies are the carriers. Oh the brave new world of weed, that has such people in it.
I kept the hairnet as a souvenir. I might need it the first time I cook with cannabutter.
FOR YOUR 4/20 SHOPPING SPREE