The Art of the Cannabis Sommelier: The Science of Dissecting Cannabis Flower for Total Quality Control and Psychoactive Variety-type Designation.
Wine Sommeliers, Beer Cicerones, Cheese Mongers, Coffee Cuppers…
What do each of these cryptic titles have in common? Well, they are the titles given to masters in their respective fields who have proven the ability to successfully dissect, grade, certify, and relay their expertise.
And now, there is finally the Cannabis Interpener: the trained expert of cannabis. Let me introduce you to the Interpening Program.
A cannabis Interpener has sharp olfactory senses, is able to identify a specific cannabis variety based on visual clues and terpene characteristics, and of course, is able to discern the highest-quality product amidst the sea of mids.
Max Montrose, a founder of the Trichome Institute, developed the Interpening™ concept in 2008. The word Interpening originated from combining the words “interpreting” and “terpenes.” Terpenes are the essential oils found in fragrant plants that give them their potent aroma — all cannabis strains have a unique terpene fingerprint.
“The most logical way to describe Interpening™ is to compare it to detecting the subtle and unique features of wine. A sommelier is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional who normally works in fine restaurants and specializes in all aspects of wine service. The sommelier combines trained senses and experience to detect the differences between types of wine. With a few simple observations, a sommelier can gather a substantial amount of information about the wine: where in the world the grapes were grown, what the weather was like during growth, and what to pair the wine with during a fine dining experience. Similarly, a beer taster is a cicerone, a cheese taster is a monger, and a coffee taster is a cupper. These professional tasters use a foundation of science, senses, and creative experience to help detect the flavors and subtleties that they prefer in a product. They also detect noticeable faulty characteristics. The same is true for cannabis, and the art of expert cannabis tasting and identification is known as Interpening™.” – Max Montrose
To cater to a variety of interests and needs, the Trichome Institute has developed four levels of Interpening Certification.
Level I Interpening:
The first level of Interpening covers the basics — by the end of the three-hour lecture, attendees will be equipped with the skills to visually identify different cannabis varieties; pick out premium, high-grade cannabis amidst shelves and shelves of flower, as well as comprehend cannabis’ obscure genetic history. Both Interpening Level I and II include the three-piece internative Interpening tools and lecture information. The class begins with a foundation most everyone has skipped by answering: What is cannabis? The class explains the quagmire of cannabis species in depth, how cannabis works, and what defines the species and variety types genetically and phenotypically. The course then dives deep into quality dissection to analyze all forms of positive and negative qualitative features (you have to know what’s bad before you know what’s good!).
Lastly, the course covers the most complex aspect of Interpening methodology which is how to use human senses to detect what psychoactive affects the cannabis will provide. Interpening teaches how to use the 5th cranial nerve in combination with the olfactory bulb to “feel the smell” (which we will talk about later). Interpening training also teaches one how to detect the order of the most noticeable terpenes with an understanding of their pharmacology. These two smell techniques combined with analysis of the physical cola structure of the bud allow people to comprehend the quality of their flower and how it will make them feel when they consume it, regardless of the strain name.
At the end of the lecture, attendees are given a test to see if they qualify to receive the Level 1 Interpening Certification. It’s important to note, a Level I Certification participation is open to anyone in the world with access to a computer. Level II, however, must take place in Colorado — for now — because of federal transportation laws.
Level II Interpening:
The second level of Interpening goes beyond a lecture and dives into hands-on experience. Currently, Level II has only been offered in Colorado due to the illegality of crossing state lines with marijuana, but more than 50% of the class is composed of curious out-of-staters. Level II goes more in-depth on terpene analysis and dissecting physical bud structure. Attendees of the Level 2 Interpening program are presented with over 100 live samples of cannabis to explore and analyze to truly develop and enhance their palette. A test is given at the end of the training program and those who pass are awarded their Level 2 Interpening Certificate and pins. Passing is not easy, but the Trichome Institue does allow retesting.
Level III Interpening:
This level is for the true cannabis connoisseurs. Similar to becoming a Master Sommelier in the wine industry, a Level 3 Interpening Certificate is reserved for the most advanced cannabis experts. This certification is invite-only with prerequisites of Level 1 and 2 Interpening Certificates. Level III Interpeners prove pure expertise with an extreme understanding of terpenes, genetics, grow practices, quality measurements and more. Level III also includes concentrate quality dissections and grading structure. Level III’s can impressively pass the Level II test in under 3 minutes with a perfect score.
As you can see, the Interpening Program covers a variety of information beyond analyzing the flavor profile of individual cannabis strains. Interpening training also discusses the enigmatic history of cannabis genetics and strain-naming, the physical structure of the cannabis buds, and overall quality control. Going into dispensaries can be overwhelming, sometimes there are over 50 strains to choose between, so this type of training prepares the average cannabis-buyer to be able to visually dissect the premium flower from the less-desirable products.
During Max Montrose’s Weed Week lecture, he showed us one of the more fascinating Interpening methods which was analyzing where you feel the smell when you take a whiff of a cannabis flower, and how you can use this tool to interpret whether a strain is Sativa-dominant or Indica-dominant.
Next time you smell some bud, or if you’re lucky enough to have some in front of you right now, put Max’s theory to the test. In order to fully feel the affects of aroma perception, be sure the bud has been stored properly and isn’t older than 60 days. As you’re taking a deep inhale through your nose, try to analyze where you feel the scent. Pure “Sativas” with high amounts of limonene and citrus-like terpenes are felt high in your sinuses toward your eyes and forehead. Pure “Indicas” with more soothing terpenes such as linalool are felt lower, on the base of your nose near your nostrils; Hybrids tend to stay in the middle. This adds another dimension to smelling your way around Indicas and Sativas. I personally smell something lemony and know it’s a Sativa, it’s the same when smelling something more floral and knowing it’s an Indica. But this method takes it a step further and really helps you identify what you’re about to purchase and smoke.
I tried this technique after Max’s lecture with some friends, and sure enough, we all felt Indicas in the lower half of our nose and Sativas in the upper part of our sinuses. It was quite a mindblowing experience to have words and a theory put to this feeling we subconsciously do every day. That is what The Trichome Institute does best, simplifying intricate topics into something that can easily be absorbed. The interactive Interpening tools are available for purchase online and can help guide you through the process.