"I have kind of the supertaster gene," says Jake Browne. "Cilantro tastes like soap to me, and I find myself really sensitive to more earthy flavours - like beets, for example. I spend a lot of time in spice aisles."
Heightened senses are a serious asset in his line of work: Browne holds the distinction of being the first-ever cannabis critic for a major daily newspaper.
Browne, originally from Iowa, worked at Denver-area dispensaries and wrote feature stories for cannabis magazines until he got word that The Cannabist was looking for a marijuana critic - an announcement editor Ricardo Baca made on the Colbert Report. Despite a lack of journalistic training, Browne's industry experience and passion for describing various flavour profiles landed him the gig in December 2014.
If working at a dispensary - or, better yet, being paid to smoke marijuana - sounds like a dream job to you, Browne has this recommendation: "For those trying to crack into [cannabis criticism]," Browne says, "be ready in your market when legalization happens, because there's a need for people who are enthusiastic about covering it." In the meantime, he suggests you do what he did: make use of online resources like Leafly, YouTube tutorials, and good-old-fashioned field research.
"I had to learn social media management, be competent in Photoshop, be able to edit videos. The more I could self-teach, the better. It's an industry that rewards multifaceted people. Every new dispensary is looking for people who can do two or three jobs."
As for the strain reviews, the process is pretty straightforward:
"I go out, I pay for my own strains. That gives me an opportunity to find new, interesting strains, as well as ones that are ubiquitous across the country. That remains one of my big challenges: finding strains that people would be just as interested in Anaheim as Amsterdam," says Browne.
Among his favourite review was Sour Chunk, a strain he describes as having "nutty, coffee notes that I don't see all of the time. It challenges the palate like a well-crafted stout, with that dark complexity. It was especially interesting considering that I prefer smoking sativa, when that flavour profile is almost nonexistent."
For cannabis consumers who want to cultivate a more sophisticated understanding of the plant, he advises to focus on "smell and structure characteristics. If you want to get a start, learn to identify structurally indicas versus sativas, look at plants that have very specific structures. Take Sour Diesel - that always has a bulbous structure, where it almost looks like small Christmas tree ornaments as opposed to say your average kush which has a more triangular, denser structure."
"I think the biggest mistake people make is assuming that because one phenotype or one specific cut looks one way, all strains will look exactly that same way. Depending on the cultivator, what medium they use, stress that the plant is under, it can look very different."