A Glimpse of Hashin in the Windy City State

In 2014, Illinois joined the growing list of states with medical cannabis programs, allowing patients with a limited set of health conditions to qualify and a small handful of well-funded companies to cultivate and process medicine for them. Boasting some of the most stringent operational guidelines and lowest tolerances for contaminants in the country, Illinois' program justified the comparatively high prices of dispensary products by chalking them up to the incurred costs of lab testing, not to mention corporate overhead. Fast-forward to New Year's Day 2020 and feverish lines have formed outside once-relaxed shops as shivering masses of adults throughout the state eagerly await their first local recreational purchase, ostensibly numbed from cold and excitement to the shock of steep taxes, particularly for "high-potency" products with THC content reported over 35%. Perhaps most dismaying to cutting-edge concentrate users with experience in other states' markets, more so than the hefty price tags, hectic shopping experiences and restrictive daily purchase limits they were likely to encounter, was the lack of solventless products available after more than five years of exclusively medical sales. As a patient since 2017, I saw rare batches of kief, Moroccan-style hash, and flower rosin reach shelves, yet it always seemed like a consolation prize as I watched the evolution of full-melt and hash rosin develop out West. I began to wonder if the profit margins simply could not sustain high-quality solventless processing in IL's competitive climate as long as cultivators remain locked in wholesale combat over slices of the retail pie, while many of them simultaneously pivoted to the national expansion of their brands. Fortuitously, a small and unassuming dispensary operator called NuMed decided to step up and join the production side with a unique angle: focusing on solventless. In an act of defiance to the BHO-dominated extract market, built on greater biomass returns from hydrocarbon and predictable pricing for consumers, the subsequently renamed NuEra devotes more fresh and cured flower to solventless extracts than any other cultivator, maintaining relationships with close to 30 dispensaries at any given time. Offering freeze-dried full-spec bubble hash (both in grams and mixed into their Dubble joints), flower rosin, and more recently hash rosin, the brand identity taking shape for the rather low-key company is one centered around cleanliness, simplicity, history, respect for the plant, and obtaining the purest medicine from cannabis, reminiscent of CA's Nasha. I had the opportunity to speak with Kris Coffie, NuEra's Director of Facilities at their 20,000-square-foot greenhouse in Hillcrest, IL, as well as Nate Anderson, the on-site Extraction Manager, about the importance, challenges, and exciting future of solventless in Illinois. HW: What's the growing environment like at the Hillcrest facility? KC: We use coco from a highly sustainable supplier and grow under the sun with some supplemental LED lighting and lots of love. We have about 40 people on the team, including security, processing, packaging, harvest, and couriers; definitely one of the smallest in Illinois. HW: What pushes demand for solventless products? NA: It's kind of analogous to the rise in natural and organic foods in grocery stores. People are looking for products that don't have any harsh chemicals, that were grown naturally. It's the true essence of the plant. That's why our bubble hash is legit full-spectrum. We don't take out the meat and potatoes and call the scraps full-spectrum, we keep the meat and potatoes in our product to maintain the entourage effect of each plant's terpene profile. HW: What's the dogma behind selecting genetics for hashing? KC: The ultimate goal as the cultivator is to find universal strains that can yield great dry flower, great bubble, great bag appeal, etc. It's extremely hard to find something that checks every single box, but those who are the most successful find things that work for specific end goals in mind. Personally, I'm hunting for fruits and I'm hunting for some new gas, that super skunk. It's taken us a while to be able to introduce new strains to the grow but we're looking forward to creating a distinct character and personality for NuEra beyond just the legacy of Pharmacann. Our LSD (name of the cultivar) is kind of the start of that; it's a return to tried-and-true, foundational, effective medicine that promotes the experience most people expect from smoking weed. It's not the Instagram hype strain of the year. I also fully believe you should be able to pick out a mint, a eucalypol, a citrus, a sweet, a berry, and really have a full availability of different terps. At the end of the day, consumers might not know all the strains we have growing because if they don't turn out great in flower form, we don't release it. On our end, we're looking to reinvest in ourselves and continue expansion projects and to offer products that support that path while adapting to the ever-changing demands of the market. NA: I'm all over Kris every day about getting me some Chemdawg, some GMO, you know. I wanna open up the fuel tank. HW: What strains tend to wash best in hash? KC: I can't be too specific to NuEra here, but some typical hash go-tos are Papaya and Tropicana Cookies. I've also seen GMOs and Chems that do great in flower rosin just because they're so greasy. I mean, when you walk past it as it's growing you might get a streak of oil on your arm. So I'm looking for both traits for different results, the super frosty, sugar-coated cultivars for ice water hash and the stickier, greasier cultivars for flower rosin. HW: Do you use fresh-frozen or cured flower to produce bubble hash? KC: We've done both. There's a lot of motivation to capture the moment in the flower's life right at harvest time, but after years of making hash I actually prefer the cured heads. I love consuming live resin and live rosin, but I feel like smoking a joint gives you a different high than a dab because of the replacement of monoterpenes with sesquiterpenes as the resin cures. It's like a wine; you lose the lighter molecules but gain heavier, more complex ones that unlock the depth of flavor and effect. Another analogy is, imagine your favorite book had the last ten pages omitted. It would still be almost every bit as satisfying to read, but just lacks that last bit that completes the picture of what the book was about. HW: When you describe the hash as full-spectrum, are you using every wash screen in the end product? KC: No, we choose to omit the same ranges that everybody else [in the hash space] does, so we're typically not gonna hold anything below 45 micron. It's strain-dependent whether we stop collecting above 120 or 160. The interesting thing with some of the newer strains coming out is that we might get the majority of the yield in 120-160, which is not normally expected and can sometimes affect the cleanliness with traditional cultivars. When we're able to grow large-diameter heads, though, it'll shift where the yield comes from. HW: What's your preferred way to use bubble? Mine is rolling hash joints a la @PixieStixOfficial. NA: Bowl topper. No layering, straight on top. HW: Apart from the obvious bottom line, what deters cultivators from venturing into solventless more? KC: The difficulty of hunting for strains that yield enough to warrant the time and labor spent. You know, if a given flower dumps 5% in bubble hash versus 20-25% through a BHO column, you tell me what you would do. But I make solventless and you enjoy solventless so we're willing to make that sacrifice to stand out. Rather than try to compete with the big players in the same categories, we believe that offering diversity and specialization gives us our platform. We have top-of-the-line extraction equipment for solventless and nobody is really positioned to do it better than us right now. I absolutely think that we'll see an increase in rosin on the market once craft grow takes off, especially with the lower startup cost involved. Right now, 21 companies control the market in Illinois, so I'm excited for craft producers to buck that trend. NA: It's also a relatively newer thing commercially, and it's an art form. Someone else can buy the same equipment as us and try to find better strains but you also have to be in tune with each individual harvest, the moisture, the trim, and overall treat it less like a manufacturing process where you press a button on a machine and more like an artistic undertaking. HW: What's been the consumer feedback on your solventless line so far? NA: People like the bubble hash a lot for its ease of use. Flower rosin has more of a learning curve and a bit more stigma from the plant residue, but it just takes an understanding that, yeah when you press flowers you're gonna have traces of plant material and I feel like the market wasn't necessarily ready for that. KC: Naturally, you're gonna have more lipids and waxes in the flower rosin than in a BHO counterpart. That's where a bit of the art form comes in so the flower isn't ruined under 160-degree temperatures. I constantly challenge Nate and encourage him to try new things without fearing a loss of product for a gain of knowledge. For example, solventless carts are so hard to do right because you have to deal with the THCa crashing out, but if you go out West and one in ten dispensaries carries a solventless cartridge, we want that expectation to hold true for Illinois as well. HW: Growing in organic living soil has become a hallmark of top-tier hashmakers due to the rich terroir it can contribute to trichome heads, but I've heard that soil is actually prohibited in Illinois. Is that true? KC: That is incorrect. We can use whatever media we desire, but because Illinois maintains some of the lowest permitted microbial thresholds in the country (about 100x stricter or more than other major cannabis-producing states like California, Washington and Colorado) and can't distinguish between normal airborne yeasts that would be produced from organisms in the soil and pathogenic bacteria, it becomes nearly impossible to produce biomass that passes lab testing every single time when the pathogens we are tested for are omnipresent in nature. At NuEra we've always been sun-grown in clean coco; I stay away from peat due to lesser sustainability and opt out of using rockwool, so that we can compost our spent media, reducing our overall refuse and environmental impact. NA: Operating in Illinois, we're very highly regulated. We get inspected once a week, they look at our books, check our cameras and see all the inputs we use, including five years' worth of written records. Only a short, benign list of household pesticides is approved by the Dept of Ag, and nobody in the state is even allowed to use pesticides in the flowering stage of the plant, so we keep an extremely clean facility. Most of the things we use, like rosemary oil, can be sprayed just moments before someone walks through and it's totally safe. HW: Who are your hash heroes? KC: I can't ever knock Bubbleman, he's the reason for so much that exists now. It's not always about the public image portrayed, but how they were able to change the community with shared knowledge, and Hash Church Sundays were a big part of that for me. While I don't prefer heated, aged hash or temple balls per se, Frenchy Cannoli deserves credit both for his part in the creation of the Delta Separations VTS-50, a machine dedicated to making hash with his particular quality goals in mind, and for contributing to the artistry of and appreciation for hash culture. NA: My top three are Simpson Solventless, Rosin Ryan and Jungle Boys. Ahti Hash and Polar Ice extracts are also role models for quality right now. HW: Thanks so much, gentlemen. Keep it hashy! Enjoy the Guest Spot? Do you have something to contribute? We just might need a Hashwriter in each legal state. Or, I can dream anyways. If you have a story, information, a topic, or your own article don't hesitate to reach out! 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A Glimpse of Hashin in the Windy City State