One of Denver's most-popular cannabis bakeries has made a name for itself based on vertical integration and quality control.
In 2009, Sweet Grass, Denver, began its journey, producing freshly baked, cannabis-infused edibles. In 2013, the company decided to move closer toward vertical integration and started handling its own in-house cannabis cultivation, making it a “crop-to-cookie” business. Sweet Grass has also made a name for itself based on the quality of its slow-simmered, triple-strained, full-flower cannabis butter, or cannabutter, which goes into all of its desserts and baked treats like cookies and pies.
Today, the Sweet Grass product line has expanded to include microdose edibles, as well as CBD and distillate-infused treats. Sweet Grass products are distributed to 400 recreational and medical dispensaries throughout Colorado. Through it all, the company has worked to help ensure that consistency, safety and effect are standardized across all of its products.
The current product lineup at Sweet Grass Kitchen includes:
- Cookies—Peanut Butter with Chocolate Bits, Snickerdoodle, White Chocolate Chip Butter Pecan, Ginger Molasses and Chocolate Chip
- Brownie Bites
- Peanut Butter & Jelly cupcakes
- Seasonal pies
Sweet Grass also offers a Double Chocolate CBD Cookie (20:1 CBD/THC) and a 1:1 Chocolate Chip CBD Cookie. Fruit snacks, in flavors like Mixed Berry, Sour Apple and Tropical Fusion, as well as Mojito Mint buttermelts, are also available. Sweet Grass recreational products have THC levels of 2.5 mg, 5 mg or 10 mg per serving, while medicinal levels range from 65 mg to 100 mg per serving.
In order to get an inside look at current trends in bakery treats like cookies, the importance of quality cannabutter and more, we reached out to Lauren Finesilver, operations director and executive chef, and Jesse Burns, marketing director, at Sweet Grass.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: What do you see as the top flavor and ingredient trends in edibles?
Lauren Finesilver: Chocolate and peanut butter are very common flavor pairings with cannabis, and most companies continue to keep these as cores to their product lines. It is essential to use flavor profiles that complement the cannabis. We find that while consumers don’t want cannabis to be the overwhelming flavor in their edible, they do like to have a hint of it. At Sweet Grass, we’ve recently been experimenting with more florals and botanicals as we look for ways to add complexity to some of our products.
DJP: What other trends do you see?
Jesse Burns: CBD and microdose THC products are the biggest trends in cannabis and cannabis edibles right now. Retailers and manufacturers have realized that these categories of products are helping introduce new consumer segments (seniors and middle-aged women, specifically) to cannabis, effectively bringing them to the market. Opening up new consumer segments is very important currently in Colorado, and will be across the nation as markets mature.
DJP: How does ingredient selection impact the finished edibles?
JB: While CBD is currently enjoying a national spotlight in the wake of the most recent farm bill, we at Sweet Grass believe in the power of the “entourage effect”—meaning that small amounts of THC are needed to open the human body’s cannabinoid receptors and allow the desired CBD effects. Essentially, THC is needed to activate CBD. High-CBD, low-THC products, like our 20:1 (20 mg CBD to 1 mg THC) double chocolate cookies, are very popular in the Colorado recreational market right now. Our medical CBD products have a closer ratio, 1:1 generally. Full-spectrum CBD products are also becoming widely available, which captures not just CBD, but other cannabinoids like CBG and CBN, and more closely reflect the natural plant.
DJP: What are the challenges of creating microdose products?
LF: It’s crucial to know the potency of the cannabis input—cannabutter, distillate or oil—before formulating a recipe. After that, it’s as simple as converting milligrams to grams and grams to ounces to produce an accurate final potency profile for the product. A microdose of cannabinoids—considered 5 mg or less—will work for most baked products, but it’s important to consider the size and weight of the final product. While milligrams of cannabinoids are not yet fully intuitive to the general population, consumers understand that bigger most often means more, and smaller means less.
CBD can be added easily as a mix-in ingredient or a standalone infusion. It just depends on what type of cannabis input one is using in the formulation. Since Sweet Grass uses cannabutter in every baked good product, the formulations are simple, since there are no real ingredient changes; butter is a natural part of baking. When using isolates, distillates or oils to produce baked goods, it’s important to treat them as the mix-ins they are, and adjust the recipe accordingly.
DJP: How can cannabutter impact quality?
JB: In Colorado, the most-prominent baked goods companies all use cannabutter. As mentioned, it’s a natural part of the baking process. It is also the most-natural way for the human body to consume cannabis. The human body is quite accustomed to butter and processing it through the liver. That’s how the THC is absorbed into the body from a cannabutter product. Many companies are experimenting with water-soluble THC inputs (THC is naturally hydrophobic).
Sweet Grass recently launched sticks of cannabutter as a standalone product. We’ve identified the ingredient itself as a trend, part of a greater DIY movement, and are empowering at-home canna-chefs to create anything they want—from sweet to savory, indulgent to healthy. Consistency and potency are the most-important part of edibles in general, and the cannabutter sticks allow consumers to confidently create products with no-hassle, accurate dosing.
DJP: What’s the secret to good cannabutter?
LF: The key to consistent, quality cannabutter is the flower (cannabis) used to create it. Sweet Grass only uses full-flower (whole bud) cannabis to infuse butter, instead of trim, which is a waste product of manicuring cannabis flower for retail sale. Additionally, it’s essential to decarboxylate the flower to activate the THC, or else there will be none of the desired psychoactive effects. Sweet Grass also tests potency four times, at every step of the production process, with a licensed third-party lab, before any product hits the shelves. Lastly, it’s important to follow all food safety standards for cooking and cooling.
DJP: What are some key quality-control issues and challenges?
LF: Understanding the shelf life of your products is huge. Packaging regulations and requirements vary state to state at this time, so it’s important to think about the shelf life you are trying to achieve when making those decisions. Things like knowing the differences between food safety and food quality is key. Additionally, it’s important to understand water activity and how that affects the quality and shelf stability of the food being produced. As it is true with any manufacturing business, documenting all processes in standard operating procedures (SOPs) and following those repeatable guidelines is the best way to control consistency, quality and shelf stability.
DJP: What’s the future of this category?
JB: The future of cannabis and cannabis baked goods is global. The future is seniors, women, medicine—and one day at the corner bakery served with a cup of coffee. The future is the end of the stigma, societal intuition around cannabis, and normalization in everyday life. The future is bright and truly exciting!