Among the all the reckonings Canada’s first wave of licensed cannabis producers have undergone, it’s easy to forget there are some who have been doing it right since day one.
Broken Coast, based in Duncan, B.C., was the fourth LP in the country to get licensed.
But while the majority of its early-to-market peers raced to maximize capacity, the grassroots Vancouver Island doubled down on what it knew: Expert growers equipped with familiar, kitted-out indoor environments can cultivate some excellent B.C. bud.
The small team of forward-thinking individuals onboarded that growing expertise early on, with the hire of Broken Coast’s head grower, Kevin Anderson.
Though starting with a focused clientele of registered patients, the producer caught the eye of big capital ahead of Canada’s recreational market. Broken Coast was bought by Aphria Inc. (TSX: APHA) in January 2018 for $230 million.
However, the massive company decided to let Broken Coast to continue its operations independently, retaining its leadership and staff. That decision looks even wiser in retrospect, as the B.C. producer remains a gem in Aphria’s hit-and-miss catalogue of brands.
According to Anderson, whose expanded facility now employs a team of 14 growers, their recipe for success is unchanged: a non-compromising commitment to quality from day one.
In our conversation, Anderson speaks on why he was ahead of the curve on quality, how his new Pipe Dream cultivar made the cut, as well as why letting customers see and smell weed could curb the legal market’s obsession with THC percentages.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Obviously, we’ve seen all these huge shifts in the industry. But from your perspective, have things really changed for you? Or have you just kept doing the same thing, more or less?
I mean, things change in certain ways. But with regards to growing, we’ve just been focused on quality the whole time. So nothing’s really changed there. We just keep trying to grow the best we can. The facility’s a lot larger than it was, so there’s been some challenges there.
But I think we’ve really managed to dial it in, and smooth out all the kinks that happened with scaling up a little bit. I’m super happy with how things are looking right now.
Briefly, what’s your history with growing weed? And then how did you get involved with Broken Coast to begin with?
I’ve got a pretty long history with growing weed. Maybe we’ll just leave it at that.
And then how I got involved with Broken Coast is that I’d spent some time on Gabriola Island. There’s a pretty big weed growing scene there. I had previously met John Moeller and Dean Kauwell, who are the original founders of Broken Coast. Through friends of friends, we had a friend group that was the same, and a lot of us involved in cannabis growing.
I had a very good reputation for growing the best weed, and they were growing under a medical licence here in Duncan. Then they got the LP licence from Health Canada, but knew that if they were going to step things up, their product needed to be the best and they needed an actual grower.
Because I had a very good reputation, they approached me. They looked at some of the product I was producing, and thought it looked like really, really high quality cannabis. So we chatted about it, and they gave me the opportunity to be the head grower here, which I jumped on because I could see that there was real potential.
I knew there was a long way to go from the facility where we were at the time in 2014 to where we are now. But yeah, I just I grabbed it with both hands, and I’ve just been focused and dedicated to it ever since, basically.
It seems like a lot of care was put in at the get go with Broken Coast. At least from my perspective, it seems like Broken Coast was ahead of the curve: how the packaging was dialed-in, the nitrogen seal, the hand trimming and even the price point. A lot of brands in that same category tried for the $50-plus, but then came down to the $40-plus range. I’m just curious about all the thought that went into things when it was first starting out, and what sort of play you had in that.
My philosophy was just to never back down on quality. I was always pushing for no corners being cut. At whatever cost it took, to do everything the best we could and produce the highest quality cannabis we could.
That’s why we hand trimmed from day one. I just said there’s no way that we should compromise the quality at all. And I think it was the right thing to do. I think the market wanted high-quality cannabis. I think a lot of people want high-quality cannabis. That was really what stood out for Broken Coast was that we did everything the best we could and didn’t just focus on trying to make it as cheap as we could. It was all about quality. And it still is.
Because there was a medical focus at the beginning, did that factor in as well?
We tried to have a spread of genetics that covered all the bases for different people. We were trying to grow CBD product for people at the time. And we did for a while, but we actually found that it didn’t sell particularly well. And having such a limited space here we focused on higher-THC varieties.
One of the things we did is we didn’t register too many patients at the start. We didn’t want people to not be able to buy products. We didn’t want to be selling out of things. So we kept our patient registry quite small, which I think was the right thing to do. It probably gave us a good reputation in people’s minds that we were doing the right thing by them.
There’s a lot of variance in the approaches that growers take to cultivating cannabis. From your perspective, what are the key elements of your growing philosophy? How does those play into how you how you set up the structure of the grow operations at Broken Coast and how you tinker things to make sure everything’s right?
There are a lot of different ways to grow cannabis. Everybody has their opinion, and maybe there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
But for me, I’ve always liked growing sea-of-green style because it produces the highest amount of top buds — you get the largest amount high-quality large buds.
I’ve always preferred growing in an indoor environment, a fully controlled environment, because you can really supercharge the plants. So I’ve just always been focused on on that way of growing and I think it’s worked for us. It’s an efficient way of growing but still produces a very high-quality product.
We’re a business so we need to have that kind of predictability and that turnaround, so I think it also gives you the ability to manage the grow in a way that works and can function in the legal market where you have commitments to various entities.
There are a lot of pressures on those like to get those THC numbers as high as possible. But I’ve noticed that isn’t guiding your product direction. It’s always super fresh. It’s always caked with trichomes and it always looks amazing. But the emphasis doesn’t seem to be on those numbers, if you could comment on that.
I mean, I definitely don’t focus solely on high THC. I personally believe that it’s much more important to have a good flavor, or a nice-smelling product that looks really good. It needs to have a fairly high level of THC just to make it sell, but it’s not the only focus for me.
The most important thing to focus on, for me, is flavor. I when I smoke weed, I want it to taste not just like some generic weed. I want it to have something unique about the flavor. I want it to be an enjoyable experience. And that doesn’t mean it needs to be 23 per cent THC.
I smoke lots of 23 per cent THC stuff that’s honestly quite bland. And if you’re only after getting blasted, then you may as well just smoke an extract of some kind if that’s really what you’re after. If you want to enjoy the experience, maybe you smoke something that’s 19% THC, but has great flavor, and then you can smoke the whole joint anyway.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of things that are driving that. The buying experience drives it up because people walk into a store and they can’t look at, smell or touch the product. They can only pick it based on the name and the THC number.
If you went into a store and there was jars of product, you got to look at them, smell them and actually buy the bud you just looked at, that would change people’s buying habits. They would buy based on something that looked and smelled great over just having nothing to go on.
Could you briefly go over the testing and decision-making process that goes into bringing a new cultivar to market and then specifically how Pipe Dream made the cut?
We basically just grow a lot of seeds here. We have a limited space, but we’re growing as many seeds as we can and flowering those seeds out. Anything that looks promising we’ll then harvest, dry and trim it.
From there, we have lots of different bags of weed. Myself, the other growers and various other people in the facility look at the product, touch the product, smell the product, talk about it and decide on the one we really like. Then we get those tested to see the cannabinoid and terpene contents.
Maybe we’ll grow them again, the finalists, and again we’ll have bags of product and we’ll just smell it.
It’s just it’s always a fun time here when there’s a test room harvest because we have 50 different bags of weed and we’ll be touching it and smelling it and talking about it and we do that until we decide that there’s one that really stands out, that everybody really loves. Then that will probably get put into a flower room to at least try to grow a few plants of it.
If it really ticks all the boxes with regard to the product quality and from a growing standpoint that it grows nicely, then we’ll go with it and that’s basically what happened with the Pipe Dream.
I think we did about a year’s worth of test crops and we found lots of nice-looking product with high cannabinoid content, but nothing had that something special. But the Pipe Dream really stood out. It has a wonderful gassy, spicy flavor which I really like. It’s got fairly high THC content in the low 20s and the terpene content is also kind of high at 2.5–3.5 per cent. It ticked all the boxes and that’s what we’re looking for basically.
From Broken Coast, I’ve tried the Saturna (Muskmelon OG), Quadra (Headstash) and Stryker (Star Killer). Just for my own for my own self indulgence here, I loved the Stryker. It’s one of the best products I’ve had. So I’m wondering: was there something special going on with the Stryker? And is there a chance it will come back to market?
There’s absolutely a chance it might come back because you’re not the only person to have said to me how much they liked that product. I mean, it’s always really difficult because we can only grow a limited number of cultivars here because of our space. We have to make a decision, but that doesn’t mean the decision is final.
If we cut a product and we keep hearing people wanting it then there’s definitely room to bring that product back. And I must say that the Star Killer is right at the top of that list because I’ve definitely heard a lot of people say how much they liked it. And I really like it too.
It has that has a really dark, dank, earthy kind of smell and flavor to it, which is really, really good. So you may well see that again in the future.
So, what’s on the horizon? What should we looking out for from Broken Coast?
We’re gonna have at least a few different varieties come out this year. There’s the Sunset Sherbert, which I’m really happy about. I think it’s one of the nicest looking and smelling plants I’ve ever grown.
And then we have an Amnesia Haze that we’re going to bring out too, to fill the sativa gap. It’s got this beautiful, sweet lemony smell to it, which is really nice. We used to grow the Lemon Haze a lot, which is a real favorite of mine, but the cannabinoid content is a little low, so it didn’t sell so well, but I really loved that lemon flavor. So I’m really happy that we have the Amnesia that’s, in my opinion, even more lemony, sweet and delicious, but has that 20-plus per cent THC content.
Then we have the Kush Mints, which I’m really stoked for. It has a really pretty white-frosted flower and really high cannabinoid content. The initial testing has been all 25 per cent-ish.
Did you say you tried the Pipe Dream?
I did. I tried the Pipe Dream. It ticks the same marks I’m used to with Broken Coast. The buds are super nice and it smells great. But for me, I tend to skew more on the indica side. Not to lay back on these terms that are almost a taboo now in the industry. I realize the effects aren’t as linear as we’ve been told over the years, but that being said, I do sway a little bit more to the sedative-type weeds — the heavier, danker side, so the Pipe Dream was a little on the more active side than I usually go for. Other than the quality was great but not the not the type of weed I would usually go for. It’s exactly like you said: it’s got that gassy, kind-of spicy flavor that’s also very apparent in the nose.
Flavor is really what it’s all about for me. I mean, if it just tastes like any other generic weed, we’ve lost the point. It can look pretty, but if it just tastes whatever, who cares? It’s got to have something unique about the way it tastes. That’s one of the main reasons that we chose Pipe Dream.
Not to get too speculative here, but are you part of the camp that thinks terpenes and flavonoids are at play when it comes to the experience of the weed and the stone that you get?
I go back and forth. Because sometimes I think no, and then I’ll smoke something like the Amnesia Haze, or the Pie in the Sky, where they have a very distinctive citrus to them. And think, like, this is so much more daytime weed.
Maybe I’m just not that sensitive to it, but I think on the extreme ends, I do think there is a big difference between something that makes you feel really energized and something that makes you feel sedated.
So yeah, I’m not so sure it’s as clear cut as indica and sativa, but there’s definitely something going on there. I think on the extreme ends, like you say, the Star Killer was very, very heavy.