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Shishkaberry (Zen Berry), produced by Sundial9 min read

Breeder Steve’s Shishkaberry is used in name by Sundial for this copy of the cannabis classic. Although good, it only seems to create an appetite for the authentic version.

If you’ve never walked Canal Street in New York, please allow me to describe it to you. The street bursts with the infinite character of NYC, a hot centre in the cultural melting pot that is this city. The street bisects Lower Manhattan from Tribeca, and ends at the Lower East Side, where the mixed use density is greatest. Canal is alive with bustling merchants and active consumers. It’s not uncommon to hear a rhythmic crescendo of running footsteps behind you, before they pass by, only to be heard again in duplicate from the NYPD giving chase.

Canal and Broadway, NYC

Canal is a merchant district with cheap products shown on the surface, misdirecting from the massive ocean of counterfeit products available beneath. Customers entering the small stores lining the block are evaluated by store owners before they are brought through a false wall to a back room to view a plethora of choice in counterfeit merchandise. Purses, watches, shoes, clothing, fragrance, really anything you can imagine; all high-fashion counterfeits, available for a fraction of their retail prices.

Canal separates counterfeits by a false wall, intuition and a bit of Artful Dodging . We have the same thing going on in legal Canadian cannabis, but there is no separation. No way to tell the difference between counterfeits and the real stuff. Those involved either don’t know, or don’t care. Many cultivars are renamed partially or fully. As a consumer, it makes it really difficult to know what you’re buying.

If you’re not familiar, Breeder Steve is the man behind Spice of Life seeds, who bred the Shishkaberry. A cultivar so popular before my time, it still reverberates in derivatives and counterfeits but cannot be purchased in seed form from Spice of Life. Shishkaberry continues to be popular in Canada, 6 licensed producers have offered the Shishkaberry at one point in time at a historical average of $8.79 per gram. The maximum price observed is $12.50 per gram from Zenabis, the minimum price observed is $6.50 per gram from RedeCan.

I admire Steve from afar, his contributions to cannabis seem largely uncelebrated, and as such, entirely unquantifiable. Many times I’ve been pouring over some procedure outlined on a cannabis message board or researching an article and realize it was either written by or about Steve. Whatever your experience with him is, fully knowing Canadian cannabis requires knowledge of the pathway that Spice of Life created.

Since legalization, my learning about the culture of cannabis in Canada has been mostly positive, new characters emerged, new offerings and new information. Knowledge of the culture manifested a transparency I’d never seen before, which also shed light on some of the negative aspects as well, the one we discuss here is plagiarism. Many breeders are plagiaristic, but none have broken my heart more than my former favourite, Barney’s Farms. They’ve ripped off many cultivars, we’ll be discussing one of their most recent exploits today, Shishkaberry (note Barney’s have dropped the 2nd H).

Barney’s Farm has trademarked cultivars originally associated to many breeders, some have been renamed. I once saw them as a house of creation, but I’m pretty shocked by some of their latest offerings. Many Canadian LPs sell Barney’s wares, and I’ll leave you to decide how you feel about it. I tend to be contentious about genetics like these, which is a bias of mine. Check out my review of Organigram Critical Kush for an example, it reads like it’s written by someone who’s upset that their Mom didn’t buy the right kind of cereal.

Now let’s turn the light to Sundial Growers, and their offering of Shishkaberry, which they have renamed to Zen Berry. After a few calls, I talked to someone at Sundial, they said this cultivar comes from WeedMD. The customer service agent at Sundial also mentioned that the terpene composition they found in testing wasn’t entirely suggestive of the actual Shishkaberry, so they renamed it, to Zen Berry. I called over to WeedMD twice, but they were not available for a chat. Browsing the WeedMD website, I found they are associated with a tech company called BlockStrain. Although the name sounds like a constipation drug, its actually a genetic sequencing tool that looks like it might help with all the issues we’re discussing here. Regardless, I still cannot determine the true source of this ‘Shishkaberry’.

Seedfinder lists a few offerings of Shishkaberry, not including Barney’s and S.O.L, there are Shishkaberries from the spanish breeder Zoo (same only in name) and Canadian breeder Ustad, who notes their version is derived from the original S.O.L. cultivar.

We proceed into the Shishkaberry review without knowing the breeder, the only vast certainty is that this didn’t come directly from the true source, Spice of Life. As such, this experience is somewhat hollow and devoid of any real sentiment. Worst case, we’re reviewing the Barney’s rip-off (which I tend to doubt, due to chronological reasons).

Shishkaberry is listed as an Afghan indica on Seedfinder, however, I can find multiple sources which include Blueberry in the genetics. Here is a link to Breeder Steve’s video description, which you can take to the bank and cash. The video is a must watch and even touches on another Canadian classic, the M-39.

Talking about the Sundial version specifically, the structure of the flowers surprises somewhat. Because of the Afghani, there is an expectation of smaller, rounded buds but the ones I received in my 3.5g container were more longitudinal and hybrid-like in morphology. Buds are left a bit leafier and there is about 0.5g of shake/trim included, or 14% of the total contents of the container.

Consistency is very dry, buds can be crushed with little force and friction. Lacks the nerfy internals of premium cannabis character. Grinds to a fine powered mix. I’ve looked at it very closely, happy to say it lacks seeds or pericarp as seen in other offerings as of late. I rolled the flower in a Raw Black paper, smoked ok, not great.

The Shishkaberry buds smell parabolic blue, meaning it’s not harmonious, more melodic. Interpreting as bright and deep blues, up and down in a sinusoidal pattern. In a vaporizer, the taste is wonderful, rolling blueberry, alternating between sweet and puckered. A bright delight, never dank or earthy, it oscillates from sweet to sour, playing like an accordion in blue hues. Enjoyable like a cover band, this Shishkaberry performs well but you can’t help but feel a lack of authenticity.

Finally, this Shishkaberry was $10.28 per gram for 3.5 grams at the Alberta Cannabis store, you cannot buy it in single grams yet. This price is about 35% higher than Redecan’s price and about 18% lower than Zenabis. Recommending it seems to me like recommending you read Oliver Twist by Donald Trump, I’d probably rather recommend holding out for the real thing. In terms of authentic cultivars, you have a wealth available to you in the Paradise line, our market is full of them, we just saw a good one from Acreage Pharms. Tweed’s DNA line offers a genuine path across some very worthwhile cultivars. Those are just two choices but others have also done the work to bring new cultivars to the market. I’d prompt you to discover them.

Sundial’s Zen Berry (or Shishkaberry) is just ok, beats the worst, but doesn’t come close to the best, not by a long shot. These are the $100 gram people, which I await with great excitement.

The difference between 3 grams a day at $7 and $18 is the near yearly tuition for a STEM undergrad, buying a Gucci purse every 2 months, or the payment on an older Porsche. Sundial has a marketing plan built on the basis of redefining ‘strain names’, and some parallels they’ve suggested cannabis has with liquor pricing and tobacco awareness. We’ll wait and see, but, they may want to put some work into getting the $10 gram right before rolling out the $100 gram.

I’ll also mention here that this Shishkaberry is sold under Sundial’s ‘Calm’ series. I choose never to discuss my perception on a cultivar’s effects in these reviews. Terpene composition matters for effect, sure, but not as much as whether you’ve eaten properly that day, drank enough water or had enough sleep. The body’s response to a narcotic is often situationally based as well, especially if you are outside your comfort zone. To translate efficacy to you, the reader, I’d be better off to tell you where I used this cannabis and whether I ate an apple right before, not the cultivar name or the plant’s taxonomic classification (Sativa/Indica). Again, I think terpenes do matter, but mostly for individual perception. Not everybody sees blue the same way, not everyone tastes Limonene the same way.

These market messaging techniques like ‘Calm’ and ‘Spark’ are just that, marketing. Messaging like this targets new cannabis users, likely banking on their purchasing power, not buying frequency. The existing 20% that consumes 80% of the product will likely reject the $100 ‘Ease’ gram, but this group may quickly become the traditional minority as new cannabis users become the dominant purchasing group. Sundial may be hoping to attract new consumers who may accept the $100 gram, which might work for a while at least. I’m not sure how they will raise the price that high without providing a similar increase in quality or buyer experience, which includes the cultivar’s backstory, as defined by the breeder and ‘strain name’…. Which is exactly what brought me to purchase this Shishkaberry.

On the Cartesian plane of price versus quality, I think we reach the asymptote around $20 in a free retail market for dried flower. There is a point where the increase in quality doesn’t reflect the extra money spent. Plus hash, live resin and rosin exists, often below the $100 price point.

Anyways, here’s my final thoughts on the $100 gram. I can think of only 1 cultivar that I would ever pay $100 per one gram for. One only. And I would only do it once, just to try it. And only if it was produced by a capable grower who could really bring out the character of the flower.

There is an heirloom sativa that grows stringy branches with dense, but very, very small buds that the breeder says reeks of lemon and sumac. The flower time is long and the yield is pathetically low (around 25% of average by area). Growing it would be a labor of love, would definitely require some expertise and I expect the cost would reflect this. What is the cultivar? It is named for Dr. Lester Grinspoon, and is called as such, Dr. Grinspoon (some know it as Quaze). Who has it? Barney’s Farm.

Please join me tomorrow, we’ll look at the contents within two Organigram pre-rolls under a macro lens and compare what we find against a variety of ground cannabis flower from several licensed producers. Thanks for reading!

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