Science-based Scoring Attracted Quality Competitors to High THC Category of The G.O.A.T. Cup
The G.O.A.T. Cup attracted the best growers in Oregon to compete by creating a competition where the scores were science-based and by using an industry-leading laboratory to supply consistent test results. This design brought experienced growers whose focus was traditionally on issues such as genetics and process to a competition that could show the effectiveness of their methods. Using data to drive the G.O.A.T. cup results brought many exceptional growers to the competition that normally wouldn’t participate in them.
While many cannabis cups are primarily focused on the experiential and thus more subjective aspects of cannabis, the G.O.A.T. Cup’s scoring was largely determined by blind, duplicate (and sometimes triplicate) test results. ChemHistory, a trusted cannabis testing laboratory known for its exacting QA / QC processes, performed and compiled the test results for the G.O.A.T. Cup. In addition to being ORELEAP certified, ChemHistory is one of only six labs in the country that have been accredited by Leafly.
The science-focused design supports the overall mission of the G.O.A.T. Cup, which is to create a level playing field to can highlight and promote the best growers in Oregon’s cannabis industry. Alex Hoggan, CEO of ChemHistory explained, “Oregon’s got some of the best growers in the world, and they get overlooked because everyone is trying to chase this high THC number.” To show off a variety of cannabis and to give as large of a stage as possible to the talented growers, entry into the G.O.A.T. Cup allowed competitors to compete across several different tiers of potency for indoor growers, a tier for outdoor, one for hemp, in addition to strain-focused competitions.
For all of these competitions, 70% of participant’s scores were based on THC potency and terpenes. To ensure accuracy and consistency of results, THC potency was tested in triplicate, terpenes were tested in duplicate, and kiefed batches were disqualified. Once testing was complete, the remaining 30% of the score was split — 20% was calculated based on presentation, trichomes, trim, and aroma — and the remaining 10% was based on voting.
Shango — the growers of the exceptional Alien Banana Candy, which was the First Place winner of the High Range THC category with a mind-bending 35.45% THC and 3.05% terpenes, doesn’t traditionally participate in a lot of competitions. “We haven’t entered a lot of competitions, we’ve kept our energies on growing and cultivation. We’ve been so laser-focused on the garden and genetics that we just don’t have time,” Shango’s Director of Cultivation, Shane McKee explained. “While the recognition is nice from the cups, we are looking to please the consumer. We didn’t even specialize how they sampled for the G.O.A.T. Cup, the guys picked some of the buds straight out of the bags.”
The G.O.A.T. Cup organizers expended a lot of effort to ensure biases were removed throughout the judging process. Not only were the test results blind, but the competition was also judged by the growers, and not just by passionate consumers. The competition was designed to eliminate as many biases as possible, giving only the THC result range as an information point on the judge’s jars, as there was concern that even giving the testing results would be enough to bias the judges. Alex said, “Ironically they didn’t even know their strain because it was blind, it was interesting to see how they didn’t notice their own product for some of them.”
Storm Cannabis, growers of Judge’s Choice Banana Sundae in the High Range and winners of the Strain Competition in the Mid Range for their Deadhead OG, was attracted by the science-driven nature of the competition coupled with ChemHistory’s solid reputation and exacting process. Patrick Sprout, Storm Cannabis’ said, “When the G.O.A.T. cup came around we were really big on ChemHistory — their practices are top-notch. They are at the forefront trying to test for flavonoids and alcohols, we are all just scratching the surface of what’s in this plant. ChemHistory is testing for more cannabinoids than other labs as well, and we always get the maximum testing we can. We liked the science-based design of the G.O.A.T. Cup — Things like, the judges didn’t know what farms they were doing, the lab results were done in triplicate, and really striving for accuracy. I liked how the judging was set up to take biases out of the judging process.”
Storm Cannabis has also integrated testing results into its processes. “ We’re constantly trying to evolve and improve. Testing is part of that — as we change practices, we get different terpene expressions in the plant. Some of what we are doing now is drawing out farnesene in almost everything, in varying degrees…We look back on what we fed and try to implement that into future runs.” Storm Cannabis’s 12 person craft cannabis operation has its grow team interact with all of its plants daily. Unlike other operations that automate pieces of their watering and feeding cycles, Storm relies on the observation skills of their staff to help determine watering and nutrient needs.
Shango’s focus is on genetics in addition to maximizing the potential of its space. “We are still trying to maximize labor and making a more user-friendly workspace. Rent is expensive — we want to use as little power as possible. We are always doing R&D!” Part of Shango’s ability to maximize its return on its space hinges on Shane McKee’s extensive cannabis experience. “I started with cannabis as a young adult, and I immediately fell in love with the plant. In my late teens, I started growing and fell in love with the plant and how I could manipulate it and get it to perform better. At that point, I’d done a lot of construction in designing and building grow rooms. I was constantly trying to find the best system and was making changes and tweaks to what I was building for other people. Then I opened garden supply stores in several states and that made me think more about usable spaces that could cut labor costs and how to make it more sustainable, different nutrient regiments — how I could keep the cost of goods down but continue to create the boutique product. It’s a constant learning process.”
While Patrick Sprout didn’t initially plan on a career in cannabis, as soon as he started working with the plant, a passion grew. “I never intended to get into the cannabis industry — I was a credit analyst for CitiBank, and in 2008, I lost my job. Originally I was a philosophy major, so I went back to school for horticulture. I wanted to grow flowers because I love flowers and my grandfather grew them. I want a career to be fulfilling and I want to be happy to go to work every day. So, I started growing gladiolas commercially at my place in NC, and that was fun, but I got this random job offer to go work in Rhode Island and help them grow cannabis, and I’ve never done anything since.”
Perhaps it is their obsession with growing the best cannabis for their space, or with the plant itself, but both growers are emphatic that freshness and terpene-preserving storage methods are critical to the quality of the cannabis — so if you are looking to sample the product of these winners, it’s best to buy it as fresh as possible. Patrick, who prizes terpene results over cannabinoid results, observed, “the curing practices that have been in cannabis for so long are not beneficial to the product. Like vegetables, I am starting to believe the fresher it is, the better it is — it’s hard to go against those traditions in cannabis growing, before there was science and before we were doing it on a large enough scale to know.” Shane agreed, “At our dispensary we prepackage, it comes straight out of the garden and gets sealed tight. Terpenes are very volatile and are the first thing to go out of your flower.”
As the science around cannabis grows, The G.O.A.T. Cup’s organizers have plans to grow the cup as well. The inaugural year’s competition was impacted heavily by COVID-19, but since the competition is bi-annual, there will be plenty of time for growers and fans alike to prepare for the next round. If anyone is skeptical about the science-based approach that the G.O.A.T. Cup uses, all one has to do to validate those methods is to seek the exceptional flower that won the categories. The proof is in the product!
Also published by author at Oregon Cannabis Gazette.