Contrary to what many folks might expect from a canna-company’s digs, walking into cannabis brand Huxton’s headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, feels more like paying a visit to some cool tech start-up: There’s no incense burning, nobody’s in tie-dye, and there’s not even a faintly skunky scent wafting through the air.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Huxton and its clean, modern aesthetic are light years ahead of those outdated notions of what a cannabisfocused business looks like. As we wave goodbye to “indica” or “sativa” in plastic baggies and jars, we pave the way for innovative new products like Huxton’s series-focused tins of flower and pre-rolls—labeled Rise, Hi-Fi, and Zen—as well as its premium, strain-specific flower that encourages Arizona’s medical cannabis patients to “Enjoy Proudly.”
What’s Your Bud Blend?
Huxton Co-Founder Dustin Johnson was motivated to start the family-owned and –operated company out of necessity when his mother fell ill. She subsequently sought medical cannabis as a treatment, and since then the company has taken a unique approach to giving cannabis patients and consumers products they not only want, but are specifically tailored to their needs.
“The number-one question we were being asked when buying flower was, ‘How is this going to make me feel?’” says Johnson, who found that terms like “indica” and “sativa” were confusing to many consumers. Not only that, they seemed increasingly meaningless in a market saturated with hybrids and complicated by the interplay of terpenes and cannabinoid ratios. “We spent about a year doing thousands of focus group studies of our genetics and then classified that information,” Johnson continues. “We found that there were three generally correct qualities in what makes a sativa—focused energy, some similar genetics, and more euphoria—while indicas were more cerebral with a more mellow, relaxed, and chill vibe.”
That research directly spawned the Huxton team’s strategy in creating its series of flower and vape pen blends; each is based on the feeling obtained from the blend, rather than being varietal or even flavor-based. “It is not always going to be the same exact blend, but it will be the genetics that express the essence of either Rise, Hi-Fi, or Zen,” Johnson says. “It is more of an effect-based focus, and it’s not always going to be the same exact cannabinoid format. Each batch is consistently produced but uniquely different.”
While Johnson explains that the blends can be likened to a winemaker who works with different grapes each harvest, he’s also quick to point out why it’s practical to go with an effect-based blend rather than specific genetics. “It’s for scalability,” he elaborates. “As we look to expand into other states, each state will have different source materials, genetics, water, et cetera. We’re providing a consistent experience no matter where you consume Huxton.”
Eat and Drink Your Experience
With an emphasis on how we individually experience cannabis, The Clever Root and Huxton joined forces to challenge some of Arizona’s top tastemakers. Each was encouraged to create pairings using the Huxton series, as well as their strain-specific, super-premium BLCK line. While the concept of pairing cannabis experiences with food and beverage is still relatively new, it’s not a completely foreign topic, according to Johnson. “You’re not drinking mimosas with a steak dinner on a Friday night, and you’re not having nice deep, rich Cab at the beach on Saturday at 1 p.m.,” he explains. “There’s a huge opportunity for the hospitality industry to start thinking about cannabis in terms of an event or experience, then creating pairings that reflect that.”
To put this theory to the test, we corralled our selected trio—Keifer Gilbert, Lead Bartender at Bitter & Twisted in Scottsdale; Micah Olson, Owner of Phoenix’s acclaimed eatery, Crudo; and Chef David Duarte, Executive Chef of Scottsdale’s Pane e Vino—and tasked them with conceiving their own personalized pairings with some help from Huxton. Here’s a rundown of what they came up with.
Cocktail Pairings by Keifer Gilbert
Lead Bartender, Bitter & Twisted
Our experiment was well-received by our first participant: “This is one of the coolest things I’ve done,” Keifer Gilbert tells The Clever Root. And coming from Gilbert, that’s a hefty compliment: As a recent inductee of the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame as the 2017 Mixologist of the Year, he’s no stranger to working his wizardry behind the stick. “Working with a product like the Huxton series gives me complete creative freedom,” he adds.
The Pairing: Huxton Rise with a cocktail featuring strawberry-infused Aperol, passionfruit syrup, lime juice, and a Champagne float.
Notes on the pairing: “I wanted to go with a low-ABV and refreshing easy-drinker—something you would sip on in the middle of the day,” Gilbert says. “Rise is a pick-me-up that gives you energy and focus, and this drink is very similar. It’s not super boozy; it’s not going to knock you out.” Johnson agreed, saying, “The drink is deliciously refreshing, and when accompanied with a Rise pre-roll, it felt like a solid way to ease into a Sunday brunch.”
The Pairing: Huxton Hi-Fi was paired with a cocktail featuring smoky mezcal, cantaloupe syrup, Bigallet China-China liqueur, Fresno chilis, and a dash of Laphroaig.
Notes on the Pairing: “This is the kind of drink that’s a starting point for a night out,” says Gilbert. “It’s the beginning of a story, and Hi-Fi feels that way to me too. So essence-wise, this is a very good match.” This pairing was also spot-on for Johnson. “This drink is like a jolt of energy, perfect to accompany a nice Hi-Fi bowl and some Led Zeppelin.”
The Pairing: The cocktail paired with Huxton Zen included Copper City Bourbon from Arizona Distilling Company, dark rum, Amaro Averna, and Amontillado Sherry.
Notes on the Pairing: “I really wanted to honor that Huxton is an Arizona company, and I love those homegrown vibes, so I used Arizona Distilling Company’s Copper City Bourbon to create your end-of-the-night drink,” Gilbert explains. “This drink and the Zen are the perfect way to let go of the day.” Johnson, himself a bourbon lover, called this pairing his “new go-to.”
Wine Pairings by Micah Olson
For Micah Olson, the collaboration with Huxton was the first time he’d created wine and cannabis pairings “in a semi-professional setting.” “I’ve done it at home, of course,” Olson says with a laugh. “Wines and cannabis are both great at creating a mood, and you can definitely achieve that with the Huxton strain-specific line. It’s no different than pairing food and wine, and I love that Huxton is pushing this and wants to see where this can go.”
The Pairing: Huxton BLCK Green Crack with Château Ducasse Bordeaux Blanc.
Notes on the Pairing: “Green Crack is a high sativa meant to get you going, and that always makes me think of lively acidity in a wine— something with a bit of brix that you can have during a high-energy part of the day,” Olson says. The brightness in the wine was a welcome match for Johnson, who commented that it balanced the “butterscotch sweetness of the Green Crack.”
The Pairing: Huxton Wonder Woman with Dos Cabezas Rosé.
Notes on the Pairing: “The Wonder Woman has some sweet tropical and flowery notes, a little berry and some citrus, and this is a straight-up flavor pairing. Both are lively and fresh with sweet berry notes,” explains Olson. “This really picked up on the lavender notes in our Wonder Woman,” agrees Johnson. “This might be a new favorite!”
The Pairing: Huxton BLCK Cannalope Haze with Tawny Port.
Notes on the Pairing: “This was inspired by a classic French dish called Melon au Porto, a cantaloupe cut in half and served with Port,” Olson says. “The flower has sweet, tropical notes, and the Tawny brings in some almond and nutmeg notes that also reminded me of a tiki drink.”
Food Pairings by David Duarte
Executive Chef, Pane e Vino
David Duarte may be a newcomer to working with cannabis, but to say he was inspired by this challenge would be an understatement. “Cannabis is an herb, plain and simple, and I used it like any other herb I would buy at the store,” Duarte says. “Flavor-wise, it adds a real earthy flavor to food, and there’s a lot to explore with this new ingredient. Working with cannabis is a chef’s dream because there are no rules: Sometimes you fall on your face, sometimes you knock it out of the park. But it’s cool to try something so new.”
The Pairing: Huxton Rise chimichurri with cod.
Notes on the Pairing: Duarte used a sous vide technique to create his own infused chimichurri, which topped a cod marinated with oregano, cilantro, and lime. “I’m an out-of-the-box thinker, and I love being able to make my own cannabis oils using classic cooking techniques,” he explains.
The Pairing: Huxton Zen with a 36-hour short rib and a smoked-carrot jam smear.
Notes on the Pairing: “For this dish, I created a sauce by cooking the cannabis in wine to release some of that smoky flavor, and added a bit of Xanthan gum for thickness,” Duarte says. “I used my smoking gun with the actual cannabis to make the smoked carrot jam, and it gave this dish that real smoke flavor you get from smoking cannabis.”
The Pairing: Huxton Hi-Fi with cannabis, mushroom, and truffle ravioli.
Notes on the Pairing: “I made a pasta dough by dehydrating and pulverizing the cannabis and putting it into the dough, which made it green. Then I soaked the cannabis in some low-fat milk overnight, strained it, and used that to create a parmesan cheese foam,” says Duarte.