Most of us have probably seen a sommelier in action. We watch from the restaurant as he stands behind the bar, sniffing bottles of wine, nodding his head, and speaking in a British accent (even though we’re pretty sure he’s from Delaware). In fact, sommeliers and vino go hand in hand, as if the job is fermented solely in the alcohol industry. But wine doesn’t have to have you at Merlot in order for you to grab this occupational title. As the marijuana industry continues to grow, new jobs arise: ergo, ladies and gentlemen, the cannabis sommelier.
What is a Cannabis Sommelier?
Just like with wine, a cannabis sommelier is essentially a connoisseur of cannabis – an expert in pot, someone who’s dated Mary Jane for years. Using their senses (taste, smell, touch, etc.) a sommelier is employed to review and rate seeds and strains.
While not a common job title – at any given party, you’re typically more likely to run into a rocket scientist – it is an up-and-coming occupation. This is particularly true in places where recreational marijuana is legal in the US (Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and the District of Columbia….so far).
Cannabis sommeliers are much more common, and longer tenured, across the pond (here’s looking at you, Amsterdam).
Many cannabis sommeliers work at specific dispensaries, their expertise put to use as they help people find exactly what they’re in search of. For businesses, employing this type of connoisseur is a perk: people are much more likely to visit pot shops where the workers are knowledgeable and thorough than they are ones where the kid behind the counter shrugs his shoulders at the first mention of linalool.
Cannabis sommeliers work behind the scenes too – in the growth phase. Just as wine sommeliers pick the best vintages of grapes, those in the marijuana industry pay close attention to the seeds. They are employed at various cannabis competitions around the globe as well, often acting as judges. And some work online, offering tips of the trade and how-to videos through the World Wide Web of weed.
What Skills Are Involved?
The most important thing a cannabis sommelier must be is experienced in the industry. Yet, this goes well beyond the average pot user. Having smoked so much grass in college that all your friends called you “Couch Cushion Chet” isn’t enough: you must understand the science as well. And, of course, you must be able to use your senses.
Taste: Cannabis sommeliers use their sense of taste to differentiate between strains. As most of us know, different types of seeds express different flavors, from citrus to oak, from mint to fruit, from lemon to roadkill skunk. This task is similar to wine sommeliers, who use their sense of taste to pick out the distinct flavors among grapes grown in different soils, under different circumstances, in different vineyards.
Smell: A good cannabis sommelier also knows how to distinguish the aromas of different strains. What’s more, they know what type of high each strain elicits. Some highs are relaxing, allowing you to chill out and veg, others are stimulating, and great for creativity or cleaning out your attic or talking to your mother-in-law on Skype. Strains with flowers that give off a salty smell typically result in harsher smokes, making them not ideal for the nugget novice.
The terpene content of marijuana plays a role too. The smell of a particular strain gets its aroma from its specific terpenes, compounds responsible for the fragrance of plants (not just cannabis, but things like broccoli, lavender, and oranges). These molecules dictate how the marijuana effects your body, both the physiological and psychoactive changes. But they also have a hand in health. Different terpenes offer different advantages, from easing depression to fighting inflammation, from boosting immunity to even battling cancer.
Appearance and Feel: The way a marijuana plant looks says a lot about its vitality. Strains that are hale and well are vibrant and green with ripe flowers and strong structures. They’re also void of insects. Those weak and languid look like something from Charlie Brown’s grow house, the teacher wah-wah-wahing in the background.
Specific strains also demonstrate individual characteristics: sativas have more spacing between branch nodes, while indica’s possess flowers that aren’t as airy.
A cannabis sommelier not only rates a plant by how it looks but also how it feels to the touch. Density and moisture, for example, influence potency: denser trichome coverage – trichomes are the tiny hairs on the epidermis of a plant – is usually related to a higher THC level.
How do Cannabis Sommeliers Get their Jobs?
Some cannabis sommeliers fall into their job titles. They’re more knowledgeable than the average budtender – marijuana, in short, is their passion, their love, their BFF. They’ve been around it for so long that they’ve accrued enough knowledge and knowhow to call themselves experts (and they actually mean it).
Other people pursue certification. Because the industry is new, this is harder to obtain. Unlike wine certification, which is offered in person, online, through vineyards, and, probably somewhere, out of the trunk of someone’s car, cannabis classes are fewer and far between. Some institutes, such as the Trichome Institute in Denver, offers certification courses. Upon completion of the classes, you’re given a license to chill, so to speak.
The Cannabis Training Institute and the Cannabis Career Institute don’t appear to offer sommelier courses (or certifications), but they do offer many classes in regards to learning the leaf.
As demand for cannabis sommeliers increases, the opportunity for certification and education will increase as well. That is, after all, how the world works. Just think, a huge percentage of the computer jobs that exist today didn’t exist ten years ago simply because the need wasn’t yet apparent. Few people had smartphones, no one had iPads, and everyone’s broadband was so slow we couldn’t even get on Facebook. We could only get on Friendster.