The summer of 2019 might be the best time ever to be a cannabis lover.
Ten states have recreational cannabis legalization, and Illinois should join them later this week. Thousands upon thousands of varieties of cannabis await shoppers, and the flower is purer and more potent than ever before.
Josh Del Rosso, cultivator, Josh D Farms
Plus, the pace of innovation is accelerating. Last year’s hot strains are getting outshined by new crosses. Just like in the fashion industry, powerful consumer trends are forcing growers to adapt or go broke.
“When we as consumers had ten core choices for decades, any new strain was exciting,” said Jake Browne, Denver-based cannabis critic and co-founder of The Grow-Off cultivation competition. “But now, if you’re not constantly innovating, you are chasing better breeders.”
Adult-use laws, lab testing, and investment capital have supercharged competition, said Santa Barbara, California-based grower Josh Del Rosso, popularizer of OG Kush, and operator of Josh D Farms.
“Just like with tricks in motocross—for a while we were just pulling basic tricks, and then all of a sudden a couple people came out and started doing triple backflips,” he said. “Right now, the breeding is off the hook, there’s just so much good stuff out there.”
We might be living in the peak of a golden era for cannabis—a sweet spot between prohibition and corporate consolidation, said Jeremy Plumb, director of production science for Pruf Cultivar in Portland, Oregon. “You are in the greatest period of all time for the diversity of this plant,” Plumb said.
Here at Leafly, we combined quantitative data from in-house and external sources with the qualitative experience of live reporting, shopping, and sampling in the US’ legal markets—plus our own editorial discretion—to come up with the top strains you’ll find in stores this summer.
Here’s where the heat is.
Dense, colorful, icy, fragrant, potent—these five adjectives best describe the hot strains of the summer of 2019, especially Sundae Driver. This happy yet sedative cross of FPOG (Fruity Pebbles OG) and Grape Pie contains flavors from its ancestors—OG Kush, Granddaddy Purple, Green Crack, Cherry Pie, and Grape Stomper. Consumers love this creamy, berry analog to Gelato, Leafly’s strain of 2018.
Sundae Driver comes from Cannarado in Colorado. “At the end of the summer, we may look back and say, ‘Sundae Driver won’,” said Browne. “It’s a force of nature. Cannarado is crushing it.”
The banana smell and potency of Banana OG gives weight to Banana Punch from Symbiotic Genetics in California. This gorgeous cross improves on Purple Punch’s lackluster aroma and THC levels.
“Purple Punch? I call it ‘Instagram weed’—it looks gorgeous, but it has no value past the first purchase,” said Kevin Jodrey, cultivation director and owner of Wonderland Nursery in Garberville, California.
Higher levels of THC and the terpene ocimene rescue Banana Punch from Purple Punch’s fate, said Jodrey. Found in bananas, ocimene seems to increase the perception of how high you are, he said. “It’s really the ocimene terpene that gives you this, ‘sit down, I just got really high’ effect, and that’s what was missing from Purple Punch. There was no punch!”
NUG of Oakland, California, is pumping out premium indoor Banana Punch priced to move. “The already alluring grape Gatorade nose of Purple Punch is complimented well by the sweet-rot stank of the Banana,” said Max Lavine, B2B Manager for NUG Lab of Oakland, California. “That’s a hard proposition to pass up for most cannabis lovers I know. The popularity makes a lot of sense.”
The Cookies strain and branding craze of the past several years has become something bigger—an extended dessert strain epoch.
“Cookies hybrids are still representing the lion’s share of what is selling at a reasonable rate on the West Coast,” said Plumb. “It’s a testament to marketing genius, great storytelling, and great genetics.”
Ice Cream Cake sits among the newly minted royalty—a cross of Wedding Cake and Gelato #33, both descended from Cookies. Ice Cream Cake is icy and dark purple, with a creamy, burnt vanilla and sugar dough taste that leaves you happy and sleepy. Bred by Seed Junky Genetics, Ice Cream Cake vastly improves on Wedding Cake.
GMO Cookies—a.k.a. Garlic Cookies—comes from Divine Genetics and offers a pungent, acrid, top-shelf riff on the Cookies dynasty.
It’s a counterpoint to the sweet dessert brand names and flavors that some think are overhyped.
Jake Browne, Co-Founder, The Grow-Off
“[The Cookies naming convention] was such a hit that everyone is just stuck right now. It’s paralysis,” said Browne. “There’s a little bit of pushback with the garlic strains and ‘breath’ strains—either you are dessert, or you’re revolting now.”
“The GMO is as hot as could be,” said Browne. “It’s just trichome-riddled and super dark. It smells of coffee funk. It’s freaking wild.”
Found in Oregon via Pruf Cultivar, Tangie Biscotti’s parents are not public, and its breeder has passed away. Still, the strain’s dense beauty, citrus-forward aroma, and baked-cookie taste keep it on Pruf’s production lineup of just 16 strains.
In many ways, Tangie Biscotti offers the best of what’s happening in 2019 cannabis, marrying fruity forward notes of past icons like Tangie with the high potency and big finish of dessert strains.
Sometimes you’ve got to buck the status quo and seek out the weird diversity that the legal market offers. Running perpendicular to current fads is Fig Farms of Sonoma County, California, with their White Nectarine, a relaxing remix of heirloom genetics.
White Nectarine competes on bag appeal with the best Cookies cuts, but its nose and parentage are totally original. Genes from old school strains Romulan, Chemdog, Hash Plant, Afgoo, Blockhead, Green Crack, and Haze all circulate in White Nectarine—which conjures smells of stone fruit, caramel, hibiscus, and citrus.
If you’ve got the freshest Jordans, the newest iPhone, and a new Tesla, you might need Cereal Milk in your life.
The newest hype in strains, from rapper and Cookies marketing genius Berner, Cereal Milk tastes of sweet, baked carbohydrates, just like cereal milk ice cream, Berner told Leafly.
“It’s so strong, so sweet, and so good. I enjoy the shit out of it,” Berner said.
To make Cereal Milk, breeder Kenny Powers crossed The Y (a.k.a. Y Life, which itself is Cookies crossed with Cherry Pie) and Snowman, a sativa phenotype of Cookies. The Cookie Fam breeders selected the best phenotype for commercial production. You can see the lineage in Cereal Milk, which is dense, icy, and loud, with a very loopy, time-warping hybrid effect.
Berner’s brand Cookies has put Cereal Milk into limited production in California, where it can be found at Berner’s licensed Cookies stores near Los Angeles.
No summer would be complete without some OG Kush in your pipe. This summer, Rare Dankness’ Venom OG has broken out. A Venom cut won a Cannabis Cup in 2019, and major nursery Dark Heart is pumping out tens of thousands of clones of it.
Rare Dankness crossed Poison OG with Rare Dankness #1—yielding an easy-to-grow, bushy, gassy OG that turns a pretty purple. With happy, mildly sleepy effects, expect tons of Venom OG to be found on offer for competitive prices.
Blame Phish’s 2019 tour. Blame Dead and Company’s 2019 tour. Blame Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, but Chemdog is back, baby.
This classic cannabis strain gave the world Sour Diesel and set off the astringent, fuel-smelling regime of the ‘90s.
Nowadays, older smokers in adult-use markets seek out classic Chemdog for its straightforward nose and effect—that extremely biting aroma and a potent, cerebral high strapped to a heavy body buzz. “It isn’t overly complicated in its profile,” said Jodrey.
Plumb said that while variations abound, classic Chemdog is rich in the terpene myrcene and high in THC.
“I love it, it’s an amazing plant, it will never go away as a precursor to the Sours and OGs. Chemdog will always speak to the people it’s spoken to,” he said.
Lastly, no summer list would be complete without a shout-out to the Lemonnade strains spreading south from Washington into California and beyond. Lemonchello #10 offers a fruity first aroma, with enormous potency and a huge-bodied finish.
The grower and breeder Lumpy took Growing Passion’s Lemonnade and crossed it to Cookie Fam’s Cherry Pie to create Lemonchello.
The syrupy, citrus and tropical fruit explosion from the jar carries over into your grinder, as well as a joint or a bowl, then all the way through to the exhale. The bright, sunny, energetic effects conjure happiness without jitteriness. Commercial greenhouses full of Lemonchello are firing in the California hills.
“It’s stunning cannabis with excellent reviews that’s highly marketable and attractive, explosive in the mouth, and visually good. That’s a winner,” Jodrey said.
And that’s just a taste of the strains of summer of 2019. It was tough to stop at ten. But the best part of cannabis is you get to decide what rocks your world this summer, so get out there, taste it all, and review it on Leafly.