AJ Sour Diesel: The Strain That Launched 1,000 Rifts
When weed is this good, it can make people behave badly.
While Sour Diesel seems to be everywhere, its true form is one of the rarest and most coveted strains in the world. The first variety of an incredible caliber, Diesel rocked New York City in the mid-'90s, shaping the high-end market we enjoy today. In a period described as a reverse gold rush, few entrepreneurs came out on top, while many lost everything. Leaving a wake of decimated relationships and thousands of counterfeit strains, Sour Diesel holds a dark history shaped by the envy of its power.
To get the whole story, The KIND spoke with AJ, the man responsible for keeping the real Sour Diesel alive, and an extremely knowledgeable player from New York serve scene who prefers to remain anonymous. We'll call him Frank.
“It’s called the Sour Diesel because it soured countless friendships, business relationships, and everything else,” says AJ via phone from a beach somewhere in California. “It was like a magical power. If you had it, people would do whatever you asked them to. But it was also an evil power, a lot of envy and jealousy surrounded it. There was nothing else like it. There still isn’t, but at the time there was nothing even close. People would throw each other off a cliff to get to it. Backstabbing and mind control went along with it. It was like the sword of Excalibur, people just couldn’t handle it.”
I moved to New York City in 2007 and was lucky enough to be introduced to the real Diesel shortly after arriving. Though coming from California, the assumed-mecca, this strain topped anything I’d experienced, especially in its air of reverence. At $50 a gram, an unfathomable price, I was only able to experience this luxury through the kindness of others.
The strain originates from AJ’s friend who was growing Chem 91 in the early '90s. AJ had been calling it Diesel: He thought it was bad branding to use the name Chem at a time when people in New York City were afraid their weed was being sprayed down with Raid or embalming fluid. After a trip to Amsterdam seeking other genetics, something, “which we may know one day or we may never know,” AJ says, crossed itself into a Chem 91 female. Thus, the Sour Diesel was born.
Existing in a tight network revolving around the Grateful Dead, AJ is given credit for Sour’s ongoing cultivation and distribution. “I didn’t fall off the ledge like everybody else that had it,” he says.
This wonder strain's popularity was bolstered by a demand generated by New York City's weed-delivery services at the time, called serves. As Frank recalls: “The delivery services back then were selling it for $50 a gram, two grams for $100. If you bought ten $100 jars, you would get one jar free; so that’s 22 grams for $1,000. We were paying our growers in New York City around $8,000 a pound. If you wholesaled it, you’d be lucky to get it for $9,600 a pound, but most people paid about $10,600. AJ’s strain and his grow technique have been what set the precedence for expensive bud.”
With a profit margin this astronomical, drama was inevitable. The network of friends fractured into nemeses, a karmic nightmare of deceit. There's the story where AJ’s girlfriend goes into his grow room while he’s sleeping and steals a cut, spreading the strain to people who never should have had it. One of them, legend says, died of a heart attack shortly after. And there’s guys like Soma, who pumped weed that had nothing to do with the AJ Sour into the market, branding it as such.
Frank explains: “It was one of these strains that just caused rifts. Sour Diesel went from being an actual strain to more of a term. It just got watered down. Anything that had a gassy, kind of sour, stinky smell, people would instantly claim as Sour Diesel. A lot of that went on. Then you have people like this guy Soma, who eventually admitted his Diesel has nothing to do with our Sour Diesel, after he’d gone ahead and branded it NYC Diesel.”
Fitting with its mythic vibe, Sour Diesel is an extremely difficult strain to grow, rumored to choose who it will produce for. The plant is polygenomic: The way you grow the plant directly effects what it produces. “You can grow it ten different ways and produce ten different products,” says AJ, who’s spent the past couple decades perfecting the process. “I gave it out to a lot of people who would produce something that was nice and everything, but just wasn’t all there.”
As the industry transitions into federal legality, veterans like AJ may finally be allowed the rights to protect their product. Armed with a stellar law firm, they’re using some of the world’s top scientists to sequence tissue culture and implement genostamping, two things I don’t fully understand but seem somehow self-evident.
"It will be a fun thing for people who aren’t sure if they’ve ever had the real thing or not, to finally know they’re getting the real thing.”
Frank explains: “Before the Monsantos go and try to steal it all up, the producers are trying to get as much straight-to-market retail that they can document; so any trademark issues in the future, once federally legal, they’ll be the first people in place.”
Strategic launches to get the real strain out include a budding partnership with Melrose Ave dispensary LA Confidential. According to owner Pete Pietrangeli, “We’re in talks to start producing the Sour Diesel in house at LA Con with those guys, using the proper genetics, tried and true since the mid-'90s, to recreate that original cut that everybody loves. We don’t plan on releasing anything with the brand unless AJ puts his touch on it. It will be a fun thing for people who know about the strain, and have read about it, who aren’t sure if they’ve ever had the real thing or not, to finally know they’re getting the real thing.”
All photos courtesy of AJ Sour Diesel.