The Rise of Boutique Strains: Exotic, Rare Weed Bred for Luxury Highs

Smoke 'em if you can get 'em.

Boutique strains exist at the height of stoner opulence. Cultivated by master growers, varieties such as Lemon Skittles, Pink Starburst, and Strawberry Bubblegum are some of the most potent strains in the world, and they smell, taste, look, and feel like their candy-colored monikers suggest. Beyond that, boutique strains can be difficult to obtain, which only adds to the allure. Honestly. It's a scene you want to be part of.

Before legality brought an endless inundation of cash and curiosity, strains this perfect were passed around a small network of circles spread out across the country, connected by bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead. They never left The Family. As the marijuana industry moves into legitimacy, luxury markets emerge. Growers who existed underground for decades are afforded the ability to share what they've spent their lives perfecting. For once, strain names exceed a hollow tactic of branding.

These elusive strains are still not available to everyone. Many never will be. But, thanks to people like Pete Pietrangeli, owner of Melrose Avenue dispensary LA Confidential, and Justin and Mac, two expert growers launching Manali West, a company specializing in unique, proprietary boutique strains and concentrates, at least you have a chance.

"Boutique strains are high-end, top shelf," says Justin. "They embody the main four: Smell, taste, look and high. When a strain has all four, it's rare, coveted, and may be shrouded in mystery. Many times, they're not circulated in the mass public."

Justin and Mac are industry insiders who've been in the game a long time. Manali West will feature high-grade rosin, live resin, and signature boutique strains, like the Nova OG, holding the highest THC content ever recorded at testing facility SC Labs, ringing in at 35.6 percent.

If I could feel one way for the rest of my life, it would be high on Pink Starburst.

Pietrangeli, owner of LA Con recalls, "I remember the first time I felt that the transition was happening to this boutique era. It was at the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary show one year ago today, actually. A lot of origins have been lost by changing names of strains for marketing; so I was skeptical of boutique strains because of their sensationalized names. But Lemon Skittles, when I actually tried the Lemon Skittles that day, it tasted exactly like I was chewing on Lemon Skittles. I was just blown away. That was the first time I realized it was a real thing and not just people messing with me for marketing."

With that, I employed my G-Pen Elite vaporizer and tried three boutique strains available at LA Con: Pink Starburst, Planet of the Apes, and Purple Sherbet. 

Pink Starburst by Manali West

The Pink Starburst, testing at an astonishing 32.5 percent THC, is a unique cross of two hybrids. It's DJ Short's blueberry X Headband (Underdog OG) crossed with an AJ Sour Diesel bx3, and then back crossed on itself. For those who may be confused, the AJ Sour bx3 is the original, real deal Sour Diesel back crossed on itself three times. Then the hybrid was back crossed on itself to make the Pink Starburst.

Back crossing is a type of breeding that involves repeated crossing of progeny with one of the original parental genotypes. More widely, any time a generation is crossed to a previous generation, it is a form of backcross breeding. According to Manali West's Justin, backcross breeding has become one of the staple methods clandestine cannabis breeders use, mainly because it is a simple, rapid method when using greenhouses or grow rooms, and requires only small populations. The principle goal of backcross breeding is to create a population of individuals derived mainly from the genetics of one single parent (the recurrent parent).

Interesting thing: This strain exhibits properties of both sativa and indica. Justin explains, "It grows like an indica, but as far as the terpene profile, it's dominant in limonene, a terpene that's predominant in sativa strains for its uplifting effects. It's hard to classify the Pink Starburst as either an indica or a sativa because the growth pattern is that of an indica, but the effect is a sativa."

Mac adds, "Technically, it's an indica-leaning hybrid." 

Crunchy, fluffy, and sparkling, it smells exactly like pink Starbursts taste. The flood of flavor upon vaping is so strong, it's like inhaling perfume, but the essence recalls the fruity candy favorite. I became positive and at peace, euphoric but mentally sharp. If I could feel one way for the rest of my life, it would be high on Pink Starburst.

Planet of the Apes by LA Confidential

This beautiful sativa strain is grown by LA Confidential. Pete clarifies, "It's a Gorilla Glue #4 from the same circle of people like Mac and Justin. Right when Gorilla Glue became popular, they had a cut of it from Colorado that somehow made its way to Los Angeles. We love switching the names around, keeping the origin close to what it was while pushing our own cut of something."

Frosty hues of green define dense nugs. A heavy lemon pine flavor knocks you back, followed by a strong, languid high that feels amazing.

Purple Sherbet by Local L.A. Dude

This is some serious fucking weed. The extremely rare strain is a cross between the original Purple Urkle cut and the original Sherbet. "This guy used to do a lot of Purple Urkle in LA." Pete says, "but Purple Urkle is one of those strains that started being backcrossed with other things. We don't see straight up Purple Urkle coming into the shop anymore; so it's fun to see these crosses."

Hues of green, purple, and orange appear frosted in glitter, every crevasse crystalized. A sweet, elegant smell opens to the perfect corresponding flavor. It's difficult to describe, almost blackberry-ish. Basically, exactly how you would want some sort of purple sherbet to taste.

"He's just a local L.A. dude who's been doing it over 20 years," Pete says. "And we have plenty of it."

Boutique strains are the future. In a society obsessed with the pursuit of luxury, it’s no wonder this newly-legitimized industry reflects the human, at least in Los Angeles, desire to possess only the best. While rarity and cost could detour average smokers, these strains aren’t for them. The boutique scene belongs to ballers and insiders. We're just letting everyone in on the secret.