Interviews

Experimentation and Feedback Drive Cannabis Lovers to KrystaLeaves

Alex Fernandez (far right), his father and brother (middle) and family friend and co-worker Manuel Cuerta.
Alex Fernandez (far right), his father and brother (middle) and family friend and co-worker Manuel Cuerta. Courtesy of KrystaLeaves
When KrystaLeaves first opened over three years ago in Commerce City, the thought of driving up Interstate 70 for weed hadn't entered the minds of most Denver residents. That didn't deter the Fernandez family, though; they knew that cannabis lovers from much farther away would eventually make the trip for a good batch of Con Leche.

The Miami transplants quickly earned a reputation for stocking some of Colorado's finest flower, and even sprouting a wholesale operation, Cuban Crew, to sell their buds outside of the Commerce City store. But according to cultivation director and chief operations officer Alexander Fernandez, the biggest boom has come from Con Leche, an OG-heavy hybrid that keeps connoisseurs flocking back. How does he know this when other KrystaLeaves strains also sell out quickly? Feedback, and a lot of it.

KrystaLeaves could represent the future of flower: constantly chasing new genetic combinations while letting customers in on the growing experiments. Fernandez likes to sell multiple phenotypes of the same strain and engage with his shoppers on Reddit to choose which strains to keep or toss, and that work is garnering a growing fan base online. We caught up with Fernandez to learn more about what he's got in the garden and how his pheno hunts have influenced more than his growing.

Westword: Last time we talked, in 2018, you'd just opened. How long did it take you to gain this reputation for great flower? Any certain moments that have stuck out along the way?

Alexander Fernandez: After around two years is when we started to notice a lot more positive feedback. Con Leche has been a favorite among the team and those on the hunt looking for an OG. It was the first strain pheno-hunted at Cuban Crew, and now it's the first we've selected to breed with.

KrystaLeaves is one of the few dispensaries that sells multiple phenotypes of the same strain. What's the motivation behind that, and what do you think customers gain from it?

Pheno hunting is a genetic lottery that provides us with different expressions and profiles off of the same strains. By releasing several phenos, the customers can really be involved with the selection process. We like to keep a couple of the best phenos out of each hunt if the profiles are different enough, such as Layer Cake #6 and Layer Cake #9, or Concord Crush #3 and Concord Crush #5. What ultimately narrows down the phenos, though, is the feedback we get from the customers at KrystaLeaves and Reddit.

Does feedback on those phenotypes influence future growing decisions, or is that just your preferred way of releasing them?

It definitely does; we've retired many strains and phenos based on feedback, while also finding several keepers.

Do you see more growers doing public pheno hunts like you've been?

I've seen some grows capitalize on the process, and more grows will probably do the same.

How have you noticed consumer preferences and growing trends shift over the last three years?

More requests to grow sativa-leaning strains is the most recent trend I've noticed, so we're in the process of pheno hunting several at the moment.

How do Reddit and Instagram impact your growing decisions?

Redditors are great about providing in-depth reviews and constructive criticism. There is more of a conversation on Reddit than on Instagram, although I value both. I've been able to make improvements and make our pheno selections with the help of Reddit.

Who are some of your favorite cannabis breeders out there right now? What about some of your favorite strains?

Swamp Boys, Clearwater Genetics and Greenhand Genetics are among some of my favorites [in cannabis breeding]. As for strains, Con Leche, Concord Crush and White Peaches are my personal favorites.

When we last spoke, you mentioned that some older strains like L.A. Confidential don't get enough love commercially. Any classic strains in the works at the moment?

Traditionally, we like to hunt our own strains. Early next year, we do have a little surprise in the works, though, and you might see a couple of classics grown by us. Maintaining a balance can be difficult, but we run new strains alongside popular ones so there is always variety.

What are some genetics you're looking forward to working with in the future?

There's a bunch I'm really excited for, but Gator Bait (Triangle Kush x Chemdog ’91) and our own strain made from our Con Leche line, Galon de Leche (Con Leche x Juggernaught), are the two I'm most excited for.

Are high-CBD strains still out there? We don't notice them in dispensaries that often.

Variety is the spice of life, and unfortunately, CBD strains tend to be cherry-terpene dominant. But I think there will always be a need for CBD for its medicinal properties.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell