Medical marijuana dispensary review: RiverRock Wellness in Denver

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I met RiverRock hash master Bho Johnson a few months ago, when I stopped by Paul Tokin's house for a Wednesday hash session for Tokin's YouTube show Tokin' Daily. Aside from being a fellow pot nerd, Johnson had some face-meltingly good hash, and I knew I'd eventually have to check out his home base.

RiverRock Wellness

4935 York Street Denver, CO 80216 303-474-4136 www.riverrockcolorado.com

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Owner/managers: Tony Verzura, Norton Arbelaez, John Kocer. Raw marijuana prices for members: $25 to $35/eighth, not including tax. Raw marijuana prices for non-members: $25 to $35/eighth, not including tax. Shop also gives rotating daily discounts of 15 percent or more to members. Online menu: Yes. Other types of medicine: Hash, tinctures, edibles, BHO. Handicap accessible? Yes.

I finally figured out a good time to swing by when Johnson wasn't around and made the trek up to the north side to get an unfettered look at the place without being recognized. The area is home to a fair number of low-rent, low-price centers, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I parked out front. Not to judge a book by its cover, but the 1960s-era building and warehouse was plastered with bright-green signs and ads for $25 dollar eighths and didn't look to be much different from the dozens of other slapped-together discount shops.

But after I entered RiverRock Wellness, the image in my mind immediately changed. The inside of the building has been completely remodeled to incorporate grow rooms, trim rooms, hash making, dispensing and wellness services all under one roof. My budtender later told me that the shop sells its own herb and never purchases from other centers -- which means there's probably a pretty decent-sized grow going in the back to keep up with things. The waiting room was a small, clean affair, with naturally stained bamboo floors, a neutral gray tone on the walls and smooth birch moldings around the teller window and door frame leading back to the bud bar. I handed my card to the woman behind the counter and took a seat in one of the ostrich-skinned leather chairs to fill out the three or so pages of forms. While not the first wild-game pelt I've sat on in a dispensary, ostrich is probably the most extravagant.

A few people were ahead of me, but instead of sitting in the small, quiet lobby, I was buzzed through to the spacious bud-bar area. The two budtenders were busy with patients, so I took a minute to look over the edibles on hand, as well as a pretty tight little 4.0 glass bubbler being auctioned off. I eventually took a seat on a large brown leather couch and waited my turn.

The bamboo flooring continued into the bud bar, where the natural-wood theme took over. Beautiful light birch wood and glass custom cabinets separate the budtenders from the customers, with jars divided between indica- and sativa-dominant strains. The walls were left intentionally bare, save for a few cartoonish whimsical sketches and geometric designs done in greens and pinks. The room had the feel of a high-end clothing boutique or shoe store, minus any actual clothes or shoes. According to owner Tony Verzura, RiverRock originally operated as a wholesale shop until July 1 of this past year, when it switched to a retail model. He said the idea was to keep the bulk growing and pass the price discounts on to customers. It's working, because the dispensary goes through three pounds per day on average.

It didn't take long before my budtender called me up to the counter to check out the goods. He first apologized for the apparently low stock of herb. There were roughly eight jars of herb on the indica-dominant side of the counter and a few more jars of sativa doms on the other. A benefit to having the grow in-house, he said, is that as a budtender, he gets a chance to see what is going to hit the shelves before it comes in as well as watch the flowers develop over time. He assured me that the quality was decent the day I was in, but urged me to come back in mid-October, when the fall harvest will have come in.

What was in stock looked pretty good, especially considering the price tag. The top strains included a frosty Jack Frost, a grapey Urkle x OG, and some stanky Willie Jack Haze. Also interesting was a wild-smelling Blackberry Kush that my budtender said was one of the top in the shop, although, unfortunately, the jar was down to the pebbly shake nuggets. There were some cuts I didn't care to look at, like two seeded Cindy 99 crosses selling for $25 an eighth. My budtender said the center would normally make hash out of flubs like that, but patients were asking for the Cindy cuts, seed or no seeds -- so the shop obliged. And despite rumors that the shop has carried powdery mildew buds, I didn't see any evidence to back that up during my visit.

All herb on the shelf is priced between $25 and $35 an eighth, and first-timers and members receive 15 percent off those prices with their purchases. That definitely makes RiverRock a discount shop, but the herb in stock was at quality levels that go for $40 to $45 an eighth at other dispensaries. Also impressive is the price for hash and butane extractions. All grams of BHO were priced at $25 a gram, and even grams of Essential Extracts icewater hash were selling for $35 -- about $5 less than any other shop I've seen.

And while cheaply priced wax usually means cheap product made from sub-par trimming and bug-infested buds, hashmaker Johnson assured me that's not the case with him. "The majority of what I run is trim and popcorn," he said. "I also run seeded batches of bud. If you got the Cindy/burm wax, that was a seeded bud run. But no bugs, no mold, ever." Johnson also does a three-day vacuum and heat purge to remove any lingering solvents, producing some of the cleanest texture in BHO that I've seen.

With my first-timer discount, I walked out with a split eighth and a gram of hash for just under $60 -- a good price considering the quality and quantity. And if the budtender was right and the crop coming down next month is noticeably better than what was on the shelves, RiverRock Wellness will be worth a second visit soon.

Page down for this week's strain reviews and photos. Jack Frost: $35/eighth From my run-through of the limited selection of strains on the shelf, this was easily the most impressive combination of look and smell. It's amazing how only a small portion of this strain's genetics is from Haze lineage, especially given how much of the freshly sharpened pencil haziness it retains. The buds were small, fluffy and round, like green popcorn kernels. They had a nice dark-to-light, zucchini-green fade and a noticeable dusting of kiefy crystals from about a foot away, but nothing so impressive that what I brought home would qualify for a centerfold shot on looks alone. Under the scope, in Honey-I-Shrunk-the-Kids vision, it was easy to see the mix of color on the trichomes, ranging from crystal clear to a near Coca-Cola brown. The strain lost some initial smell power after a few days in a baggie, but ground up for smoking, the pleasant lemon-scented house cleaner and funky haze came out again. The taste was equally as solid through two hits of the bubbler, before the bowl turned to a powdery white ash on the third and pulled through to the water. As always, the Jack Frost delivers an uplifting, energetic buzz that gives me near-instant cotton mouth and an insatiable desire for an Orange Julius. Mmmm, Orange Julius... Blackberry Kush: $35/eighth This was my budtender's suggestion for the indica side of the counter. As you can see from the picture, it was a bunch of tiny bits instead of one shining example of the strain due to it coming out of the remaining quarter ounce or so of the harvest. The big jar didn't smell very strong due to it being the end of the batch, but there was a definite hint of tart fruitiness perceptible after breathing in deep. Crushed into a clean bowl, it had a mildly sweet, wild herb finish. Other than the light smell, this cut of Afghani x Blueberry came off as a true indica girl. The fat, wide flowers had a mix of kushy light green and eggplant dark purple coloring with amber crystals coating the nooks and crannies. I rolled up a joint of this for my first try, enjoying a more wild, sage-like taste than anything strain specific, but overall, it was nothing memorable. It packed a mellowing buzz that came on slow at first before really kicking in about twenty minutes after the bowl. It eased tension starting in my head, then moved down to my neck and, eventually, to my lower back. Sour Kush BHO: $25/gram As I mentioned, butane extractions are a big thing for RiverRock. Out of the six or seven varieties available, though, the Sour Kush stood out for the incredibly potent and strain-specific smell. It had an amazing, crumbly, broken crayon consistency from the purge and crumbled nearly into a kief-like consistency as I rolled it around in my fingertips. Getting it to stick to a dabber was difficult, so I found myself smoking about half of this on top of flower bowls. But the few hits I took on a skillet were ultra-potent, giving me the cross-eyed sweats for a second after vaporizing a hefty one-eighth gram chunk. Both ways of burning produced a clean, hashy taste with a hint of Kush tartness and left me with an introspective, creative buzz that was ideal for turning around a stressful day. Best of all were the prices, with concentrates capping out at $35 a gram or less.

William Breathes is the nom de plume (of smoke) for Westword's medical marijuana dispensary critic. Check out more dispensary reviews here, and catch up on all your daily ganja news on our marijuana blog.

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