Making high mountain jerky
April 30, 2017
The only edible marijuana product made in the Aspen area also is one of the most unique in the state.
That's because Todd Gardner's free-range bison jerky infused with cannabis oil extracted from marijuana grown in the Roaring Fork Valley is one of the only savory edibles produced in Colorado.
"It's a nice alternative to all the sugar available in edibles," said Anne Gordon, owner of Herban Underground dispensary in Denver. "I really do love it. It's absolutely one of my favorite products."
Gardner — who also owns Aspen's High Mountain Taxi — said that not only is his Cannabis Queen Jerky benefiting from new information detailing the dangers of sugar, it also is mostly organic and the only protein on the market.
Almost exactly one year ago, Pitkin County commissioners nearly denied Gardner's application; the county board was concerned that edibles were being marketed to children and had several questions about Gardner's plan to produce the jerky.
But at the last minute, Gardner and team asked for a continuance, then returned about two weeks later with answers to all the commissioners' questions. The final approval featured several conditions addressing those concerns: each piece of jerky would have a THC stamp, be sold in child-proof packaging, only contain 10 mg of THC per piece, limit the amount of pesticide in the marijuana used to extract the cannabis oil and not allow a sign announcing the business.
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All of those things are part of the final product, which is now sold in more than 100 marijuana dispensaries throughout the state, Gardner said.
Chuck Reynolds, owner of Soma dispensaries in Crested Butte and Gunnison, said the jerky is a "nice option to fill out your pack and go for a hike."
"It's really high quality and it tastes good," said Reynolds, who also appreciated the jerky as one of the only non-sugar-based edibles he sells. "He's done a really class-A job on the production side."
The jerky is produced in a suite of offices at Gardner's High Mountain Taxi facility at the Aspen Business Center.
Gardner buys free-range bison meat from a South Dakota facility, has it shipped to Aspen, then it is cut up, mixed with spices and cannabis oil, formed into strips, dried in a dehydrator, cut and vacuum-sealed before being packaged.
The recipe for the jerky went through several iterations before Gardner and his staff hit on the current flavors of terryaki and hot and spicy.
Gardner also said he extracts cannabis oil from marijuana through a carbon dioxide extraction process, allowing to better control the quality. He sends samples from each batch to a laboratory in Durango, which tests to make sure each piece has equal amounts of THC.
"We're just kind of hitting our stride right now," Gardner said. "It's taken time to get out in the market and get market penetration."
And while Gardner said he's not making a killing, he has no regrets about staring the pot jerky business.
"There's a misconception that you're going to get in (to the marijuana business) and make big bucks," he said. "(But) this business is a lot of fun."