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Harvest Special: Painted Rooster & Sungaze

Microbiology doesn't stop, that's why everyone wears gloves during harvest … we’ve got to treat it right.

Photos by Daniel Berman

From sunkissed fields of terpy flowers to the infused beverage manufacturing line of Sungaze drinks, the team at Painted Rooster is growing beautiful Cannabis for a harvest-worthy smoking and drinking experience.

Photo by Daniel Berman

Tucked in a commercial space directly behind the Moxie Police Department, the Painted Rooster and Sungaze facility fills the air with the aroma of harvest as you drive past the police vehicle storage lot. It’s a combination of a big warehouse and fields of outdoor Cannabis plants, grown above ground in pots under the famed Yakima Valley sun. The delicious Sungaze drinks are born here, with a truly fitting name and delicious formula that was crafted by the master brewers at Bale Breaker – a fourth generation brewery in the valley. For CEO Douglas “DH” Henderson, the farm-to-table approach is what attracted him to run the operation by utilizing his passion for high quality weed that is powered by the sun.

“From our compliance manager hand-drawing store names on delivery boxes to our work in the field, we do a lot of personal touch stuff here,” Henderson tells us. “All these plants have hands on them all season long. That’s how I feel we can elevate it [sungrown Cannabis], beyond thinking of outdoor as biomass or larffy cheap ounces for 20 bucks. We’re not that. It’s because of the care that we put into it, all the people that work here, the whole staff knows what they are doing and most of our team has been here for a couple seasons at least. It’s good to have a family that can back us up, because we can’t do the right thing for our retailers and customers if our whole team doesn’t care about each plant we grow.”

Photo by Daniel Berman

Walking the rows of flower outdoors shows a farm which is focused on unique strains that produce well in the valley’s environment. Each cultivar is known down to the breeder and crosses, and with several seasons under their belt, the growing process is geared towards next-level processes. This year, Painted Rooster teamed up with a graduate student’s research to do a bug and pest study that could have an impact on the entire sun-growing Cannabis community. 

“The sticky traps in each row of plants are a project with Aaron Applebee, who is working on his Ph.D. at Washington State University in Entomology. Here next to the bug trap is a vial of pure terpenes, so we’re seeing which bugs are attracted to which terpene type, and we have some controls out here that don’t have any smell, and we swap these out every week,” Henderson explains. “They take these back to the lab to count and compare them by treatment to see which varieties will be more susceptible to which type of bug – or if I want to keep these bugs off my field – learning which cultivar or terpenes will keep the bugs away. It’s plant science!”

Photo by Daniel Berman

The sungrown flower powers both the infused beverages and a whole lineup of smokeables from the Painted Rooster brand – including concentrates, infused joints and premium flower. After harvest, the flower is kept whole and untrimmed in a temperature and humidity controlled environment, waiting to be pulled from a container to be turned into a joint or concentrate. This keeps the flavor and terpenes fresh, and helps ensure a year-round supply for consumers who want the organic-style sungrown flower. A popular jar size for Painted Rooster is the three-quarter ounce – and as a pesticide-tested company, people can use the flower for smoking or cooking.

“With a three-quarter ounce, you can get a bulk amount of Cannabis and still have seven grams on your limit to get pre-rolls or another flavor,” Henderson explains. “And we stand behind our organic practices and testing … our brand quality and credibility mean everything to us.”

Heading into harvest season, it’s easy to let ambition lead to too large of plants or too much material to take down. After several seasons of growing in pots (which protects the plants from the valley’s soil that’s been an agricultural hub for centuries), the team has dialed in the sizing and scale of the grow so that plants are the perfect size and full of premium colas. This means planting in June and a shorter season, but a better harvest of higher quality bud for smoking and processing.

“We’re trying to keep the plants to a manageable size, so that when it comes time to harvest, we can do so as cleanly and efficiently as possible,” says Henderson. “Microbiology doesn’t stop, that’s why everyone wears gloves during harvest. We’ll be cleaning utensils and staying on it, because this is a product we want to go into somebody’s body – so we’ve got to treat it right. If you add too many touch points with big plants, sometimes it doesn’t work.”

Bottling Terps

Stepping inside the warehouse fills the mind with a constant thrumming. Between the temperature-controlled cryo shipping container freezer and the bottling and canning machine filling Sungaze, the warehouse is a hive of activity.

Photo by Daniel Berman

The machinery used to make Sungaze is the same that you would find in the Bale Breaker brewery, but with a different input. There are giant silver containers: one holding water at extremely high temperatures to kill all bacteria, the other full of the slurry that will become a delicious Sungaze. The ingredients are combined and then pressure pumped into each can, which is then capped while rolling down the line, then labeled and ready for a pallet. While most Cannabis drink companies had to learn this process, the Sungaze and Bale Breaker team were already experts in manufacturing – so they spent their energy on crafting lower potency beverages that are tasty and consistent every time.

“We’re on the shoulders of giants here in this developing market, where several Washington companies have led the space in drinkables. We come from the low-dose side and are trying to reduce the amount of sugar, and our goal is to get to a zero-sugar drink option,” Henderson shares excitedly. “It’s a lot of trial and error, formulation testing … Cannabis doesn’t taste great all by itself. So you are better off if you can get an edible that you want to enjoy – and even drink a six-pack in a night – instead of one beverage you don’t enjoy.”

Photo by Daniel Berman

Cracking open a Sungaze feels like sipping a better beer, with a foamy richness and a terpy tingle with each sip. The Lemon Ginger has a bright citrus front that tastes like liquid sunshine – bringing a perfect kick of slightly sour ginger on the finish, for a refreshing sip that calms stomachs and delivers the perfect 10mg THC/5mg CBD dose in the tall boy Supernova can. Bringing a six-pack of Sungaze to an event can allow a non-drinking Cannabis user to blend into the crowd with a tasty refreshment, enjoying a buzz that works with the body instead of against it.

While Sungaze is helping people who choose to consume Cannabis instead of alcohol, current regulations limit how many drinkable edibles a consumer can purchase by fluid-ounce volume, not potency. The daily purchase limit is 72 ounces (which is the equivalent of a six-pack, but by milligrams is less than 100 of THC and CBD). In other states, the limit is based on potency and there are small single-shot beverages with more THC than in a six-pack of Sungaze – but the legislature and LCB have yet to recognize the need for change.

Photo by Daniel Berman

“If you want to have a party, you have to go to the store four times to get a single case together – and you won’t even break 100mg of THC. Beyond liquid volume, it should be based on potency,” explains Henderson. “We got a bill through the Senate – sponsored by Senator Curtis King, passed 47-1 – but it did not receive a House hearing or vote. All we want to do is set a milligram limit for beverages, so people can purchase as much as they want based on potency. We think there are so many people that are curious about Cannabis – that maybe had a bad experience with a high-potency edible – who can try a Sungaze, drink half of one, and if they like it … finish the whole thing.”

As the Cannabis market continues to mature, more and more customers are leaving the alcohol space and coming to Cannabis with new expectations. While the industry and budtenders are trending towards higher potency products, many new or weekend consumers are looking for a lower dose experience that helps replace alcohol. This is the market Sungaze was made for – and the company is proving that there is a place for lower potency options in every Cannabis lover’s fridge.

Photo by Daniel Berman

“We’re so proud of these drinks,” Henderson shares. “Sungaze is the first craft Cannabis beverage to enter the space focused on flavor-forward instead of effect-forward. We really want people to embrace the taste and get more into that space – trying lower doses outside of 100mg, and to share a Sungaze with their friends!”

painted-rooster.com | drinksungaze.com | @paintedroostercannabis | @drinksungaze

Photos by @bermanphotos

About Wes Abney

Wes Abney is the founder and CEO of the Leaf Nation brand family, which began in 2010 as Northwest Leaf magazine. Recognized as the first Cannabis publication in the region, Northwest Leaf defined and developed the medical and recreational Cannabis communities in Washington with free publications focused on quality content and truthful journalism. The model’s success has led to Oregon Leaf in 2014, Alaska Leaf in 2016, Maryland Leaf in 2019, California Leaf in Spring of 2020, and Northeast Leaf in Fall of 2020. Wes’s writing and publishing background began with his college newspaper, The Ebbtide, which included a love for multimedia and creating content on many platforms. The nickname “Bearded Lorax” came after years of publishing millions of free magazines, using his voice to speak for a plant and those that benefit from it. Wes is an activist not only for Cannabis but for alternative medicine treatments, ending the drug war and freeing prisoners who have been wrongfully incarcerated for non-violent crimes. His passion for reaching people with written and spoken words led to the concept of Leaf Life Podcast in partnership with Mike Ricker, which began development in 2018 and launched in January 2019. With the combined passions of Cannabis and a love for broadcasting, the creation of Leaf Life was a natural progression for Leaf Nation as it spread roots across the United States. With over 100 shows recorded, and printing over 100,000 monthly copies, Leaf Nation has become the world’s largest Cannabis media company, while still celebrating the humble roots and truthful journalism that the model was founded upon. Beyond leading a team of 40+ passionate Cannabis creatives, Wes is the father to two beautiful daughters and two furry cats. He lives in Seattle, drinks coffee, and enjoys Cannabis daily, and hopes to eventually transition from a successful Cannabis journalist to a classic coffee shop author as the Leaf continues to grow in the coming decades. In true Lorax fashion, he enjoys hikes in the forest, communing with nature, and reminding people that “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of Northwest Leaf.

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