Ben Williams (left) and Wendell Robbins III, co-founders of Highway Vodka (Photo by Emily Jaschke)
Texas’ first annual hemp harvest festival aims to bring together people from all sectors of the rapidly growing cannabis industry to celebrate the hemp plant. Two of the festival’s star cannabusinesses share a commitment to preserving the inherent quality of hemp in their products – just as nature intended.
Greg Autry – founder / owner of Sweet Sensi CBD, title sponsor of the festival – has 25 years of cannabis experience, and he puts all of this to work to develop and maintain high quality products while helping others take foothold in the competitive arena. . He said: “For my farmers, for myself, even for our competitors, it is difficult to advertise. I’m not saying all the good about this plant. [of this festival] is to have a platform for everyone – everyone in the hemp and cannabis industry, even ancillaries and the public – to show what we can do, what we have done, what we are going to make and celebrate our Texas harvests. “
Sweet Sensi – a nod to “the old name of good buds,” sensimilla – offers artisanal CBD products made in Austin, from seed to sale. They grow organic hemp, mechanically (not chemically) extract CBD naturally in small batches, and craft products like tinctures, lotions, candies, etc. They also ensure that all packaging is compostable, reusable or recyclable. “We don’t make gelatin bears, we make gourmet candy, “said Autry, who proudly took confectionery classes.” We think the quality of the whole product is important. “
Autry’s vast knowledge comes from a journey rich in stories. He started growing up in 1996 when the Prop 215 (aka Compassionate Use Act of California) was passed, worked on different farms in Southern California (including famous Humboldt County) and eventually ended up in Amsterdam to learn from the people who make what is now called bubble hash or ice wax. There, Autry learned the art of mechanical extractions, which is the method employed by Sweet Sensi CBD, and his acquired expertise landed huge cannabis contracts. He is currently a consultant for over 50 large companies and has had between 4,000 and 8,000 houseplants since 2001.
Sweet Sensi’s new facility just outside Austin in Lakeway has an indoor grow house where they produce two different forms of hash, or mechanical extractions. “It’s medicine, so [it’s] about preserving the plant in its natural form and preserving the natural chemicals that we have worked so hard to produce, ”said Autry. “We still don’t know what all of these chemical compounds are doing, so if we take them out and manipulate them and changing the terpene or cannabinoid profiles that we have, then [it’s] do not do it justice. And you don’t get as strong a medicine as you could. We focus the factory using our hands and machines that we build and develop ourselves. We are very careful with our extraction methods. “
Sweet Sensi CBD does not use chemicals or solvents to extract the CBD from its homemade hemp, instead opting for a hot press to extract the rosin. “We test before extraction, after extraction, and we test after decarboxylation. We preserve the whole plant, so if a farmer goes in and takes a lotion, he can smell his plant in our lotion because everything was made from his farm. It makes us so happy and proud when a farmer opens a jar and says, “It smells like home.”
Robbins’ daughter, Codi Fuller, who now runs the distillery (Photo by Dareas Scott)
By distilling their hemp vodka six times, the complexity of flavor, viscosity, and mouth feel really sets Highway Vodka apart.
Another industry pioneer dedicated to preserving the inherent qualities of hemp, Highway Vodka, is also a star supplier to the festival. The origin story of the Houston-based company is a simple one of friendship and dedication to excellence: Ben Williams and his lifelong friend Wendell Robbins III spent their free time hanging out, sometimes in the kitchen. , sometimes in Robbins’ stable, tinkering with their distillation project hobby for eight years, until they found gold. Green gold, so to speak.
The buddies ran their timeshare bar, letting friends sample a snack while they tweaked the recipe for what would become their hemp-based spirits made at Texas’s first black-owned distillery. Codi Fuller, Robbins’ daughter, was in college when they started and now runs the distillery. Fuller said she takes pride in being one of the country’s few and youngest black stills – a well-deserved, albeit unexpected, title. “My dad was always in my way with a big pot on the stove and was like ‘Hey, can you stir that up’ or ‘Lower that’ or ‘Look at that.’ On the weekends I would help them bottle the vodka or make boxes, I would just do stuff around the distillery, so I would start to learn the process without even realizing it. “
Adventure with family and friends isn’t all there is to love with this bottled drink. Williams explained that while most “hemp vodkas” are infused – soak the buds in high water alcohol or add distillate at the end – Highway Vodka is decidedly different, and it shows. “It’s a whole,” he said. “It’s not like buying wholesale GNS [grain neutral spirits] and inject it with hemp juice, no. “
Williams said it took eight years to define the production method. “At that time we were trying to distill and ferment anything, it didn’t even matter. But that first mash with hemp seeds and corn was the best thing we ever did, so we continued.” Distillation involves boiling a special strain of shelled hemp seeds (selected in part for its food grade classification) with locally sourced corn and aquifer water, and adding the mixture to a fermenter. “The next game-changer was when we noticed our batches were getting bigger – our yeast lived longer because it converted more sugars into alcohol.” The duo realized that while there are no fermentable sugars in hemp, the amino acids in the shelled hemp seeds nourish the yeast – and there is no need for conventional yeast boosters or supplements that affect the flavor when you have a natural supplement.
Williams said: “It looked mean – like olive oil with oatmeal on top – so we drained the liquid between the oil and the grain and then it produced. [great] thing. Then one day we were lazy because racking is a sticky and nasty process, so we said, “Dude, let’s throw it all in there and see what happens.” Then this was the best thing we have ever run! That big thick layer of hemp oil floating above the still kind of [acted] like PooPourri. This active ingredient is the essential oil and this is what holds the contents in – it acts as the first layer of filtration for these vapors, so you cleanse [it] up there. “
By distilling their hemp vodka six times, the complexity of flavor, viscosity, and mouth feel really sets this Texas treasure apart. Williams explains, “If you ring your glass, it hangs on it a bit. It coats your palate and [vodka] to burn. And it retains some of the character and sweetness of the corn sugars and the earthy character of the plant to make for a nuanced spirit – as opposed to just a washed-out alcohol. We are grain to glass with the plant. We don’t infuse some sort of liquid at the end just to have it there for the sake of something. This adds benefits every step of the way, right up to the final taste. “
It took two and a half years to clear their surprise business, despite the luxury of building their distillery in Robbins’ barn. Williams said: “The most important thing in terms of licensing for us was the multiple rounds of testing, sending it to these federally approved labs, making sure there was no THC. And because our request was for a factory that is undergoing such a review, we would do a trick for typos, misspellings, stuff like that. Each correction would take about two months and then you have to get back to the back of the line, again. “Asked about the name Highway Vodka, Williams said,” I wish there was a big story, but we were sitting doing our thing and that was us. came to mind. We started to think about the nuance of our product and the cuts we make, and how we bottle the races, and … it took us years, you know? Highway plays because that, we believe, there is a higher standard for our product and the care we put into it e manufacture. simple decision to bottle only hearts – not the best financial decision to make as you can mix up the tails, they are drinkable, but this is often where you will find the headache that awaits you. “
“It all depends on what the hemp does for the process,” he added. “Around the time of the mash, that’s when the plant starts working for us.” Thoughtful use, careful methods, and public education are exactly what Highway Vodka and Sweet Sensi CBD hope to stand up for at the Texas Hemp Harvest Festival. Leave it to cannabis to bring together like-minded people.
Courtesy of Sweet Sensi CBD
How to attend the Texas Hemp Harvest Festival
The Texas Hemp Harvest Festival takes place October 23 at Carson Creek Ranch and is “produced by farmers, processors, manufacturers and retailers to celebrate our harvest with Texas!” The program features two stages and 10 groups – including Gary P. Nunn and Ky-Mani Marley – as well as food trucks, shopping, banking, games and a Battle of the Buds blind edibles contest. The on-site raffle money will be split evenly between two charities, Pride of America (helping disabled veterans) and Texas NORML, and with plenty of family-friendly outdoor spaces, organizers are encouraging lawn chairs and blankets. A negative COVID test or proof of vaccination is required for entry. For tickets, see texashempharvestfestival.com.