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U.K. Cheese (marijuana review)

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As we scaled the steps of the Pepsi Center to Section 342, Row 8 and took our seats, my only thought was: “I regret my choice of weed.”

Sure, I had a cursory knowledge of Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire, mostly informed by stations that play the hits of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s AND today. My fear of heights and nervous thoughts of a headline reading “Pot critic falls to death during ‘Saturday in the Park’” far outweighed my obligation to the free tickets at that point.

If only I had listened to Neil Young’s advice and packed a couple peppercorns to ease my anxiety. Cooler vibes prevailed as soon as the house lights dropped, however, and U.K. Cheese proved to be less of an albatross around my neck and more of a glow stick.

U.K. Cheese By the numbers: $19/gram, $300/ounce at MMJ America, 2042 Arapahoe Street in Denver.

Debates raging online over the hybrid U.K. Cheese mostly start and end with, “You do not have the real cut.” Imported stateside in the ’80s from Britain when a group called Exodus released the cut, the original genetics are believed to be Skunk #1, the proud parent of many a fine marijuana. Shaman Genetics painstakingly created new seedstock using silver thiosulfate, which turns female plants into males for pollen harvesting — but even they couldn’t please everyone. They had created the New Coke of funky weed when many preferred the classic Coca-Cola.

The sample I picked up from MMJ America was certainly light on those nearly fetid — not feta — cheese notes that the best genetics still provide. In fact, the nasal ratio was on par with the amount of cheddar you’d get in a seven-layer dip, with more pronounced grape and spicy notes of clove and black pepper dominating the bag. In terms of looks, the strain is much more on point: dark, lushly green with an almost one-note appearance. In that way, it’s almost the English countryside of weed.

Before jumping into our Lyft, my fiancée and I shared a couple hits each off a clean spoon, the kind of frenzied rips you take after realizing your ride is only two minutes away. When our 20-something driver Skyler clearly had no clue who either of the bands were, it dawned on me that we may be partying with people our parents’ age. Would they take a hit off of our vape pen? Would they have us hauled off to a cell I assume exists in the belly of the entertainment complex? The latter has become a fascination of mine, as a friend recently regaled me with a story of being thrown into “Jimmy Buffett jail” for a light altercation involving stepping on someone’s blanket at a show, and that led to shoving. The sativa nature of the strain was running wild in my head with the possibilities.

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By the time we made it to the will-call window, my body had caught up with my head, muscles feeling light and electric as we moved through the crowd. Having no clue where our seats were, the air collectively left us when we saw the number 342. This meant a trek to the nosebleeds.

I’ve never been fond of heights. With some terribly unfortunate stories surrounding drug use and heights, my paranoia is definitely heightened. Because I stand 6-foot-3, the low barriers in front of Section 342 looked woefully inadequate to stop a careening me from landing on top of some unfortunate funk fans. My palms began to sweat uncontrollably. As I nearly white-knuckled my armrests, my fiancée went to grab a water and a Blue Moon, neither of which was particularly effective. Instead, as the first notes of whatever song the two bands collaborated on to open the show echoed through the top of the arena, I immediately calmed.

For the next three hours, I was more-or-less transfixed on the action as members of the bands — both together and with solo sets — dazzled us. When we had no clue what was going on, as the pace was frenzied and the high made it hard to focus at times, we cracked jokes.

The mental buzz was ideal for a show from such veteran performers, drawing me back in with a hook I forgot I knew when my mind wandered. The body high that settled in was too heavy for dancing, although most of our neighbors were playing the wall too, as they say. Contemplative and mood enhancing, I was content to merely watch legends do legendary things. When Philip Bailey, singer for “The Elements,” busted out a four-octave finisher so beautiful he himself began weeping, I knew I had made the right choice by staying. Even if I wasn’t boogieing down.

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Ten Best Strains Through the First Half of 2020

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If you’ve found yourself smoking a little more weed than usual this year, you’re not alone. We’re not condoning overindulgence, but 2020 has done a great job of stressing us out and limiting our recreational options — besides recreational cannabis, which is now an essential business in Colorado and the majority of states with legal pot.

Even during a pandemic, Denver boasts a virtually unlimited supply of new weed options, with dispensaries offering just about every flavor, smell and effect on the spectrum. Lucky enough to try a new variety every week, I’ve picked out ten of my favorite strains (listed below in no particular order) through the first half of a very toke-heavy year.

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Bazookies
Bazookies isn’t named after the giant à la mode cookie sliced like a pizza (that’s a pizookie), nor is it the same as Zookies, a mix of Animal Cookies and Gorilla Glue #4. No, Bazookies is a hybrid of Bubblegum and Girl Scout Cookies, in which old and new genetics meld into a relaxing yet productive high that works almost any time of day. Bred by Klone Colorado, Bazookies is a strapping young plant popping up at wholesale grows, clone stores and pot shops along the Front Range. While I still lament the lack of classic Bubblegum available at Denver dispensaries these days — the sweet, chalky Kush flavor seems to be outdated for today’s pot industry — I was happy to take one of its children for a spin. After a tolerance break for a week and some early hesitation about the smell, I found that Bazookies did not disappoint.

My runs with Bazookies have all smelled too grassy at first, probably because the three stores I’ve bought it from all stored the strain in large jars (which can also increase microbial growth, so maybe it’s time to reconsider that method). But after a couple of days on their own, my eighths of Bazookies have turned into a scrumptious weed salad of apples, tomatoes and greens. The smell and flavor make me feel as if I’ve just had a light lunch, and so does the high, which toes the line just enough to relax the brain while keeping creativity and motivation intact. That calmness can peter out eventually, though, so go slow if using Bazookies in the morning or mid-day, and keep its creative stimulation in mind when toking before bed.

Citral Flo
Citral Flo smells, looks and smokes like some of that classic mystery dank — only we know what it is. A cross of Sour Flo and Citral Skunk, Citral Flo’s throwback smell and flavor are almost like going back to a hometown hangout. It doesn’t take long to trace the strain back to Flo, Citral, Skunk, Sour Diesel and OG Kush on the family tree, and those genetics combine for a beautiful blend of Eastern and Western cannabis varieties. Thick, chalky flavors of Hindu Kush, rubbery, gassy hints of Diesel, heavy fumes of Skunk and a twist of citrus cooperate instead of clash, creating a smell that’s textbook sticky-icky.

Citral Flo’s high tends to lean old-school, too, and can make users anxious if too much is toked. Smoking a joint of it made me feel like a youngster on his first blunt: My tongue felt like sandpaper, and my sense of time and concentration were disoriented. However, sessions of the strain before a late February bike ride and during mountain visits gave me a warming energy without the side effect of overthinking, making it great for quick decision-making during outdoor activity.

Mac and Cheese
Mac and Cheese is reportedly a creation of Capulator, the breeder responsible for MAC (Miracle Alien Cookies), which was mixed with Alien Cheese to create what we’re smoking today. The strain’s genetics, known more for potency than user focus, seemed like the definition of a comfort strain: something that gets me giggly and baked without the side effects of paranoia or extreme lethargy. Such strains generally result in a day spent on the couch, allowing just enough energy to reheat a mixture of leftovers or pay the pizza guy. Does that make me a lazy pile? You betcha, but Mac and Cheese still leaves me just enough motivation to spring into action for a surprise pickup game.

The sign of a true comfort strain is lack of guilt. Sitting on my ass all day brings more self-hatred as I get older, and the need for stress relief during those trying mental times is essential. Mac and Cheese was too successful at that, though, erasing any shits to give for the next six hours. That’s the sign of a dangerous strain any time of day, so keep that in mind before lighting up to take on your to-do list. But if you’re only trying to watch explosions and choreographed fighting all day, another bowl of Cheesy Mac won’t hurt.

Citrus Farmer
Citrus Farmer, a potent hybrid from northern California, is good for a quick puff of second wind when the work is done. It’s good for a huff of second wind, too, because the punch of wet earth and squeezed citrus that each bud emits qualifies as doldrums aromatherapy. In fact, I enjoyed my first frisky run with Citrus Farmer so much that I then bought an ounce of it, but quickly found out that dipping into the jar throughout the day led to the foggiest brain I’ve had in weeks. Forget about trying to remember what day it is: I couldn’t even remember which toothbrush was mine. Honestly, I’m proud of myself for having the drive to even try.

As with any long-term relationship — and that’s what buying an ounce is, for most of us — figuring out my expectations and pace with Citrus Farmer helped me find the balance I needed. While that fresh-squeezed smell of orange or grapefruit juice can be enjoyed and even beneficial in the morning, an extra glass of sugar and acid gets internally disruptive as we get older. I’m consistently two steps behind if I smoke Citrus Farmer all day, but one step blissfully ahead if I keep it limited to one bowl mid- to late morning.

Ice Cream Cake
A mix of Wedding Cake and Gelato #33 from Seed Junky Genetics, Ice Cream Cake carries a long lineage of Girl Scout Cookies, Durban Poison and Kush hybrids and phenotypes. The strain is a poster child for what a modern flower connoisseur wants, covered in a thick, sticky layer of resin like a powdered doughnut, with sweet, creamy notes of vanilla, dough and hash to boot.

Ice Cream Cake has quickly become a top-shelf strain in Denver, but achieving staying power can be hard for Cookies and Cake strains, which tend to cannibalize themselves. Ice Cream Cake’s parents, Gelato and Wedding Cake, were hot two or three years ago; although both are still around, they don’t stand out like they used to, with Ice Cream Cake and similar strains stealing their luster. Will Ice Cream Cake be able to hold its place among the Sour Diesels and Gorilla Glues of the world for the next couple of years? Time will tell, but it’s off to a sweet start.

Kush Mints
Smoking a bowl of Kush Mints won’t leave your mouth feeling minty fresh and clean. The potent mix of Animal Mints and Bubba Kush carries stiff notes of pine, wood, graham cracker and Skunk with a blast of wintergreen at the end, a chemical reaction that will out any idiot foolish enough to keep this in a simple bag or plastic jar. Kush Mints needs to be tightly sealed or your cover is blown.

I was sold on Kush Mints bringing a balanced high, but I found it much more relaxing than described. The strain’s tendency to melt stress adds to the already soothing body effects, so any sessions with Kush Mints after 7 p.m. is likely to put you down within a few hours. I shouldn’t have been surprised: Bubba Kush has always dropped me like a kick to the groin, and Cookies strains do the same. My history with the parents combined with that potency is a recipe for an early night.

Apples n’ Cream
A relatively young hybrid from Cannarado Genetics, Apples n’ Cream is a promising contender for the evening slot. The strain’s genetics are a long, varied mix that includes a back-cross of Grape Pie as well as Fruity Pebbles OG and classics Acapulco Gold and Highland Nepalese; it’s essentially a fishbowl cocktail of modern fruity potency and an old-school kick in the ass.

Apples n’ Cream’s diverse background blends together a zesty, candied mix of apple, cinnamon and vanilla aromas, almost like a fruitier, more tart version of apple butter. At first I didn’t think the high was a good match for an evening or nighttime toke, since it quickly made me restless and hungry, even though I’d eaten dinner 45 minutes earlier. The energy came close to getting voracious, but luckily a small grilled cheese sandwich and a podcast settled me down fast. After twenty minutes, that short burst of unconfined energy didn’t return, and neither did a sliver of anxiety.

Cherry Hills
A cross of Appalachia, Cherry Pie and Grand Daddy Purple, Cherry Hills was bred by ThugPug Genetics, which may have created one of the most purple strains I’ve ever seen. I’m not usually one for pure violet darkness covering my buds, but there’s no denying how striking a quarter-pound of Cherry Hills looks when you’re perusing dispensary display jars. Beginning tokers should keep their eyes out for that purple jar, because Cherry Hills has a comfortable yet euphoric high that rarely leads to freakouts. Most cuts are light on the THC, with just enough of a CBD presence to provide potential medical benefits — or a calmer mind, at the very least. Daily users might find the high a little weak, but a hash garnish or mixing Cherry Hills with a more potent nighttime strain provides a solid nightcap, and the light high is great for medical users trying to ease their stomachs or joints without a stoned mind.

Gary Payton
I can’t argue with someone who walks away from pricey weed, but I have to admit that the fumes coming out of my Gary Payton bag punched me in the face harder than any frat bro ever has. The excitement and hair-raising aspect of those thick rubber scents and minty floral notes reminded me of my first time smelling chronic. Veritas says the terpenes were testing at ridiculous numbers, and while we’re still trying to dig those numbers up, it’s hard to argue the claim after a joint of Gary Payton.

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Drinking an unflavored seltzer was the perfect complement to showcase Gary Payton’s dry, earthy flavors, which are apt characteristics for a strain named after such a salt-of-the-earth player. However, the high was much more nurturing, easing my mind while keeping my body afloat. My brain moved a step slower, but that’s the trade you make for such strong stress relief.

Tenth Mountain Diesel
Named in honor of Colorado band Tenth Mountain Division (which itself is named after the U.S. Army mountain unit that once trained near Leadville), Tenth Mountain is a hybrid of East Coast Sour Diesel and Lost Tribe, a mix of Kosher Kush and T.R.U.T.H., which is blend of of Chemdog, SFV OG and Triangle Kush. That much Chemdog (a parent of Sour Diesel) and Kush packed into one strain already makes my head spin, let alone after all the back-crossing it took to arrive at Tenth Mountain Diesel. I’d hoped the Diesel presence would provide an initial boost, but it was no match for the sedative qualities of Kosher Kush and skull-fucking brashness of Chemdog. That whole terpenes-equal-effect theory seemed to be pierced by Tenth Mountain, because every gassy aroma and crisp note of citrus rinds led me to believe I was in for a classic uplifting high — but further sniffs revealed swelling hints of pine and mud, both of which are markers of Kosher Kush.

The surprise lethargy and unrelenting blankness that took over my mind after smoking Tenth Mountain Diesel was frustrating early on, and I won’t be bringing it back for daily use anytime soon. However, such a heavy high has benefits and uses, and I’ll definitely keep my remaining buds for sleepless nights and especially sharp hangovers.

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Even during a pandemic, marijuana dispensaries offer just about every flavor, smell and effect on the spectrum. Lucky enough to try a new variety every week, I've picked out ten of my favorite weed strains (listed below in no particular order) through the first half of 2020.