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Episode 23 Bluegrass Podcast Transcript Caleb Chen "The Highest Critic"

[00:00:00.490] - Elijah

Welcome to the bluegrass podcast. Today we're talking with Caleb Chen of the highest critic. We're

going to be talking quality cannabis, cannabis reviews, and more.


[00:00:12.530] - Elijah

Do you want to talk a little bit about what you do with the highest Critic and some of your projects and

just how you got introduced to cannabis?

Caleb Chen "The Highest Critic" Episode 23 of The Bluegrass Podcast

[00:00:21.650] - Caleb

Yeah, so the highest Critic is a cannabis website that I founded in 2018. It features a lot of reviews.

That's how most people might have heard of it before. But I'm going out to do interviews, press

releases, more general cannabis news, and really, cannabis education for the wider audience that's

out there, accessible via the internet, even if they're still under the prohibition. And kind of my

beginnings with cannabis, my first brush with cannabis was in 2010 when I first started smoking on 420. It was a life changing experience. Shortly after I stopped drinking alcohol. And you could say that cannabis has been my only vice since, but really, it's more that cannabis has been my medical choice since I've heard a lot of cannabis circles. All cannabis uses medicinal. Some people say, well, is it

medicinal? Is it wellness? Well, we can gripe on the words, but really, everyone has something that

everyone that's a regular cannabis user has something that they're targeting use for.


[00:01:52.690] - Elijah

Yeah, absolutely. And where did you first get the idea for starting something like The Highest Critic, or

kind of take that next step to where you're not just a consumer, but you want to do something in the

space as well?


[00:02:08.890] - Caleb

That transition was actually kind of long from 2010. I was in school, and I was under the prohibition

then. So really, just to get my own access to cannabis, I had to become, I guess what would be called

on the east coast, a pusher. And from that was how I started to get closer with the cannabis plant.

And from there, I distinctly recall every time I'd go to pick up my you know, the dealer would have like

two strains if that, and, you know, they'd give me two names. It probably looked the same, probably

not really looked at different. I'd be really skeptical if they actually were different. And I'd take

whatever names were given to me, and I'd go straight to google and I'd search them. I'd end up on

seed finder all buds or beesley or any of those sites that have the exact same copy about certain

strains and then no copy about any other strains. Every now and then I'd notice that the stuff that

actually seemed to match, there'd be, like, some pictures that match. There'd be some information

that matched. It would be likely not on leafly, likely not on one of those major sites.


[00:03:38.000] - Caleb

It'd likely actually be on an IC mag or roll it up or one of these other cannabis websites that people in

the industry might know and love that have. You could say they target a different audience a different

subset of the cannabis industry. And whether that's a more honest subset of the cannabis industry or

whether it's a more educated subset of the cannabis industry, you know, the information was more

accurate. And I guess in 2018, I left the corporate job that I was at working as a marketer, and I moved

into a van. And then within a month, I started the highest critic. And it was with the express purpose of

having a resource that was kind of in between those two, because there's a lot of people who aren't

going to dig. Through forum posts to find accurate information, but as long as it's there accessible on

Google at the end of the day I say this a lot, but the highest critic and websites in general are definitely

Google's bitch right now.


[00:04:45.370] - Elijah

And did you have any trepidation making that jump where you're going from this more standard, more

accepted marketing job and then you move into a van and did you tell anyone about this? What was

that process like of making that jump to doing that full time?


[00:05:03.310] - Caleb

I had a lot of support from my family during that time. My dad actually gifted me a copy of Nomad's

Land, like a year before this quote unquote sudden transition. So I actually was not very trepidacious

at all during that transition. And if anything, my previous work as a marketer, I was running several

blogs or new sites in the few years prior, and it really cemented in me, like, some free speech

absolutist principles and stuff like that. So even in terms of legal trepidation or any of that stuff, I

didn't have any. And I'd say the Highest Critic was a way for me to go legit in this case. And I'm sure

as you've talked with a lot of people, have done the same thing. That's like the least trepidacious thing

they've ever done in the industry.


[00:06:00.850] - Elijah

So you start up The Highest Critic, and you've been working on that for how long?


[00:06:06.230] - Caleb

Coming up on five years now.


[00:06:08.070] - Elijah

And what was the first committed point, but what was the point at which you had the ball rolling and

you said, this is going to keep rolling?


[00:06:19.930] - Caleb

That's a great question. So the site started in 2018, and between 2018 and 2020, I was just

periodically updating it. It was myself and the first reviewer that I worked with, shout out Brian, the DC,

and we were, you know, just posting maybe like once a month, some reviews of Flower, some vapes

or something. And then come 2020, I just decided to go at it. And that's when I started to reach out to

more reviewers from different states, different countries, all around the world. And I was surprised,

but generally the reception was good to syndicate content out to The Highest Critic, and I'd be able to

feature reviews from cannabis reviewers wherever they were at, on YouTube, on Instagram, and just

give them another avenue to promote their work, get them new followers. And that really ended up

opening the floodgates. So, myself, I would just be editing a lot of these reviews, putting them online,

and I would be able to read about what the new hottest strain in Puerto Rico is, for instance, or what

the hottest cultivar out in London is, or see what the market preferences in certain areas are. Market

conditions, actually, because that largely is a prerequisite for market preferences.


[00:07:50.070] - Caleb

And I think on that end, it's made the highest credit kind of like a unique resource in the space

because it is still so, like, ear to the ground, I guess you could say. And to give an example, most of

the traffic comes from the United States, but the state where most of the traffic comes from is Texas

and stuff. Like, I was doing some research before, looking at the analytics, and, for instance, the

amount of visitors that come from Kentucky is raising it's almost like an order of magnitude more

than it was last year. Just as pieces of legalization or like normalization happen, you kind of see

different states coming online, and this is like pre licenses coming online. You can see cannabis

culture kind of rise from the not even the ashes, really. It's been there everywhere, because

everywhere that there's people, there's people that want to consume cannabis, medicinally wellness.

And the best example I have of that is there's apparently quite the trade in cannabis vapes on

Antarctica. People will smuggle in cannabis from wherever they're being assigned from, and it's just

like a thing that's known and not talked about.


[00:09:18.930] - Caleb

Not technically legal, but definitely something to do when you're down there and stuck.


[00:09:25.660] - Elijah

For a while with these different areas like Texas and Kentucky that maybe have hemp products that

are moving into the cannabis license space. Why do you think Texas in particular for you has raised

up so highly, just out of curiosity?


[00:09:42.330] - Caleb

Well, that's a very good question. I actually don't have that many hemp products on my site, so it really

is a barometer of legacy demand, I would say, or on the traditional market, and you kind of see that

traditional market. So there will be the brands that are represented, are represented, are not the hemp

companies that are seeking to transition. It's the brands that are leaking stuff from California to the

rest of the world from wherever. So it's brands that lots of people haven't heard of, but a lot of people

have heard of.


[00:10:24.310] - Elijah

With the highest critic, you talk about doing a lot of reviews. Where do you see this going? When you

think about what you want this to keep moving into, where do you see the highest critic going?


[00:10:37.630] - Caleb

There's a lot of places I see it going. But I think the pillar that I want to stay near is education. And

really, like, reviews are educational, but they're only educational to a certain point because at the end

of the day, every person has a different endocannabinoid system. And also the people that self

identify as cannabis reviewers generally have more established tastes and preferences. So you can

always see that in any writer's, work is their inherent bias. And for reviews, it's just front and center. So

on that end, I want to go more towards empirical stuff. So in the last year, since going through the

Ganjier a program I've gone through to try and make sure that a terpene profile is mentioned in these

reviews and also just in any information. So if someone can find that, can read a particular cultivar

review and see that it is merci dominant or whatever, not just indico or sativa or hybrid, all dichotomy,

then it might be able to help them better choose a product for their endocannabinoid system based

on their previous experiences. And so whenever possible, I'm trying to link to the actual COA for that

actual batch and product.


[00:12:03.340] - Caleb

And it's been very hard to get that cooperation from brands, actually. Obviously it's not an option for

these gray market brands that aren't necessarily testing what they're sending out. But there's plenty of

products that are out there that have the test that companies or middlemen in the middle are just not

willing to share that information even though it's really free. So I want to kind of bridge that gap of

information, and I'm going to be compiling, if anything, like a database of what growers grow what

license type they have and to really break it down. More like what lights are they using, what brand of

lights are they using, what are they, what nutrients are they using, what brand or what amendments

they like, what post harvesting techniques do they have, anything that they'd be willing to share?

Because obviously, lots of this stuff could fall under trade secrets. But the kind of stuff that they hint

at in their marketing, these types of differentiations are what make growers different from each other,

and they're very prideful of it. And so to see that information kind of get lost and not be accessible for

end users to make their decision is very sad and I really want to change that.


[00:13:21.230] - Elijah

I very much understand that the process and the inputs, like you said, and all of the things that went

into making that product, not just some of those final numbers. If you had some key pieces of

information, what would you like to see added? I know you talked about chirping profiles, COAS,

things like that. What are a couple of things that if you could just on the wish list always have that info

to make those decisions or to look at those reviews, what would you want on there?


[00:13:52.570] - Caleb

Great question. I would take a step back away from terpene profiles and even to go back to there's

too much stuff out there that still doesn't even have the grower's name on there, right? That would be

thing number one. And then beyond that to have the proper lineage genetics information to give credit

to the breeder, those are just basic things that I guess they were happening more in the past or it's

always been something that the cannabis industry has battled with. I guess there's lots of incentive to

do shady things, I guess, and we see that play out, especially in unregulated markets. I'd say just to

have accurate lineage information and to pay respect to the breeder and really that lineage

information sans terpene profile, sans all that stuff is the only thing that someone is going to be able

to like choose a new cultivar that might hit them the same as a previous cultivar. Right? I like to say

that people generally ask someone like what cultivars, what strains that they have enjoyed in the past

and then go try to do a suggestion from there, like tell them what family treated bark up essentially.


[00:15:20.390] - Caleb

So if someone likes particular if they liked, if they liked OG Kush back in the day, chances are they'll

get a somewhat at least 50% similar experience with anything on the shelves that's labeled OG. And

that's very general advice. But at the end of the day that can't be true. It cannot be true. I've seen some

stuff that's been labeled OG that technically like OG is like a great grandfather if that. And at that point

that naming convention is going to fail. So just to have that information and have as much

information as possible because people who do care are going to care and people who don't care,

maybe they'll care eventually. Absolutely.


[00:16:11.750] - Elijah

And like you said, making sure you have that validated information where it's not just the claim but

here we can show you that this product actually is. Do you have any advice for maybe reviewers or

people that would want to do reviews about how to go about it? Beyond just maybe someone has just

been smoking but they want to really dive in a little more. How do you kind of get into that reviewing

area where you're breaking things down a little more analytically or maybe a little more consistently in

a process?


[00:16:46.850] - Caleb

I would say to anyone that smokes or bates or is able to using cannabis in a way where the end

cultivar makes a difference that'd be anything from flour to concentrates and maybe some pinchers

they should have like a stranger at least. Even if you're not aiming to be a reviewer or not, anything like

that, just to be able to write down like how certain cultivars by whatever breeder, by whatever grower

made you feel. And then if you have further information like oh, was it sun growing, was it indoor, was

it living soil, was it cocoa, was it whatever. And if you have that information you'll absolutely end up

seeing like what you like or what's more effective for you. And that will end up just even for an end

user that's not reviewing, could end up saving you more money, could get better highs, more targeted

towards what you're trying to achieve. And the other thing I would say for anyone who's trying to be a

reviewer, I think I've seen a lot of reviewers where that's the easiest first step to get your foot into the

cannabis industry. Like if you apply for a bud tender position and you have an established review

page, whether it's on Instagram, whether it's on BlogSpot or somewhere else that you've just set up for

free, and it's just entries from your journal, that is something where you're more qualified than the

other person that's coming in.


[00:18:20.770] - Caleb

So I would say just start. And there's a very nice subreddit called Just Start that people just write

about their experiences. Just starting. Whether it's being a reviewer, whether it's starting a drop

shipping business or something, that Just start is definitely good advice.


[00:18:44.470] - Elijah

I like what you said, too, about strain journals in particular, especially for medical patients, being able

to go back and look at what you liked, what you didn't like, and sometimes what you misremember

you liked or didn't like. And just having that reference.


[00:19:02.590] - Caleb

Because there might be insights that you never think of. Maybe it's not that it's a particular family tree

of strange or cultivars that you like. Maybe it's just a specific grower or specific brand that does it the

way that your body likes. And there's all sorts of insights that can be gleaned from data analysis in

this space on a personal, micro and macro level.


[00:19:30.470] - Elijah

And since it was just New Year's thinking about 2022 for yourself, you don't necessarily have to

choose the best thing. But what is in that upper top three or four things you've tried this past year that

you really thought stood out to you of all the things you've tried, it can be hash, baits, flour, whatever

product in whatever category.


[00:19:57.790] - Caleb

I'm going to take that one at a time. So flower first. Like I was saying before, each reviewer has some

biases, so mine are definitely going to show here. But the coolest things I found this year are a

sungrown haze number 19 by Heart Rock Mountain Farm. T