Sunburn Cannabis introduces Bill's Reserve, a new premium flower line named for the CEO's notorious father

'I think we're all going to need a lot of cannabis to get through the next six months.'

click to enlarge A Sunburn Cannabis nursery in Winter Garden - photo by Seth Kubersky
photo by Seth Kubersky
A Sunburn Cannabis nursery in Winter Garden

If I asked you to imagine where the world's best weed is grown, you'd probably picture a high-tech greenhouse in Amsterdam, or perhaps a verdant farm in Northern California. But what if I told you that the country's best cannabis might be grown just outside Orlando, within shouting distance of suburban neighborhoods?

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to be one of Florida's first medical marijuana patients to sample the debut drop of Sunburn Cannabis' Orange Mintz, which marked the launch of their new "Bill's Reserve" line of premium flower. A cross between Orange Push Pop and Animal Mints — with over 33 percent total active cannabinoids and nearly 2.5 percent terpenes — it was one of the prettiest and most potent nuggs I've ever purchased through Florida's MMJ program (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Naturally, I was excited to visit this beautiful bud's birthplace in Winter Garden, where Sunburn has completed its conversion of a former Knox nursery. Last month I got a VIP tour of Sunburn's vast 29,000-square-foot facility from Charles Bailey, vice president of operations, and later interviewed owner Brady Cobb, to learn step-by-step what separates a jar of Bill's Reserve from those baggies of stems and seeds you used to score behind the 7-Eleven.


Science class may have taught you that every plant starts as a seed, but almost everything grown at Sunburn begins as a carefully selected clone. "We grow the seeds up and find the most desirable plant from cannabinoid profile, yields, terpene profile, flavonoids," explains Bailey. "We send it to testing, send it through our QA and R&D, and if it makes the team, then we go from clone after that, so it's the exact same plant every time."

Sunburn stands out for promoting the names of their breeders and growers, which Cobb compares to celebrity chefs or the way winemakers are celebrated in the wine industry, "because they are true artisans; it's a craft."

Unlike some companies, Bailey says Sunburn isn't shooting solely for sky-high THC scores. "THC is important for sure, but that's like the engine in the car, and then the terpenes are like the steering wheel. Sativa, indica, hybrid; all that stuff's bullshit. It's really how the terpenes affect your own endocannabinoid system. ... THC gives you the psychoactive effects, but the terpenes drive what that experience is going to be like for you."


After a 56-day flowering cycle, and another eight weeks or so growing under a precise mix of natural and supplemental lighting on a carefully monitored diet of nutrient fluid and CO2, the plants are ready to be plucked. For Bill's Reserve, Bailey says, "We only take the head and shoulders, the most desirable colas [at the top of the plant], and we also always harvest with the branch intact [and] hang-dry." Rather than cutting and carrying the cannabis to the trimming room, losing precious trichomes along the way, Sunburn uses huge rolling benches to slide the entire crop over to its next stop.

click to enlarge Sunburn uses huge rolling benches to slide the entire crop over to its next stop. - photo by Seth Kubersky
photo by Seth Kubersky
Sunburn uses huge rolling benches to slide the entire crop over to its next stop.


All of Sunburn's bud is trimmed by hand, because (as Cobb says) "You can't tell your growers you want to grow the best and then throw it through a meat grinder." A separate team of specially trained trimmers is dedicated to snipping Bill's Reserve, and Bailey says the bud never gets touched by hands.

"It's called 'lollipop': They hold the stem, trim the flower, and pluck the flower." Cobb calls the trim team "our last set of eyes and ears" looking for flaws like larf or bud burn.


All of Sunburn's flower next spends weeks in a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment for a two-stage curing process. "We do it slow in here, whereas a lot of companies will dry it as fast as possible to get it out. That ruins a labor of love, the cultivation," says Bailey, adding that Bill's Reserve gets an extra-long slower second cure after trimming: "That one is ready when it's ready."


Instead of their usual burp bags, Bill's Reserve is packed by a special team into white glass jars emblazoned with the orange and black Sunburn logo, and is delivered to dispensaries in air-conditioned vans. "It's got a seal around the lid," says Bailey, "so as long as I keep that jar sealed, the patient's going to have the same experience as we've had."

click to enlarge Bill's Reserve is harvested with the branch intact. - photo by Seth Kubersky
photo by Seth Kubersky
Bill's Reserve is harvested with the branch intact.

Of course, the Sunburn team has to continually sample their products for quality control. "It's not only about trying the new stuff; it's about pulling QA random samples throughout the batch, pulling an older sample," says Bailey. But don't imagine a free-for-all ganja buffet. All employees must go through the same state registry as patients and properly dispense their testing materials (usually in single grams). "The Office of Medical Marijuana Use has us under a magnifying glass, as they should."

Finally, Cobb says that everything about Sunburn, but especially Bill's Reserve, is about honoring both his late father, a notorious 1970s drug smuggler in South Florida for whom the brand is named, and the Sunshine State itself. "Everyone kind of focuses on California as being, you know, the epicenter of cannabis, [but] Florida has its own unique history with cannabis," says Cobb. "It's all to pay homage to my father and a lot of people like him that took a chance on the plant in Florida before it was legal."

For now, you have to have a state medical marijuana card to enjoy Bill's Reserve, but that may change if 60 percent of voters support the recently approved recreational use amendment in November. While Cobb correctly predicted that the measure would make it on the ballot, calling it "an amazing accomplishment," he also says "I don't think we've seen what the real work looks like yet, until we get to that process. It's going to be a heavy lift."

He also thinks proposed THC percentage caps are "a bit ridiculous" and unlikely to pass, but as a "free market libertarian-minded person" he's ambivalent about bans on hemp derivatives, which — until the Legislature's passage of SB 1698 in March — were being freely sold in Florida. That could change if DeSantis signs it.

"You have 9,600 smoke shops around the state of Florida that have signs out in front of their store [advertising THC], which I would argue are incredibly misleading. ... That's not helping what we're trying to do from a destigmatizing standpoint [and] from a consumer safety standpoint."

No matter which side of the aisle you're on, Cobb's final words ring true on this final 4/20 before the contentious upcoming election: "I think we're all going to need a lot of cannabis to get through the next six months."

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