Top 10 Best Hemp Flowers? The Internet Wants to Know.

The internet is obsessed with rankings and lists. Best hemp flower cultivars. Top 10 CBD companies. The answers are much more nuanced. Mostly, consumers want to know that they can order from a company and trust that what they receive will be quality products.

Every farmer properly believes their hemp is the very best. We are subjective and must rely on third parties to make that call. Horn Creek relies on competitions, reviewers and customer testimonials to score our quality and to keep improving. Hemp competitions carry the most weight in certifying a companies claims. Competitions are growing in popularity. Numerous Cannabis Cups have added hemp flower and product categories. How do they work and what can we learn from them? How can farmer’s grow the best hemp possible to put their operation on the CBD map?

How do CBD Flower Competitions Determine the Best Hemp Flower?

Typically, competitions employ a panel of judges with experience in both Hemp and Marijuana. Their backgrounds will be either as growers, hemp enthusiasts or both. There are some tremendously talented and knowledgeable people in the cannabis industry. They can detect minute hints of a cultivar’s origin, genetics and cultivation practices. We prize those insights as they help us evolve our farming practices.

There is another method which is increasingly popular – People’s Choice. In the same way that wine is assessed and consumed, not all users value or can even detect the subtleties of a bud connoisseur or wine sommelier. People know what they like. And really, that is what hemp flower competitions are about – answering the questions of who grows the best hemp flower? and “How can I find the best hemp flower among the hundreds of hemp companies?

This latter method works best for finding the most popular hemp flower and CBD products. I must admit that at times experts operate well above my head. They can go deep into terpene profiles and bud structures. That is their job and they are good at it. Many buyers simply want to know whether the products have the right nose, the right effects and the potency as advertised. People’s choice categories are very good providing a consumer’s stamp of approval.

What do Hemp Judges Judge?

Submissions are usually a month or more in advance of the event. In some cases such as the Cultivation Classic it will be 4-6 months prior. The submissions must be lab-tested for compliance and re-packaged into blind samples. This is important. We appreciate knowing that there were no preconceptions from the judges based on the origin farm or the genetics. We only enter competitions that use blind testing. Some People’s Choice contests are not blind, those potential biased results are mitigated over several hundred judges.

CBD products and hemp flowers are evaluated differently. Products such as CBD salves, tinctures, topicals, and teas are judged based on appearance, feel, fragrance and efficacy. CBD hemp flower is judged based on looks, nose, terpene profile, potency, cure, flavor, and effects. Curing is absolutely critical.

The most credible results come from be either single or double-blind, which is to say the judge’s do not know the farm, the cultivar, or even whether the flower is THC or CBD-rich. We were quite pleased and the judges quite surprised to find that our Sour Space Candy won the Cultivations Classic’s flagship ‘Credible Cultivar’ award. That award is given to the flower which receives the most consistent, and consistently favorable positive votes. This award has only been won by THC flower prior to 2020. It is a statement about the quality and effects potential for CBD hemp flower.

Horn Creek Hemp’s Process and results

Much of the hemp and CBD experience is subjective, which lends itself to seeking as many opinions as possible. In 2020 we set out to seek as many considered opinions as possible. That meant entering all of the hemp and CBD competitions we could and taking their feedback to heart. We also found a handful of online reviewers to be very helpful.

Two Youtube reviewers that we like include Shabazz and Hemp Ups Low Down/Lonermob. They’ve both been objective and offered good feedback for better curing.

hanging greenhouse hemp trellis

Good feedback isn’t always positive. That is the opportunity. It is soothing to receive compliments about your products. But you don’t learn anything. We were grateful for some polite and thoughtfully critical opinions about our flower. The most common criticisms we heard early on were insufficient curing and over-drying. These two perspectives caused us to review our procedures for quality and consistency.

We spent months reviewing and refining how we dry, cure and store hemp flower. Whitney is an outstanding and demanding cultivator. We know she can produce top quality flower. Drying properly takes close observation to determine when the flower is ready. The hard part is curing and storing. I look at a cure as a proprietary chef’s recipe. There is no fixed static process. Every batch is different, requiring regular assessment. It will be ready when it is ready.

After that, storage is critical. We have put months into growing, harvesting, drying and curing premium hemp flower. Poor storage can put that entire effort to waste. Dark, cool, stable temperature and Rh are vital for preservation of the products. And you must be able to control air – at times you want limited air movement, and at times none.

Once we dialed these components in we wanted to see what others thought of our work.

2020 Golden Grow Awards

We began 2020’s competition season at the first annual Hemp, Inc. Golden Grow Awards. We entered our Special Sauce by Oregon CBD. It had the best nose and it is the cultivar that launched Horn Creek Farms. We finished the curing process with a couple weeks of mason jar time. Just like any pageant, we primped and pruned our entries and hoped for the best. We were pleased to win 2nd place for Judge’s Favorite and 3rd for people’s choice.

Oregon Grower’s Cup

We next submitted two flowers and two CBD products to the Oregon Grower’s Cup. We put some strong contenders through the prep routine though we did not finish in the top three. As I said, critiques provide an opportunity to learn.

We also entered two of our favorite crafted CBD products into the Cup. We make our CBD Topical, Ruby’s Max Pain salve, with oil extracted from our Special Sauce flower. Rubys Pain Salve uses 5,000mg CBD per ounce. The base is a proprietary base including MCT and an assortment of essential oils. Whitney’s blend comes from years of experience with herbal remedies. This is the original recipe that helped me recover from injury and launched our farm. It is astonishingly effective, with broad entourage effects from both full and broad-spectrum distillate. Ruby’s Max Pain was voted the best CBD Topical at the competition.

Super Special Sauce dry extraction Kief is golden in color. Any hemp flower material that is not well suited for standalone sale is sifted for kief. Quality kief requires three things – First, strong cultivation for maximum trichome production. Cure is important but not as much as with flower. Good kief must be light gold in color, which means it consists of just trichomes and no green plant material. It must also clump together well which indicates stickiness and freshness. Special Sauce Kief won Best CBD Extraction.

Cultivation Classichorn creek hemp awards

This was the 6th year for the Cultivation Classic. It was a challenging year. We submitted entries in February for an anticipated award show in May. Covid 19 changed that. The Classic finally aired their program in November of 2020.

The Classic is known for rigorous and data-centric judging processes. They have the largest judge panel of all, with some 150 volunteers. Each judge is given samples without knowing the farm, the cultivar, or even whether it is high THC, a blend, or high CBD. Judges grade on multiple aspects of the flower, including how it makes them feel and how pleasurable the effects are.

We were thrilled to win the top two spots in the hemp category with Oregon CBD genetics Suver Haze which took gold and Special Sauce (Silver). The flagship award at the Classic is named ‘Credible Cultivar’. This prize is awarded to the flower from all categories that all judges rate not just the best, but also the most enjoyable. Judges named this winner the most consistently relaxing flower of all entries. We were thrilled that Sour Space Candy won this category. It is the first time a non-thc flower even placed. To us, this demonstrates that low or non-thc deserves a seat at the cannabis table.

2021 Golden Grow Awards

To finish 2020 and kick off 2021 we conducted an in-house competition to determine which cultivars we would enter in our second Golden Grow. An internal blind panel selected our Lifter and Hawaiian Haze. The Golden Grow awards organizers put in an heroic effort to hold a live show. Ultimately the ceremony had to be virtual. At the end of their online hemp conference, they handed out awards after commentary by the five judge panel. Out of five judged categories, Lifter won top marks for Best CBD potency, Judge’s Favorite, and the Aggregate award – Best NW Hemp Grower for Horn Creek Farms.

What’s Next

We feel very fortunate to have done well in our first year of competition. We are proud of our team and they deserve our gratitude. We’ve next set our sights on larger competitions and continuously improving our methods. We are working to get placement on someone’s Best Hemp of 2021 list.

Next up – High Times Cannabis Cup.

Epilog: High Times People’s Choice Awards

High Times runs The Annual Hemp Cup Awards. While not a blind judging event, HT Cup is inarguably the highest profile event of its kind. We were eager to see how we compared to other brands. Horn Creek went all in.. We submitted in multiple categories, though our #1 focus was on the flower category. We sent caramels, pre-rolls, kief, liquid capsules, and other items. Products were divided among 8 different assortments which were then sent around the country to judges who opted in to receive a kit and provide feedback.

And last month winners were announced. The team gathered in the kitchen, watching on an iPhone. Except me. I stayed in the field on a tractor because I couldn’t take the suspense. as the show built up to the flagship flower category, we were so pleased to get honorable mention for Special Sauce kief, 3rd place for capsules, then 3rd place for our CBD caramels. Then the flower category came up… And this happened.