It’s Alive! The Origins of Live Resin

There are times when a perfect fusion of circumstances leads to the creation of something entirely new—something that changes the conversation altogether. Such was the case in the fall of 2013, when an inspired grower and hash-maker named William “Kind Bill” Fenger and an intrepid entrepreneur named Giddy Up joined forces and made hash history.

Kind Bill is something of an unsung hero in the concentrate community. Originally from Colorado, he began growing cannabis and making hash while living in Florida in the late 1980s, and he’s since produced hundreds of pounds using a variety of methods in numerous locales. In 2000, when medical marijuana became legal in Colorado, Fenger returned home and began working as a master grower at several large facilities—even starting the first legal grow dedicated exclusively to concentrate production in 2010. It was around this time, while tending these medical gardens, that he had a flash of inspiration.

“As I would trim my harvests,” Fenger recalls, “I always thought, ‘How cool would it be to be smoking oil from this plant while I’m doing this?’ The smell of the plants when they’re still alive, or while they’re being trimmed, is so intoxicating compared to dried buds… that’s what I wanted in an extract.”

Given that up to 95 percent of a plant’s terpenes can be lost from harvest through the final curing process, Fenger decided to try something new. Seeking to produce a concentrate with the terpene profile and pungency of a plant fresh from the garden—and taking a leaf from the method of creating fresh-frozen water hash (which generally makes a better product than dried material)—he tried processing a batch of butane hash oil not from dried buds or trim, but from a freshly harvested, flash-frozen whole plant. The result was a new type of cannabis concentrate that Kind Bill later dubbed live resin.

For the record, this idea wasn’t entirely new: A few others had also attempted making “fresh-frozen” BHO as early as 2011—but they were all using the open-blasting method, with less than satisfactory results.

“The first batch I ever made was from Original Diesel”—a rare Florida cut—“and everyone I showed it to was blown away,” Fenger remembers. “The flavor, smell and effect were amazing to me; it was the best thing I had ever smoked at that time. But the appearance got a lot of flack, the yield was terrible, and it was dangerous—so, ultimately, I rarely did it.”

Giddy Up and Kind Bill enjoy some of their handiwork. 

There were several challenges involved in trying to open-blast live resin. For one thing, freezing the extraction tube made the glass fragile and prone to shattering. This led some blasters to make questionable substitutions—such as using a frozen, drilled-out Thermos rather than a glass tube. Though tweaks like this theoretically made the process slightly safer, they were far from satisfactory for any kind of reliable, large-scale production.

Another problem: If the glass actually survived the extraction process without blowing out, the resulting concentrate was often too green and harsh. The color was due to chlorophyll, which was drawn out along with the terpenes and cannabinoids as the plant material thawed during the slow extraction process. This melting posed yet another problem: Moisture, also drawn from the thawing plant material, led to a finished product that snapped and crackled in a way that most devoted dabbers found unappealing.

And to top it all off, the yields simply weren’t there. Stuffing a glass tube with frozen material (which takes up much more space than the dried stuff) typically yielded less than a gram of finished oil, leading most hash-makers to conclude that fresh-frozen BHO would never become a viable commercial product.

Nevertheless, the mental seeds were planted with Fenger’s first batch. It wouldn’t be until two years later, however—after he met EmoTek Labs founder Giddy Up in September 2013—that they finally grew to fruition.

It all started at the Colorado Springs production facility for the medical dispensary A Cut Above, where Giddy had recently placed one of his early OBE-Dos closed-loop extraction units to produce wax and shatter. The staff was struggling to produce a high-quality product with the new machine, and so Kind Bill (by this time a nationwide extract consultant) was brought in to help resolve the production issues.

When he was introduced to Giddy Up and his shiny steel, large-capacity extractor, Fenger knew instantly that this was the paradigm shift he’d been waiting for.

“When Giddy told me that the OBE-Dos unit was pressure-rated down to -10•f, I was incredibly excited,” Bill recalls. “I immediately knew I could do new things with this unit that weren’t possible with glass tubes… I knew that this was the machine that would be able to make what would become live resin.”

The duo put their heads together and began experiments with the unit. The first batch of live resin they attempted was a mix of Chem Dog, Chem #4, and Big Poppa OG trim. Unfortunately, they ended up over-vacuuming it in post-processing, and the batch lost much of its sought-after qualities. It wasn’t until about a month later, during a late-night oil-making session with a group of fellow extract artists and connoisseurs in the kitchen of Gaia’s Garden, that they made the first truly successful batch of live resin—using frozen whole plants of Tres Star from Top Dawg Seeds, grown by Tierra Rojo and his team at Gaia Plant-Based Medicine (now known as MiNDFUL). The group ran several more strains over the next 24 hours, including East Coast Panama Chunk, Chem D and DJ Short’s Flo. It was during this extraction marathon that Bill first coined the term “live resin.”

Without question, live resin has become the hottest concentrate on the market right now. Since its creation in Colorado, it has quickly won multiple Cannabis Cups and other concentrate competitions, and it’s now available in many medical states in one form or another. Its uniquely pungent smell and flavor are the main attraction, but many extract aficionados are also drawn to the near-luminescent color that is common in well-made live resin (which practically glows when it’s made from A-plus material).

The most common criticism of live resin is that it has a less stable consistency than shatter made from dry plants, which can cause the BHO to transform quite a bit over time: from a shattery or sappy oil to a slightly cloudy, more granular “sugar” texture, then finally to a soft, sandy consistency that is mostly dry to the touch. These differences in appearance and texture are due to the higher moisture and terpene content.

The shatter consistency is the most stable, but it’s also the toughest to attain for most extract artists, since it requires A-plus starting material as well as extremely cold temperatures (or secondary dewaxing) to maintain its stability. Like traditional shatter/sap, the aroma isn’t as noticeable as in the other textures, but it tends to retain its terpenes the longest (when properly stored).

The sugar consistency is granular in texture, as mentioned earlier,  and comes most often from a long, strong, warm vacuum purge. Sugar is extremely terpene-rich and pungent when fresh, but it tends to lose those qualities more quickly than the other textures.

Much like standard BHO, live resin can also be whipped over heat into a gorgeous light-colored wax/budder, which results in either a soft, pliable product or a dry, crumbly one. Both of these smell incredible, but tend to lose their pungency more quickly than the unwhipped shatter/sap.

Of course, these texture changes depend greatly on the storage methods used, the time elapsed and, most importantly, the plants and strains used in the extraction. Some plants produce a very stable shatter-like resin that stays perfectly clear and breaks when tapped, while others produce a liquidy oil so rich with terpenes that it’s impossible to turn into anything else. In any case, since the volatile, water-soluble terpenes begin evaporating from the moment a batch is produced (even visibly separating and leaking into the container), live resin must be stored properly—or, better yet, consumed quickly.

Getting a perfectly stable live resin is primarily a process of trial and error that involves experimenting with a variety of strains, oven temperatures and pressures. However, here are some key variables to keep in mind that can help produce and preserve a top-notch product free of chlorophyll, moisture and most lipids:

1) Run the material as fast and as cold as possible. A very quick, cold extraction process prevents the material from thawing out, which is the most common reason for harsh, green-tinted oil.

2) Freeze the column. Keeping the steel column extremely cold keeps the material inside as cold as the butane, making the whole process much cleaner. (Please note that this step depends on the closed-loop extractor being used, as some are unsuitable for such low temperatures, and the extreme cold may cause seals or clamps to rupture.)

3) Use only top-quality frozen whole plants rather than trim. Though it’s possible to get a decent-quality live resin from well-maintained trim, the very process of slicing into the plant with scissors creates openings that allow more chlorophyll to leach out during the extraction. If the plant is harvested quickly (with most of the guard leaves left on), this allows it to get into the freezer much sooner—locking in as much chlorophyll as possible and resulting in less terpene loss.

4) Store live resin in a wine cooler or refrigerator to maintain the texture for as long as possible. The cool, low-humidity environment of a wine cooler presents the ideal conditions for curing and storing live resin. Aside from significantly slowing (or altogether stopping) the nucleation (autobuddering) process that it usually undergoes, keeping live resin in cold storage for months can produce a more interesting, pungent product (much like curing dried flowers or aging wine).

In the years since he and Giddy Up whipped up those first batches in Colorado, Kind Bill has watched dozens of other extract artists start making live resin—many times with methods different from the one he pioneered. But he doesn’t seem to mind: Unlike many concentrate producers, who hoard their techniques to the detriment of the cannabis community at large, Fenger has an open-source mentality that sets him apart.

“I’m just glad that the tech is getting out there, because that means more live resins for everyone—and that’s a good thing for the universe, as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “I love seeing the progression of this industry, and I look forward to the time when I can smoke something new that makes me forget all about live resin. That’s the special magic that keeps me doing this, and keeps me excited about the future of concentrates.”

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