Picking a Winning Phenotype

Choosing which phenotype to put on the market requires serious selection and a significant smoking circle.
Gelato #41 x LD-95 #49 / Courtesy of Fig Farms

It’s easy to forget, but cannabis is absolutely an agricultural product. That means, like fresh fruits or vegetables, these flowers ripen and reach a peak point of deliciousness in the smoke. From one week to the next in the cure, one sibling plant can edge out another. Growing from seed means each plant has the same genetic make-up, but like sisters, are similar, not identical. Is the winning phenotype #48 or #49? This week it’s #49, but next week #48 could squeeze in as the top heat.

In truth, #48 probably is the winner today as I write about flowers on the autumnal equinox of 2022. The smell from this sample on my desk is so dank, I feel it in the back of my nostrils. Like gasoline on the sidewalk after that first rain, this weed smells fresh, but also distinctly chemical-like. It leaves a rainbow blur in my mind. I’m so high.


The weed I’m smoking is a tester of Gelato #41 and LD-95 from Oakland, California cannabis breeder and cultivator Fig Farms. It’s certainly not the Gelato of five years ago. Back in the equally heady days of Sherbinski’s 2017 Gelato releases, that handful of Mochi Gelato he pulled out for me from a giant plastic bag overflowing with buds tasted sweet. It wasn’t that it didn’t have any gas—after all Gelato pulls its lineage from two of the most gassy and well known strains families of modern time, OG Kush and Cookies—but that it showed off a more fruity, dessert side alongside all that dank. Out of all the various Gelato phenotypes, Gelato #41 (otherwise truly named Bacio Gelato) has proven to be the most prolific. At this point, Gelato #41—a cross of Sunset Sherbet and Thin Mint Cookies which was created in a San Francisco garage by Sherbinski and fellow breeder Jigga—has officially found its way into hearts and lungs all over the world.

“The funny thing is people know [the Gelato strains] as the 25, 33 and the 41,” Sherbinski told Jimi Devine in a 2017 sitdown interview about the success of the Gelato. “Those were just the numbers I put on the pots, they’re not the names. That would be like having kids and calling them 5, 6, 7, 8.”

The Fig Farms creation combines the Gelato #41 we all know and love (albeit Fig’s own version of the strain that they’ve cheekily named after Devine, calling it Jimi #41) with LD-95. The LD-95 part of that comes from a parent that’s all diesel and sour funk. After visiting the Fig Farms grow a few weeks back, I began shopping the two phenotypes Fig Farms is considering releasing into the market with the crew of elite strain experts I roll with. Right now, and possibility forever, the samples are designated by number: the Gelato #41 x LD-95 #48 and the Gelato #41 x LD-95 #49.

“We pollinated a bunch of stuff with LD-95 from Top Dawg,” Fig Farms breeder and owner Keith Healy explains of the OG and Chem type profiles he’s bringing to the Gelato #41. “So it should be like a strong, potent flower… you expect that to bring gas notes and fuel and so, we throw that [male pollen] at a female and we see if that actually translates. It’s almost like an experiment where you’re making a hypothesis and then you’re executing and seeing if your hypothesis is real.”

At a later kitchen table tasting of the #48 and #49 phenotypes with cannabis strain expert Ngaio Bealum, he quite accurately says these dense, heavy, and incredibly sticky nugs “have an undercurrent of skunk” but are missing a lot of that traditional Gelato sweetness. When I bust out the numbered samples for another thorough analysis at a San Francisco Labor Day backyard barbecue hosted by Leafly’s sherpa of terps, David Downs, the group is divided. That day, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the city shaped by the 1849 Gold Rush, I was really going for #49. True guardian of the flame, Devine, however, was beyond sure the #48 was the one.

Back at Fig Farms it’s testing season and Chief Sales Officer Mike Doten brings out eight different sister variations of 6ixth Sense x Figmint.

“Each one that we’re showing you represents a single plant,” Doten says. “These are single-plant testers at this stage. Then we’ll enter them into a two-, or at the maximum, five-plant next run and that will happen in our actual production room.”

After this selection process is over, Fig Farms typically releases only about 20 pounds of the winning phenotype strain at a time. The first drops are usually 5 to 10 pounds. 

“The distributor hates it. It’s expensive to test it,” Healy explains.

But, because there’s no outside investors telling him he needs to grow only the plants that yield more in order to release larger say 50-pound batches, Fig Farms, which is run by Healy and his wife fellow cannabis cultivator and breeder Chloe, can put out what it wants. This means that strains are pretty unique. I bring this up particularly when it comes to the Holy Moly!, a strain that was the first jar to be emptied in an organic taste testing I hosted at the High Times 100 party held in Los Angeles this May.

Courtesy of The High Rise Co.

“[Holy Moly!] is just so unique and the reason why it’s so unique and rare is because nobody in their right mind would throw that in a commercial setting,” Healy says. “It’s something that you would expect somebody that has their own little tent to grow like one plant of and still be frustrated with the process.”

Holy Moly! / Courtesy of Fig Farms

The 6ixth Sense and Figmint crosses are pretty dialed in at this stage and look really similar to me, but part of the award-winning formula at Fig Farms is figuring out which one is really the best. I hone in on one tester that displays a bit more purple color. It’s a “party purple,” Doten says, and when I ask what that means he tells me “it’s not like a midnight purple or something, it’s more like the purple you’d see on a party napkin.”

“If you can produce multiple really, really good things from just a small amount of seeds then it seems to be a higher-quality cross,” Healy explains.

Looking toward the future Healy hopes to release his own seeds. Right now he’s playing with the stability Fig Farms is finding in the 6ixth Sense x Figmint and thinking about pairing that with other strains in the current lineup such as Animal Face.

“My goal with seeds, when people buy them, is that they end up with a very difficult time making a selection,” he says. 

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