In recent years, few names have taken the world of California cannabis by storm quite like the cultivators at Alien Labs.
Through the sheer quality of its cannabis and sense of charm the team brought to California’s previously thriving event circuit, Alien Labs has become a household name faster than most. As its extraterrestrial-covered purple jars have come to be embraced in local markets up and down the state, it is easy for us to see that we have a winner on our hands.
Alien Labs founder Ted Lidie gave us the exclusive rundown on how the ship took off across the Golden State, abducting sobriety to the fullest as they entered each California market. Lidie dove into every twist and phenotype of the journey that led to the cultivators sweeping the first fully legal Cannabis Cup in California in 2018.
Back in 2010, Lidie and his partner Tyler Meeks owned a club called Medi Cali in Redding, a small city due east of the Emerald Triangle. Lidie had just moved back to Redding from San Francisco and was well aware that consumer-friendly brands were about to take off as the plant normalized in the public eye.
“In Redding, it was all hippie — not that that’s a bad thing,” Lidie says. “You went into a club and there were 50 strains of outdoor.”
So Lidie and Meeks began their own cultivation efforts, following the same philosophy that Alien Labs employs today: It’s always worth it to go the extra mile when you’re trying to produce the best flower possible.
Before the days of Alien Labs’ current spread of boutique cuts, they were working with classics like Green Crack and Purple Skunk. In 2011, they got their hands on Cookies, after paying someone $20,000 for the genetics. That’s when they started the strategy of trying to bring the best out of strains that were already on the map, Lidie says.
“We were growing Lemon Fuel and selling all throughout California as Mars OG,” he says. “That was our biggest thing before Alien Labs. Just selling Mars OG in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles.”
A few years later, Lidie noticed that the cannabis industry was starting to shift towards branded cannabis, particularly thanks to brands like Cookies, so he founded Alien Labs in March of 2014.
“Cookies was the only one I knew about because I wasn’t on the weed internet like that,” he says. “In the forum days, we were on IC Mag and that kind of thing, but it was usernames, it wasn’t brands. I started making Alien Labs in my sh*tty little eight-light trap house. Every time I would harvest, I would go sell it as Alien Labs.”
Everything they were doing in those early days was an attempt to be ahead of the curve.
“When we started Alien Labs, legalization wasn’t even a thing yet, but we knew it was about to happen,” says Lidie. “It obviously paid off. We’re one of the few known brands in the legal space now.”
The Truth is Out There
Alien Labs’ first big event was the NorCal Cannabis Cup in 2014 at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, former home of the Golden State Warriors. They placed well with Dosidos, the delicious pairing of the OGKB Girl Scout Cookie Phenotype and Face Off OG. Alien Labs was now on the radar after its maiden contest. They returned to the competition in 2015 with Dosidos again, riding on the strain’s blend of cookies and kush flavor.
Lidie had scored the cut of Dosidos off the internet — and it turned out his cut was different than everything else on the market.
“I bought it off a guy on the internet, and we ended up having a different cut of Dosi than everyone else,” Lidie says. “I hit up NorCal, the breeder who made the original selection, and asked what was up with our cut. He says it was his number two selection that was more of an OG leaner. He didn’t mean to release it, but we ended up getting it and we were able to give it back to him.”
Lidie believes that those lucky runs of Dosidos put both the strain itself and Alien Labs on the map.
After Dosidos, Alien Labs helped establish another strain’s popularity in Northern California: Wedding Cake. In 2016, the cultivators obtained Wedding Cake from The Jungle Boys, the legendary cultivators who were behind the strain’s success in Los Angeles. Wedding Cake is a clone-only phenotype of Triangle Mints that was originally bred by Seed Junky Genetics from an awesome Triangle Kush mother dusted with pollen from an Animal Mints father. The Wedding Cake nickname came from the Jungle Boys, who noticed the strain’s strong vanilla cake frosting aroma.
In early 2018, Alien Labs’ Wedding Cake took first place in the Sacramento Cannabis Cup’s hybrid category, while Alien Labs’ Gelato # 41 collaboration with the Connected Cannabis Co. took home the indica cup with one of the spiciest renditions yet of Gelato’s increasingly complex flavor profile. Not to be outdone, the fruity upbeat blast provided by Alien Labs’ Melonade took home the sativa top prize. This meant a clean sweep of the three flower categories at California’s first legal Cannabis Cup.
Lidie noted that after their victory, Alien Labs has been “compared to these guys with thousands of lights, but we had 60.” Lidie believes those kinds of comparisons with the best in California are a testament of their branding effort. “We definitely chose the fake it til’ you make it route and it worked,” he says. Today, a new facility has tripled the capacity for Alien Labs to 180 lights.
“We’re riding the wave right now,” Lidie says. “There have been some ups and downs, and legalization was really tough. We only had 60 lights and there was no way we were going to survive without teaming up with someone.”
Lidie says Alien Labs has chosen to partner with other extractors, rather than angle for more profits by producing the concentrates in-house. He says he is always excited to work with the world’s best extractors with the goal of providing them the best material possible to work their magic. Working with big name extractors was also a good way to get the word out about Alien Labs.
“That was a really big thing for spreading our name early when we weren’t packaging our own flower except at events,” he says. “So when people would use our trim or flower for concentrates, they would put our logo on it and that helped a lot. I love concentrates, that’s personally how I smoke.”
Lidie says producing concentrates is always a loss. Producing concentrates means losing weight on the freeze and splitting the profits with the extractor, but for Lidie, it’s mostly about taking part in the process of creating something really special.
One forthcoming collaboration involves some Melonade and Gelato #41 going to Royal Key Organics for the brand’s relaunch. Lidie says Alien Labs will only make a few hundred dollars profit per pound, but they will have the boss sauce by the jar.
Today, Alien Labs continues to collaborate with Connected Cannabis Co., occasionally using space in their facility.
“We just did a 180-light run of pure Melonade — crazy enough, it’s the best Melonade I’ve seen and we didn’t grow it,” says Lidie with a laugh. “When Connected grows in their rooms, they use their style, it’s similar but still different.”
Lidie says Connected’s Melonade is almost a whole new take on the strain, with different purple shades than he’d never seen on it before. He believes it’s further proof that Alien Labs’ scale up via Connected is going well. Back in the day, Connected was the first company ever to buy a pound of Alien Labs’ weed.
Alien Labs has always been at the forefront of the collaboration scene. Lidie says it’s not necessarily a business ethos, but just a way they’ve chosen to structure their lives. He says a hatred for drama and the general goal of putting out the best weed possible has played a major role in their ability to form new relationships.
“But obviously when I see someone do something cool like come out with a new strain or hit 32 percent THC, even though that could be bullsh*t, I’m still like, damn I want to hit 33 percent. But it’s not an unfriendly competition, it’s just the competitive spirit.”
Alien Labs’ current effort to expand its genetics stock is taking place under eight lights. Lidie says they could have turned it into another flowering space and made good money but, “we like to hunt, we like to find new strains.”
“That’s what people like in the weed industry,” Lidie says of consumers’ thirst for new varieties. “There is never going to be one strain over all the rest. OG Kush, that’s about it. That’s the only strain that’s never really gone out of style.”
Taking the Saucer to SoCal
Of all the California markets, Los Angeles blew up the fastest for Alien Labs, according to Lidie. He believes things around cannabis just don’t matter anywhere else in California like they do in Los Angeles.
“Brands are built in LA, that’s why we’ve given so much out- reach to the LA area,” he says.
While he appreciates the other markets in California where Alien Labs is popular, he says they don’t push the dial for the brand. For Lidie, the fact that Los Angeles is now a legal cannabis destination for travelers from across the globe is a big plus.
“I feel like all my homies from London, everyone hitting me up on Instagram, they always go to Los Angeles,” he says.
But at the end of the day, you can expect Alien Labs to be very popular wherever the ship lands.
TELL US, what’s your favorite strain from Alien Labs?
Originally published in the print edition of of Cannabis Now.