A sample of Jilly Bean from another Colorado dispensary. (Ry Prichard, The Cannabist)

Jilly Bean (marijuana review)

Normally a love it — or hate it — strain with a fruity fragrance and funky dairy undertones, this cut proves surprisingly mediocre

Speakers of Romance languages toast to good health with “Salud” and “Salute.” In French, “santé” is used most often when clinging to glasses of cabernet, but it literally means “health,” making it an appropriate name for a marijuana store, elevated above the standard “wellness center” by a certain je ne sais quoi. I’ve always enjoyed learning to say “Cheers” in different languages, so I was drawn to Santé Alternative Wellness as I drove by this new-to-me shop.

Obviously, discovering new stores is not uncommon in Denver, considering the Marijuana Enforcement Division has issued more than 300 dispensary and recreational licenses in the city. I was on the fence about whether to stop, but my medical card had recently expired and the 21+ sidewalk sign enticed me into their parking lot.

The August heat made the dimly lit, cool check-in area at Santé Alternative Wellness a pleasant change. I mentally prepared for the inevitable 30-minute wait when I saw that there were four other recreational customers in front of me. Thankfully, they were all shopping together, which made me next in line. I had just enough time to grab $20 out of the ATM before they buzzed me into shop.

There were two adjacent purchase rooms — one for medical, one for rec. The rec room had two clearly labeled registers. The tag team working the counter, a man and woman, were both the average 20-something age of most budtenders. The woman came over to help me and give me the first-time customer spiel, while I quickly scanned the three rows of flower in the nice clear display case. As soon as I saw the Jilly Bean, I could feel myself imaginary drooling. Jilly is a longtime favorite of mine, but not just for the unique tropical, bitter-citrus smell and taste.

Jilly Bean by the numbers: $10/g, $30/eighth at Santé Alternative Wellness — Denver (recreational), 2070 S. Huron St., Denver

The other interesting and awesome draw to Jilly Bean is that it is named after one of its breeders, MzJill, the self-proclaimed “first lady” of TGA Genetics.

I’m guessing most people haven’t had the chance to visit a commercial grow or nerded out researching famous breeders and cannabis genetics, so I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret fact: The cannabis industry has historically been dominated by men. But in the past 10 years women-owned and founded businesses and trade organizations have begun to proliferate. The increasing presence and dominance of women in the thriving industry in our state is definitely a source of pride, but finding strains that were originally bred by women is still rare.

According to a piece MzJill penned for High Times, Jilly Bean is the product of a collaboration between her and another female grower at TGA Genetics, ToB, taken by crossing an Orange Velvet female with a Space Queen male. Though the Orange Velvet is rare to find in stores due to lower THC levels, it served well as breeding stock for both the Jilly and Agent Orange (called “The Orange Wave” by MzJill), passing on its most desirable traits. Jilly Bean certainly gets its pungent citrus smell and beautiful shiny look from the mother. The Space Queen, a cross of Romulan and Cinderella 99, is responsible for the mango and pineapple hints. These tropical flavors are passed down from Cindy 99’s incestuous family line, which is the result of intentionally backcrossing a rare Princess female with her sons for several generations, making Oedipus’ relationship with his mother seem like a generational anomaly.

To the uninitiated Jilly smoker, the strain’s fragrance is often confused for mold or mildew. The unique combination of citrus, tropical, sweet and bitter can certainly be deceiving. When I was a budtender, patients unfamiliar with the strain would often insist that our Jilly Bean had mold in it. The moldy smell is actually an intricate combination of tropical fruitiness and hints of cheese that comes from the Space Queen. Other patients who were familiar with the Jilly had feelings of either love or hate, but never indifference.

I was slightly disappointed when I first smelled Santé’s Jilly Bean. Instead of the pungent fragrance I anticipated, the smell was dominated by hay and earth, with a very subtle hint of the tropical citrus. Their display jar had a magnifying glass built into the lid, but I didn’t need it to notice that the nug lacked the clearly-defined, bushy bulb-like calyxes that converge like a pine tree. The sample looked like a shaved corn on the cob, leaving me to inquire as to how the plant was trimmed. According to the guy helping the other four customers (all now curious about my line of questioning), he wasn’t sure if it was hand-trimmed, but “it definitely looked like it.” I remained skeptical, so I checked out a couple of the other strains. I ultimately settled on a gram of the Jilly Bean and a gram of Black Russian (also a MzJill contribution to TGA), which had a slightly better bud structure but no discernible smell other than hay.

When a store has display nugs and pre-weighed plastic jars of product, there is always the looming risk of a classic bait-and-switch, but the lack of smell in the samples alleviated this concern. The budtenders were both friendly and helpful enough, and soon I was on my way, weed in hand in a cool Colorado flag paper bag.

I got back to the office and immediately had to jump on a conference call. I was barely off the phone before I began inspecting the flower further. I started by poking my nose into each of the teal push-top jars and taking a big whiff, first with Jilly, then to Black Russian to clear my nose like coffee beans at a cologne counter, and back to Jilly. The initial smell was as underwhelming as the display nug. Spilling the two nugs onto my desk supported my suspicion about the trim method used. If it was trimmed by hand, it must have been performed with the electric clippers more commonly employed in facial hair maintenance. The nugs were covered in long red hairs, but they appeared to have been shaved without regard to the contour of the calyxes and leaves, likely destroying trichomes and pushing any surface matter into the nug.

First, I squeezed the smaller bud of the two (a half-inch in length) to test its moisture. Unlike the playful sponginess of properly dried flower, these nugs were crisp and flattened like a pancake with a little pressure, never to decompress (I smoked it five minutes later). When I broke the larger of the two, the smell definitely opened up — a very pleasant surprise. I was still yearning for a glimpse of the beautiful, shiny, blue-and-violet hues with which I was familiar. So, I meticulously tore the nug apart to find it, but it never came. Instead, the top layer of green had an underside that was lemon yellow.

Disappointed, I loaded a small spoon and took a hit. Surprisingly (based on the smell), the taste of grapefruit juice and dried mango was dominant in my nose and on my tongue with a hint of hay. After five consecutive hits, I felt a slight bite in my throat, but not enough to make me cough. Within two minutes, a sense of relaxation came over my eyes, followed by my body 10 minutes later.

Pretty soon, I decided it was time for my daily walk down to the Lower Highlands footbridge (the one that goes over I-25), so I grabbed my shades and left. I felt relaxed in both body and mind, and started to get lost in my thoughts. I barely noticed the enormous line at Little Man Ice Cream, even though watching people stand in line for an hour for ice cream would usually disgust me. I continued on at a less-than-brisk pace until I got to the footbridge, at which point I turned around and walked back to the office. Within 30 minutes of getting back, I could feel Jilly’s effects start to wear off.

This Jilly Bean had just enough of the delicious flavor and hybrid cerebral body high to leave me wanting more. The short-lived high, on the other hand, was not a trait I have come to expect from Jilly over the years. So, I smoked another bowl in the late afternoon with co-worker Nick while I waited for my brother and parents to come downtown for dinner. My brother was back home from Dallas to celebrate his birthday with some friends (Happy Birthday, Zubin!), so it was sure to be a late night, making my pre-dinner ritual all the more crucial.

Just like the bowl before, the taste was noticeably citrus and mango, but lacked the full strength of flavor that makes Jilly a favorite for so many people. The trim, smell and yellow color all point to rushing product to the shelf, an issue I touched upon during my appearance on The Cannabist Show. A little bit more patience during the post-harvest process could make this store one that draws me back on a regular basis. Until then, however, I will play it safe and get my Jilly from a store I know better.

The high provided enough stimulation to engage in witty but pointless banter with Nick. We hypothesized that the jelly bean reference might not be the real reason the strain has its name. What if the name was the result of a classic initial switch on Billie Jean?

Despite the mediocrity of this particular sample, my affinity for Jilly Bean is unaffected. Billie Jean may not be my lover, but Jilly Bean certainly is.