Updated Nov. 21, 2015 at 2:24 p.m.
Like tales of the Illuminati and Freemasons, cannabis strain theory is rich in myth and legend, given that most of the plant’s modern evolution has been during prohibition. The stories of how many of today’s popular strains originated are often undocumented and sometimes convoluted, passed down by word of mouth. The history behind Chem Dawg (a.k.a. Chem Dog) is no exception.
As the story goes in a blog post from Colorado-based Abakus magazine, a group of Colorado growers went on tour with the Grateful Dead during the summer of 1991 with a pound of Dog Bud they had recently procured. The name Dog Bud came from the fact that smoking it supposedly “made you roll over like a dog,” according to P-Bud, a friend of storyteller Adam Dunn (learn more about Dunn, who’s a well-known Colorado cannabis figure and strain breeder, at the end of the review). The growers, including P-Bud, started calling it Chemweed because of the “fuel/chemical smell and taste.” P-Bud said, “We made that name up as kind of a joke.”
With the typical summer growing-season “drought” putting the pinch on the local weed supply, the growers soon had a line of people at their car and business was brisk. One particular customer bought a bag, then quickly returned for more and became friendly with the growers. This customer was a huge fan of the pungent product and combined the names “Dog Bud” and “Chemweed” and called the weed “Chem Dog,” a name that stuck to him as well.
According to P-Bud, the Colorado growers and Chem Dog kept in touch after the tour, and they shipped a few more ounces of Dog Bud/Chemweed to Chem Dog in Massachusetts. One ounce was devoid of seeds, but Chem Dog found 13 seeds in the other batch and history was in the making.
He “popped” some of the seeds in 1991, two of which became ’91 Chem Dog and the Sister; another was a male plant that was discarded (“Foolishly, I threw it away,” Chem Dog said in Dunn’s blog). Over the next 15 years, he continued to pop seeds from the original 13 and developed the phenotype Chem Dog D (2000), which circulated among East Coast growers. The ’91 Chem Dog eventually was crossed with Massachusetts Super Skunk and some others to create one of that region’s most well-known strains: Sour Diesel. In 2006, Chem Dog sent four of the original 13 seeds back to P-Bud and the Colorado crew, which resulted in Chem 4.
According to Chem Dog himself (via Dunn’s blog), a breeder at California-based Apothecary Genetics grew the ’91 cut and called it “Chem Dawg” — likely the source of today’s common spelling for the strain.
And there you have it. The carefully developed Chem Dog/Chem Dawg lineage has deep Colorado roots and a prominent place in East Coast genetics. Incidentally, High Times gives the Chem Dawg family big props for potency. These days, several Chem Dawg phenos are available in Colorado stores, including Ultimate ’91 Chem Dawg.
Ultimate ’91 Chem Dawg by the numbers: $16/g at Denver Relief (recreational), 1 Broadway #A-150, Denver
I decided to brave the crowds on Colorado’s marijuana “tax holiday” on Sept. 16, and made my way to Denver Relief on South Broadway. I shop there fairly regularly and was in a rush to get to the Green Team’s urban gardening event, so I ordered ahead on the phone. I quickly scanned their online menu as I called, and decided on the Ultimate ’91 Chem Dawg. There was a Los Angeles-worthy traffic jam on Speer Boulevard and the waiting room was packed when I got there, so I was glad I ordered ahead.
I got into the familiar shopping room and quickly paid for my waiting flower. Normally, I wouldn’t buy flower blindly, but I knew the shop and had never been disappointed with a purchase.
I’d usually opt for the sativa-dominant Chem Dawg D cut, but I knew I might be a little sore after gardening, so I picked the indica-dominant Ultimate ’91 pheno. I later followed up with Denver Relief’s head cultivator, Nick Hice, to ask what he knew about the strain. He received the seeds from a friend, but didn’t know their true origin. Hice agreed that “there is a lot of folklore in cannabis,” but his version of the history of Chem Dawg was essentially the same as what I had gathered from hours of nerdy strain research via the Abakus blog, Michael Backes’ “Cannabis Pharmacy” and a healthy dose of Googling. There are differences in some details, but the story is generally the same. This particular strain is a “finicky” one according to Hice, and is nutrient-intensive during cultivation, quick to develop nitrogen and other deficiencies. According to Hice’s East Coast source, the Ultimate ’91 Chem Dawg is 75 percent ’91 Chem Dawg (an indica phenotype), and 25 percent Chem Dawg D (a sativa-dominant cut).
Useful weed resources
I got home after gardening and prepared to load a fresh DisposaBowls chillum that I procured at the Green Team outing. The nugs had the same pine cone-like clustered calyx structure that is prominent in its child, Sour Diesel. The flower was a dull green, with an almost blueish hue. The trichome coverage gave it a lighter, whiter appearance, with sparse, pumpkin-orange hairs.
At first sniff, it had a fragrance that was chemical and pungent, mixed with the creaminess of half-and-half. I broke up one of the smaller nugs and loaded the ceramic chillum. First I took a dry hit (no fire), to savor the sublime blend of flavor profiles. It was mostly sour, but like the smell, it had a creamier body than your typical Diesel strain, making it substantially less harsh when I lit it up. I finished the bowl and went inside for a pre-bedtime TV session.
Initially, my head felt light and airy, like a balloon, followed by a sense of warmth and droopiness in my face that made me feel like the bulldog from the “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. Over the next 30 minutes, my body was overcome by a sense of relaxation that made me melt into the massage chair in which I was sitting. The gardening had flared up a chronic snowboarding-induced tension in my right shoulder, which subsided as my torso and limbs warmed up like my face initially had. It was pretty toasty in my basement, so the body warmth I was feeling led me to make sure I hadn’t turned on the chair’s heating function. The chair wasn’t even plugged in, so I got back to the TV show I was watching.
Within an hour of smoking, I dozed off in the chair. I woke up a half-hour later in a daze and stumbled my way to get ready for bed. I slept like a baby and woke up feeling energized and ready to tackle the day. As I drove to work that morning, I had to admire the quality of the Ultimate ’91 Chem Dawg — one bowl had effectively relieved my body aches and knocked me out, without the morning grogginess of many potent indicas.
Hice had told me this strain is one of three he would take with him if he was confined to an island for the rest of his life. While my top three would be dominated by strong sativas, the Ultimate ’91 is certainly in the running for a regular evening smoke.
Shortly after I purchased the Ultimate ’91 Chem Dawg, I was in New York for work and play, celebrating my birthday and attending the National Cannabis Industry Association‘s Cannabis Business Summit, where Dunn happened to be speaking on breeding and strain-creation. Dunn, who founded T.H.Seeds among other businesses, also covers various cannabis matters on “The Adam Dunn Show.” Cannabis consumers may be familiar with Dunn’s popular Cannabis Cup-winning strains Sativa Afghani Genetic Equilibrium (a.k.a. S.A.G.E) and MK Ultra, among others. I got a chance to catch up with him and ask him about the history of Chem Dawg.
Dunn confirmed the origin of ’91 Chem Dawg and how it got its start thanks to that fateful 1991 Grateful Dead tour. I snapped a quick picture with Adam and we agreed to meet up once back in Denver. I have to admit to a certain level of cannabis nerdiness, and immensely enjoyed picking the brain of a famous breeder who has played his own part charting the course of cannabis genetics history.
Updated Nov. 21 at 2:24 p.m. Clarification: After this review published, one of the Colorado growers from the 1991 Grateful Dead tour, P-Bud, reached out to clarify the origins of the Chem Dog name. “I love this strain so much,” P-Bud said. “Been protecting it for many years and just want the correct history.”