Pot-infused jerky made in Aspen getting high marks in industry

Todd Gardner, owner of Cannabis Queen Jerky, last week displays a vacuum-sealed package of the marijuana oil-infused buffalo jerky he now sells in more than 100 Colorado dispensaries.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

The only edible marijuana product made in the Aspen area also is one of the most unique in the state.

That’s because Todd Gardner’s free-range bison jerky infused with cannabis oil extracted from marijuana grown in the Roaring Fork Valley is one of the only savory edibles produced in Colorado.

“It’s a nice alternative to all the sugar available in edibles,” said Anne Gordon, owner of Herban Underground dispensary in Denver. “I really do love it. It’s absolutely one of my favorite products.”

Gardner — who also owns Aspen’s High Mountain Taxi — said that not only is his Cannabis Queen Jerky benefiting from new information detailing the dangers of sugar, it also is mostly organic.

“Our product is as close to organic as you can get,” Gardner said. “We’re the only protein on the market. A lot of people are consuming and buying it.”

Almost exactly one year ago, Pitkin County commissioners very nearly denied Gardner’s application. At the time, the county board was concerned that edibles were being marketed to children and had several questions about Gardner’s plan to produce the jerky.

But at the last minute, Gardner and team asked for a continuance, then returned about two weeks later with answers to all the commissioners’ questions. The final approval featured several conditions addressing those concerns, including that each piece of jerky would have a THC stamp, be sold in child-proof packaging, only contain 10 mg of THC per piece, limit the amount of pesticide in the marijuana used to extract the cannabis oil and not allow a sign announcing the business.

Gardner also volunteered to include a card inside each jerky package containing information about how to safely ingest it.

All of those things are part of the final product, which is now sold in more than 100 marijuana dispensaries throughout the state, Gardner said.

“We’re getting great feedback,” he said. “Everybody says it tastes great. The only complaint you get is that they’d like to make it cheaper.”

Gordon, however, said one of the things she likes about Cannabis Queen Jerky is that it’s affordable. Her dispensary sells it for $7 a piece or $30 for five pieces.

“It’s a really easy sell,” she said. “Our budtenders all love it. It doesn’t have a hashy flavor. We love the flavor.”

Chuck Reynolds, owner of Soma dispensaries in Crested Butte and Gunnison, said the jerky is a “nice option to fill out your pack and go for a hike.”

“It’s really high quality and it tastes good,” said Reynolds, who also appreciated the jerky as one of the only non-sugar-based edibles he sells. “He’s done a really class-A job on the production side.

“I think (Gardner) hit the nail on the head.”

Herban Underground and Soma sell some of the largest quantity of Cannabis Queen Jerky, Gardner said.

The jerky is produced in a suite of offices at Gardner’s High Mountain Taxi facility at the Aspen Business Center. Last week, he allowed The Aspen Times to watch the product being made.

Gardner buys free-range bison meat from a facility in South Dakota and has it shipped to Aspen. After the blood is drained from it, the meat is cut up, mixed with spices and cannabis oil and formed into strips, dried in a dehydrator, cut and vacuum-sealed before being packaged.

The recipe for the jerky went through several iterations before Gardner and his staff hit on the current flavors of terryaki and hot and spicy. The recipe does contain a bit of brown sugar, along with soy sauce, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, smoke flavoring and other spices. He said the company uses about 100 pounds of bison meat a week to create about half that amount of finished jerky, which loses mass in the drying process.

Gardner also said he buys marijuana from Jordan Lewis, owner of the Silverpeak dispensary in Aspen and High Valley Farms marijuana grow facility in the Basalt area, and extracts the oil through a carbon dioxide extraction process. Making the cannabis oil allows Gardner to better control the quality, he said.

Gardner sends samples from each batch to a laboratory in Durango, which tests to make sure each piece has equal amounts of THC, he said.

“We’re just kind of hitting our stride right now,” Gardner said. “It’s taken time to get out in the market and get market penetration.”

Commissioners are scheduled to address renewing Gardner’s county license at their regular meeting May 10. And while they were somewhat leery of approving the license a year ago out of concern about edibles impacts on children, they have since been told that those impacts are minimal.

In addition, the county has not received any complaints about the business in the past year, said Jeanette Jones, the county board’s clerk.

And while Gardner said he’s not making a killing, he has no regrets about staring the pot jerky business.

“There’s a misconception that you’re going to get in (to the marijuana business) and make big bucks,” he said. “(But) this business is a lot of fun.”