The 19th Annual Emerald Cup Awards presented by OCB Rolling Papers was held on Saturday, May 13th, 2023  right on the waterfront in Richmond, California overlooking the San Francisco skyline from the magnificent Craneway Pavilion where 2,000 of California’s most talented and influential movers, shakers, and award-winning tastemakers gathered to determine who is truly bringing the best of the best to the largest cannabis marketplace in the world.

The star-studded, red-carpet event came almost exactly one year after the 2022 Emerald Cup Awards which was held in Southern California for the first time in the event’s then-18-year history, landing at the iconic Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood. This year brought many more Emerald Cup firsts, including the first time that the Emerald Triangle-rooted competition and celebration would be held in the Bay Area. As we all know, plenty of packs moved between the Triangle and the Bay back in the day, and the parallel rise of Hyphy culture and NorCal cannabis culture cannot be denied, so it was only fitting for the 2023 Emerald Cup Awards to touch down at the Craneway.

Photo by @konnects

The May 13th event was a private affair, with invitations reserved for all 2023 Emerald Cup competitors and their guests, all 2023 Emerald Cup Judges and their guests, all 2023 Emerald Cup Sponsors and their guests, select media outlets, and – in another Emerald Cup first – all Emerald and Super Emerald VIPs from the 2022 Emerald Cup Harvest Ball were invited as well. As the Emerald Cup continues to grow, finding a balance between high-class venues that will allow the Emerald Cup to do its thing, and then finding one with reasonable capacity limits has proven to be a challenge, but the Craneway, by all accounts, served as a perfect home for the so-called “Academy Awards of Cannabis”.

Guests at the 19th Annual Emerald Cup Awards were treated to dozens of activations presented by some of the top names in the cannabis game, with demonstrations, samples, and consumption covering the full spectrum of the marketplace. Of course, as is tradition at the Emerald Cup, a perfect sample of every entry could be found displayed in beautifully lit cases, complete with dope little info cards accompanying each entry. Food, drink, and lively tunes were abundant as the crowd gathered inside and out on a postcard-perfect afternoon and evening on the water.

Guild Extracts raised the bar by pulling up in a luxury yacht, allowing dozens of Emerald Cup attendees onboard at a time for a flavorful experience they are sure to remember, regardless of their tolerance level!

The Craneway was tastefully decorated by the Emerald Cup deco team utilizing a bevy of live plants from Conception Nurseries, terpene sampling stations, indoor and outdoor lounges, art installments, and monolithic statues from the estate of Swami Chaitanya and Nikki Lastreto of Swami Select, both of whom have been Emerald Cup Judges since the event’s first year in 2004.

Of course, the real stars of the Emerald Cup Awards are the winners themselves. This event served as the culmination of over five weeks of work by the thoughtfully-selected Emerald Cup Judges, five months of work by the Emerald Cup team, and in most cases much more work than that by the farmers and craftspeople who felt compelled to bring the final product of their labor and love to the table to see where it would stack up to the rest.

Well, Cali absolutely brought the heat once again in 2023, so let’s take a closer look.

The 19th Annual Emerald Cup Awards By the Numbers

Perennial Emerald Cup Sponsor and supporter, Puffco, in collaboration with Ryan Fitt and Jared Cortland, blew minds once again with these unique trophies for select category winners.

The Emerald Cup has long served as a reliable reflection of the California cannabis marketplace, dating back even before Prop 64 and so-called “legalization”. As the California marketplace hit its stride and began to truly prosper under Prop 215 & SB 420, so too did the Emerald Cup Competition and celebratory events begin to grow. However, since Prop 64 was instituted, the marketplace has witnessed a massive contraction as the once-robust network of cultivators, extractors, craftspeople, and retailers that existed for more than a decade has been decimated. Hit hardest have been the legacy small farmers and mom&pop brands that quite literally sowed the seeds for the recreational market we have today, but have been denied their rightful seat at that table.

Seeing so many familiar farms and brands forced to call it quits has pained the Emerald Cup team, and they braced for a sharp decline in entries during the submission window from January until March of this year. However, those still standing sent a resounding message through the 2023 Emerald Cup Competition that they haven’t quit yet!

The 2023 Emerald Cup Competition broke down, numbers-wise, in the following ways.

Total 2023 Emerald Cup Awards won: 183
Total Entries: 678
Entries from out-of-state (hemp-derived): 9
Entries by county (sorted from highest number of entries to lowest):
Humboldt: 105
Los Angeles: 105
Sonoma: 93
Alameda: 71
Sacramento: 46
Monterey: 38
Nevada: 27
Calaveras: 22
Riverside: 15
Orange: 12
Shasta: 12
Santa Barbara: 10
Yolo: 6
Kern: 5
Lake: 5
San Joaquin: 5
Santa Cruz: 5
Contra Costa: 3
Marin: 3
Trinity: 3
Fresno: 2
Napa: 2
San Benito: 2
Solano: 2
San Diego: 1
Stanislaus: 1

Seeing Humboldt and Los Angeles Counties tie for the most entries was eye-opening, and illustrates the effectiveness of the efforts made by the Emerald Cup in recent years to bridge the gap between the NorCal and SoCal cannabis markets – such as holding FOMO-inducing awards shows in Hollywood and in the Bay Area in back-to-back years.

For the first time in the Emerald Cup’s 19-year history, the Indoor Flower category harvested the most total entries, a clear sign of market demand. It seems fitting, then, that the entry that rose above that diverse crop of top-shelf competitors to win 1st Place Indoor Flower (Blue Face by multiple-time Emerald Cup Awards winning cultivators Fig Farms) also took home the Breeder’s Cup Award and the highly coveted Best in Show Award, a first for Fig Farms and a first for Indoor Flower.

All 2023 Emerald Cup Competition intake and judge’s meetings photography was professionally shot by Demetrius Daniels @demetriusconsultinggroup

Asserting their dominance in the category, Fig Farms won seven of the Top 20 awards (35%) handed out for the Indoor Flower category with other mouthwatering strains like Animal Face (1st Place Indoor Flower 2022), Dark Karma, Gelato 41, Moonana Wreck, Zeclair, and Lemon Cherry Gelato all receiving custom cut crystal Emerald Cup Awards in 2023.

[The full list of Emerald Cup Award winners can be found HERE]

Emerald Cup Flower Judges make up roughly 20 of the 100 total spots on our annual roster. Tasked with sampling, analyzing, and ranking nearly 300 entries, these determined experts were given five weeks to arrive at these results. This meant countless hours of blazing away on their own time but also included bi-weekly virtual online meetings with their fellow judges and competition coordinators, as well as two in-person meetings where a daunting number of joints get rolled in OCB papers and smoked up. The world may never know just how intense the debate became at the culmination of that final in-person judge’s meeting and retreat hosted by Mendocino Grasslands at the stunningly gorgeous Yokayo Ranch in Ukiah, California.

It was there, just under two weeks before the winners would be announced on stage at the Craneway, that a heated discussion took place to decide the winner of Best in Show. We now know that Fig Farms earned the award, but the 1st Place winner of Sungrown Flower – Double OG Chem #15 from Humboldt’s own Rebel Grown – gave it a real run for its money right up until the terpy finale.

The Emerald Cup has been giving out a Best in Show Award since 2021 and in the first year, a Mixed Light Flower entry won (Ice Cream Cake by Local Cannabis Co.). Last year, in 2022, a Sungrown Flower entry won (Lemon Sponge Cake by Farmer and the Felon). So, how appropriate that in 2023 Indoor claimed the crown… for a year at least!

Notable winners in the Flower category include:

Rebel Grown – 1st Place, Sungrown Flower, with Double OG Chem #15. This was their first time winning 1st Place and this entry also earned Rebel Grown the Breeder’s Cup Award in the Sungrown category. Rebel Grown also took home 7th Place, Sungrown Flower, for their Double OG Chem #5. All gas, no brakes on this one.

Esensia Gardens – Winners of  6th Place, 9th Place, 15th Place, and 19th Place (Orange Creamsicle, Lime Juice, Pixie Dust, Honey Dew, Maracuya) in the Sungrown Flower category – they grabbed 25% of the awards in the category!

Ridgeline Farms – Multiple-time Emerald Cup Awards winners and Humboldt legends, Ridgeline Farms wins 1st Place, Mixed Light Flower, with LANTZ. This win also earned the farm the Breeder’s Cup Award.

The Breeder’s Cup Award is given to the highest-placing entry in each Flower subcategory that was also bred by the grower who entered it. It is VERY RARE for the Breeder’s Cup Award to go to so many 1st Place award winners – a testament to the talented breeders in our culture.

Local Cannabis Co. earned four of the Top 20 awards (20%) in the Mixed Light subcategory.

On the Concentrates side, multiple-time Emerald Cup winner Beezle Brands won 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Places in the Hydrocarbon – Solid category, with Jetty Extracts taking 1st Place with their Super Lemon Haze.

Humboldt’s own Huckleberry Hills Farm took home multiple Emerald Cup Awards in 2023 with collaborative efforts on the following entries:

Also heavy in collab mode was Heritage Hash Co. out of Mendocino County – this hypertalented team racked up SIX Emerald Cup Awards this year, including a couple shown above with Huckleberry Hills Farm.

Arcata Fire represented Humboldt County to the fullest, taking 1st Place – Live Resin Cartridge in a collaboration with Humboldt Trees, but they also grabbed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Places in the Solventless Cartridge category in collabs with Humboldt 36 Farms and Royalbudline.Amazing showing for this past and present Emerald Cup winner.

The team at Proof Wellness was recognized throughout the 19th Annual Emerald Cup Awards for the following big wins:

And, of course, the emotion and appreciation that Wendy from Space Gems showed when accepting her first two 1st Place Emerald Cup Awards reminded all in attendance of why the Emerald Cup matters to these cultivators and craftspeople who work so hard to bring high-quality flowers, hash, and products to market.

One more notable 2023 Emerald Cup Award winner was Stoney Branch Farms with 1st Place – Hemp Flower with their federally compliant Godfather OG. What makes this win stand out is that Stoney Branch Farms is cultivating Emerald Cup Award-winning cannabis in Rushville, Illinois, and bringing home trophies from California. Well grown and well played! Will the rest of the country take advantage of this incredible opportunity in 2024 for the Emerald Cup’s 20th Anniversary event? Time will tell.

[The full list of Emerald Cup Award winners can be found HERE]

Some Emerald Cup Awards NOT determined by their expert panels of Judges include:

Best Photograph: This award has two subcategories – Amateur and Professional. Entries are accepted worldwide and the Amateur photos are posted on the Emerald Cup website where the public is allowed to vote for their favorite. The Professional winner is determined by a panel of professional photographers intimately familiar with the Emerald Cup.

Also up for public vote is the Best Dispensary Competition. This contest is broken down into three regions – Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. The Public is encouraged to nominate their favorite shop on the Emerald Cup website. The Top 3 most highly nominated stores from each region then compete against the others in their region for the Emerald Cup Award, voted on by the public on the Emerald Cup website. Congrats to this year’s winners.

All Emerald Cup Awards winners and official Emerald Cup Judges were treated to generous care packages from official presenting sponsor OCB Rolling Papers as well as a custom flip-top lighter from Zippo.

Photo courtesy of 2023 Amateur Photo Contest winner Ryan Gageby – @freegrow8

The Emerald Cup Honorary Awards

In addition to the Emerald Cup Awards listed above, each year the Emerald Cup team internally nominates and decides upon a group of honorary awards, paying respects to members of our global community who are making a difference while building their legacy.

Congratulations to the winners listed below – you can learn more about them all HERE.

The Emerald Cup x SC Labs

In 2023, the Emerald Cup continued its multiyear partnership with SC Labs to provide third-party lab analytics on all Flower and Concentrate entries, including detailed terpene profiles that were used to segregate all Flower and Concentrate entries into categories based on the collaborative effort which began in 2021 whereby Emerald Cup attempted to presort categories like Flower and Concentrates into the six most common terpenes, based on which one was most dominant in that entry.

In 2022, and again this year, those entries were analyzed for 17 different terpenes, with the top 1-3 most dominant terpenes being used to determine which category that sample should be sorted into.

To simplify this process and the language associated with it – not only for Emerald Cup Judges but for everyone in the marketplace – the Emerald Cup Cannabis Classification System based on PhytoFacts® powered by SC Labs is broken down into six categories::

2022 Emerald Cup Terpene Classification Card

These categories make use of all 17 terpenes that SC Labs had tested for, highlighting and honoring the way that they interact with one another to create the familiar flavors that connoisseurs crave in cannabis, using sensible category names that everyone from seasoned smokers to the canna-curious can relate to and likely gravitate toward.

You can learn more about the Emerald Cup Cannabis Classification System based on PhytoFacts® powered by SC Labs HERE

In addition to this invaluable information about terpene profiles, SC Labs also recognizes seven unique categories in which they present lab-based awards each year. In 2023, the awards were as follows:

See the Phytofacts Report for Bunicorn from Sanctuary Farms HERE

See the Phytofacts Report for OGZ x Strawberry Meltshake HERE

See the Phytofacts Report for Project Power from Paul Lopez HERE

See the Phytofacts Report for Super Lemon Haze from Jetty Extracts HERE

See the Phytofacts Report for Lilac Mintz from Brett Byrd HERE

See the Phytofacts Report for Lilac Mintz from Healing Herb Farms HERE

See the Phytofacts Report for Pink Boost Goddess from Emerald Spirit Botanicals HERE

Not done yet, SC Labs also provided this thought-provoking breakdown of the entries that they received and tested for the 19th Annual Emerald Cup Competition and Awards.

Emerald Cup Awards data

All of those dominant Indigo-colored bands in the graphs above indicate that Caryophyllene-dominant “Desserts” categorized strains are still ruling the marketplace. Odds are high that one look at your local dispensary menu will almost exactly reflect the numbers and profiles outlined above.

In 2023, the Emerald Cup witnessed a sharp rise in “final packaged goods”. Entry numbers for products like vape cartridges, pre-rolls, and edibles continue to rise year over year as the convenience of these consumption options is now being matched by the quality that buyers demand. The competition has seen a drop in the once-popular Topicals category – almost surely a sign of the market struggles that such brands face. Emerald Cup Edibles Judges also resoundingly called for more entries into the ‘Savory’ subcategory next year, as not everyone wants sweet treats.

One of the most notable aspects of the 19th Annual Emerald Cup Awards was how many amazing women took the stage – as hosts, presenters, and winners! In an industry considered to be dominated by men, perhaps it is time to reconsider that myth! Seeing the all-woman team from Proof get handed multiple Emerald Cup Awards was dope, then it was followed by Wendy at Space Gems taking home TWO 1st Place Emerald Cup Awards! Awesome! The Emerald Cup core team itself is made up of a majority of women – will that trend reflect more broadly in the marketplace? We can hope.

The Emerald Cup thanks its supporters for another successful competition and awards presentation. The team looks forward to the 20th Anniversary, beginning with Emerald Cup Harvest Ball festivities in late 2023, which will mark the beginning of the application window for next year’s competition. With more ways to win than ever before, will you take your seat at the table in ’24?

Photo by @konnects