Billy Hillier, a.k.a. “Top Shelf,” both for his obsession with AAAA flower and for being the only person on the team that can reach the top shelves in the locker room, shares his passion for collecting cannabis genetics. Aside from having the best title at Carmel, Billy moonlights as their in-house copywriter #phenofridays, Director of Competitive Insights “I’d smoke that in a pinch,” and during the company’s pheno-hunts, a fierce advocate for more sweet and fruit forward strains against Drew’s relentless pursuit of gas.
The highly anticipated wait is almost over- dropping this week- Drew’s Dark Helmet, Animal Face and Garlic Breath. Carmel’s insistence that only product that meets their high standards will bear the Carmel name- has us as excited as they are during harvest. Stay tuned.
Can you tell us about your career?
Right after highschool I worked at and eventually managed a tree farm and garden center as my summer job during University, that's where my interest in plants began. In 2005 I bought my first pack of cannabis seeds from a coffee shop in Kensington Market, I had no idea at the time that 10 years later, collecting cannabis genetics would become my passion. By the time I came onboard to join the Carmel team in 2018 I had collected hundreds of different genetics from all over the world. Carmel offered me the opportunity to do what I love and bring my genetics with me, it’s really been the perfect fit.
What is your growing style?
I love hunting through new genetics, even if we don't find any keepers its always a good time. It keeps everyone stimulated and excited about what we do at work. No matter when you come by the facility there is always a pheno hunt going on somewhere.
What is one of your favorite strains to work with and why?
Animal Face for sure. We have been running it for almost a year now, Animal Face checks all the boxes. The plant is vigorous, beautiful to look at and the smell is intoxicating. It's also been very consistent, all of our lots have fallen between 25-27% THC and we’ve seen the terps hit crazy numbers, with the latest lot coming down at 4.7% terps.
How do you KNOW when you have a particularly good crop?
You can just tell by looking at it. All of the strains we grow have been pheno hunted with multiple COAs for potency and terps before we run full rooms, so we know the genetics are good from the start. To be honest the crops just get better the more times we run them and we get those strains dialed in. Drew and I say to each other all the time "this is the best room yet.”
In the world of cannabis, who do you most admire and why?
Other than my boss Drew for constantly answering all of my many questions. I really admire my favourite breeder Gromer of Thug Pug Genetics. He is recently retired but put out some of the best and most popular strains of the last decade. He’s very engaged in social media, comments on my photos and stories and is willing to answer people's questions- that is not very common among his peers and for that I'm grateful.
What are your favourite strains?
For me it's a tie between Peanut Butter Breath and Meat Breath both by Thug Pug- same father, different mother genetics. I get just as much pleasure from looking at and smelling a bud as I do from smoking it. The bag appeal on these buds are insane and the flavours are so unique.
What was the most satisfying moment of your career?
I’ve had a lot of highs and lows but seeing our product ship from our facility this week has been incredible. A lot of us have worked in the industry for a while now, but we haven’t really been able to brand anything or overtly take credit for our work. Seeing those Carmel pouches making their way to market means a lot to me.
What is one of the hardest things about growing year in and year out?
Every room is a little bit different. As much as we are able to get these genetics dialed in, parameters are constantly changing. As the seasons change so does everything inside the grow room. Temperatures, humidity, irrigation schedules are constantly being tweaked because the plants behave differently from season to season, strain to strain.
What is most rewarding about your job?
Being able to do what I love. Work doesn't feel like work when you find the right career and you work with great people. I appreciate all of my staff and coworkers; they all do such an amazing job.
Anything else you would like to say?
Right now there’s such a big focus on THC. You see consumers coming into retail stores and asking “what’s your highest THC” without understanding who grew it, how it was grown etc.
Don't get me wrong, I am a high THC lover but there’s a lot more to consider than just potency. Bag appeal, smell, structure, trim, cure and flavour are all part of the experience. With the genetics available today it's not hard to find potent bud but how you grow and process still matters, at Carmel we’re going to build our reputation on phenos that check all the boxes.