California-based Alien Labs has been kicking out premium flower since the golden days of cannabis. Recently, I hopped on a video call with the brand’s founder and CEO, Ted Lidie, to speak about its legacy and the products that helped build the company up into one of California’s most recognizable brands.
The Alien Labs origin story
Alien Labs was founded by Ted Lidie from Redding, California. He comes from a family of cannabis growers, so it’s natural that he grew right into it as a career. In 2008, Lidie moved from Redding to San Francisco. During this time, all the cannabis sold in stores was in Ziploc bags with regular labels; however, he noticed that Cookies was growing in popularity with its recognizable branded blue bags. Lidie immediately saw that the future of cannabis would be in branding — not just growing great weed — and he wanted to be a part of that growth. About this epiphany, Lidie said, “I saw the writing on the wall, that this is just one place, but everywhere is going to be like this soon. That’s where I started the idea of having a cannabis brand.”
In 2013, he took that idea back to Redding and created Alien Labs. In 2017, after years of building its reputation in the traditional market, Lidie moved into the legal cannabis space by partnering with Connected Cannabis Co. Now, in 2021, Alien Labs exists in both California and Arizona and is known for putting out some of the highest quality flower and most unique, never-before-experienced cultivars out there.
These are the strains that made Alien Labs.
2006-2011: March OG
Naturally, Lidie was moving AND Kush in its heyday. Once the strain came out, it quickly became one of the most in-demand strains of all time. Pretty much anybody who played a role in building California’s “traditional market” into the largest cannabis market in the world has OG Kush in their history.
For Lidie, Mars OG was the name he used to sell his take on the cannabis classic. “Before GSC, my friends were growing this well-known cut of OG Kush. At the time it didn’t have a name, it was just OG Kush. We would take it down to LA and call it Mars OG. Mars OG was the real first Alien Labs strain, but it was before we were known as Alien Labs.”
After OG Kush came GSC (previously Girl Scout Cookies), the strain that pushed the brand Cookies into the limelight. It was the seed that helped grow Cookies into a household name in cannabis culture. Just like OG Kush, people would get GSC and call it something else to raise its mystique even more.
“I moved back to Redding 5–6 years [after moving to San Francisco]. I was able to acquire GSC before people had the chance to access this cut. I gave it to a few of my friends; I grew it myself; and all that weed that came out of that, I would go down to Sacramento, [Los Angeles], [San Francisco], and sell it as Alien Labs.”
For Lidie and Alien Labs, its version of Cookies was Animal Cookies. At the time, it was just a renamed cut of the already-famous cultivar. Nowadays, Animal Cookies is a cross of Fire OG and GSC.
Around 2013–2014, Alien Labs was starting to bubble as an underground brand. Lidie was blessing Redding with some of the most in-demand weed of all time, at a level of quality that the town had never seen before. The strain that became a huge hit for them — and really put Alien Labs on the map — was Do-Si-Dos.
“At the time, if it wasn’t Cookies or OG Kush, no one was really too pumped on whatever it was. We found a really nice cut of Do-Si-Dos that leaned towards the OG side. We put that out and people started going crazy. That pushed Archive Seed Bank into the stratosphere. We stopped growing the Animal Cookies.”
By this point, Alien Labs was known for growing other people’s strains. Zookies is one of the first that it bred in-house, and it was by complete accident. “GSC is known to herm. The Animal Cookies hermed out a whole 18 light warehouse of ours. It pollinated GG4, Fire OG, and some other things. We popped some seeds from the GG4 and it went on to become a strain called Zookies.”
During its run with Zookies, Alien Labs got its hands on one of the first cuts of Wedding Cake. Initially, the brand was like, “Nah, this one ain’t it,” but out of curiosity grew the strain anyway.
If you’re growing or smoking weed in 2021, then you know exactly how popular this strain went on to become. “We started vending to [TLC Collective]. The owner [Iván Vanorwick] gave us a cut of Wedding Cake, which didn’t have the hype yet. A lot of people were like, nah, Wedding Cake doesn’t have the terps that you want. Then we grew it out and we were like, ‘this is something super special.’ We were part of the reason that J Beezy became so popular and that Wedding Cake became so popular because we were able to unlock this gassiness.”
Come 2017, Prop 64 had finally legalized adult-use cannabis in California, and it was time for Alien Labs to go legit. Though Lidie and the team were experts at growing weed, they didn’t have the funds for what it takes to establish a legal cannabis business in California. This is when they partnered with Connected Cannabis Co., with whom they had already been working for years prior. “When Prop 64 passed, we had no pathway to licensure. We’re all just poor kids that knew how to grow weed. You make some trap money, but that shit didn’t mean a thing when Prop 64 came around. Connected Cannabis Co. was like, ‘hey, you should just come under our umbrella.’”
The partnership freed Alien Labs up to focus on the creative and product side of the business without the stress of operations. It also freed them up to start working on Zkittlez before it blew up.
“After Wedding Cake, we purchased a cut of Zkittlez from [the Terp HogZ] for $20,000. When we came out with Zkittlez people were like oh these guys can crush strains, because Zkittlez is well known as a very ugly plant. It’s got terps, but it lacks looks.”
To this day, Alien Labs still pays the same price for that original Zkittlez cut.
Once off and running legally, Alien Labs started breeding and releasing more of its own strains. The first was Melonade on December 17, 2018, at Emerald Cup, though it was short-lived. “In May, we went on to sweep the very first legal High Times Cannabis Cup in [Sacramento]. We won Best Indica Flower [with Gelato #41], Best Sativa Flower [with Melonade], and Best Hybrid Flower [with Wedding Cake]. Before we even dropped [Melonade] we won Best Sativa with it. Then people started copying it and I took it off the menu right away. We had one drop of Melonade in the legal market and that was it.”
After Melonade came Area 41, Baklava, and Sherbacio. To this day, Area 41 is still one of Alien Labs’ best-selling strains. “I’m sure we’ve sold well over a million eighths of it.”
These days, Alien Labs is still putting out some absolute heat. It’s got Lidie, Connected, and everyone on those teams thinking about innovation. This year, the brand released Biskanté, which was its first new strain in over 18 months. Moving forward, Alien Labs will be focused on putting out its own strains, bred in-house, rather than continuing to grow other breeders’ projects.
“We dropped Biskanté, which is a Melonade and Biscotti cross, back in May. We have some other nice strains on the menu that were bred by other people, but going forward, all of our stuff will be bred in-house. We have a big focus on that. Our weed is expensive, I know that. Given that expense, we just want customers to have a new and unique experience every time they smoke our product.”