If you had to pick out the leading brand in cannabis culture, who would it be?
Is it “Cookies?”
Yup, we thought so. Ever since its official launch in 2012, the Cookies Fam brand continues to take the cannabis world by storm. The company continues to innovate, adding more to its lineup every year.
From Georgia Pie flowers to Cookies SF hoodies, the brand has a cult-like following with its fans. Walk around LA, and you’re going to see someone wearing a Cookies branded T-shirt or hat eventually.
Stop into a dispensary, and there’s usually a Cookies strain on the top shelf. This iconic name in cannabis managed to establish itself as a leading brand through the ingenuity of one man – Berner, aka Gilbert Milam Jr.
Sure, Berner doesn’t claim sole responsibility for leading Cookies to success, but that’s the hallmark of any great entrepreneur. Berner managed to find and work with the right people, leading him from one small success to another.
His story is nothing short of inspiring for any entrepreneur to hear. From humble beginnings, Berner seized the opportunity to grow when it presented itself, putting in the work required to establish Cookies as a household name in cannabis.
Berner collaborated with Jigga, a legend in the cannabis growing community and a member of the elite cannabis-grow collective known as “the Cookie Collective,” or “Cookies Fam.”
Berner harnessed his natural marketing genius to evolve the Cookies brand into a cannabis lifestyle brand that revolutionized the industry. From San Francisco-inspired streetwear to cannabis flower, the Cookies brand branched out to include other sub-brands like Lemonnade, Grandiflora, and Minntz.
Each breeder gets a unique label, producing its independent line of cannabis strains. The cannabis industry is on fire with Cookies right now. And the brand recently announced a partnership with a Barcelona-based cannabis collective.
So, what’s the history of Cookies, and how did it grow to be possibly the most dominant brand in cannabis culture?
Gilbert Anthony Milam Jr. aka Berner – The Beginnings
Berner, born Gilbert Milam Jr., is a Californian from a middle-class Arizona family with a good upbringing. Berners, his dad was a chef at a Mexican restaurant while his mom had an office job.
The family lived in Haight-Ashbury and Daly City before eventually moving to Arizona, with Berner 13 at the time. The family left because of Gilbert Snr’s idea to open a restaurant, but all that happened was he ended up cheating on his mom while she worked two jobs.
As a result, Berner’s parents split up. His mom got custody of Berner and his brother, and the three remained in Arizona, starting a new life together. Berner fondly remembers his time in Arizona, as it’s the first state where he ever tried smoking cannabis.
His introduction to the plant came in the form of that nasty Mexican brick-weed floating around the black market. Berner calls it “Bammer weed,” He also mentions how many of the families around his hometown in Arizona were selling brick weed to make ends meet.
Berner would visit friends and sneak into their older brothers’ rooms to break a piece off the brick. He remembers the first time smoking was using a Walgreens receipt to roll the joint.
However, it wasn’t until Berner visited a friend in San Francisco that he says he got high for the first time. His friend had an associate come around with some weed he claimed sold for $4,800 a pound. Berner thought that sounded crazy, but he soon learned the difference between Cali weed and that Mexican brick.
He remembers hitting that first joint of Californian-grown bud and feeling high AF after just two pulls. When he would visit San Fran, he would always go down the Hunter’s Point to grab a few bags of “The Real Cahmpelly” (Champagne).
Bringing one of the 90s best strains back to Arizona made him a hit with friends, and everyone knew Berner was the guy with the best dank around. It was also during Berner’s time in Arizona that he learned to rap.
Berner met plenty of new faces with his reputation as the guy with the best stuff in town. He remarks how one of his new acquaintances asked him if he rapped, saying, “You look like a rapper.”
Berner didn’t think much of it at the time because he was so busy working at his bartending job at Jelly’s in Mission Rock. Around this time, Berner would also visit The Hemp Center dispensary on Balboa Street, using it as his favorite venue to buy cannabis.
After frequent visits to the store and some relationship-building with owners and cultivators, Berner ended up with a budtending job behind the store counter.
While working at the Hemp Center, he also met Jacka, one of the original founders of the Cookies Fam collective. Many heads say Jacka is the cultivator of the original Cookies strain that started the empire.
Berner kept one foot in the legal game through the Hemp Center and the other in the black market, developing ties with more cultivators through his connection to Jacka.
Berner also mentions that he was experiencing issues with TSA at LAX at around this time, and he thinks it might have something to do with his industry ties.
Berner and Jacka developed a tight relationship over the coming years, with the pair working on rap records together.
Berner originally ran into Jacka at the Milk Bar on Haight Street. He admits to fanboying out, praising Jacka for his lyrical skill on the mic while stuffing a baggie of the dankest into his hand.
Jacka took an instant liking to Berner and his offering, and the two were inseparable since. The duo recorded together in 2008, releasing “Drought Season” to a good reception from the critics and community.
However, the duo didn’t realize that their dedication to the rap and cannabis scene would pay off two years later. Berner got a call from long-time friend and rapper Mistah F.A.B. back in 2010. Berner heard that a cat named Wiz Khalifa was coming to town and looking for some proper flavors.
Wiz loved the weed and started promoting Cookies strains through his media outlets. One of the most infamous stunts was when Berner snuck a 5-foot tall Cherry Pie plant onto the set of Wiz Khalifa’s shows.
With Wiz rapping about Cookies Fam on stage, the hype started building. Berner capitalized on his relationship with Wiz, getting the rapper to appear in his “Yoko” video alongside Chris Brown.
The video got plenty of playtime and views across the Bay Area and the country. Berner ensured he was wearing his Cookies branded merch during the shoot. This one video made Cookies a household name, with the brand exploding from all the attention in the video.
Cookies blew up across America, and the legacy of the biggest brand in cannabis started to gain momentum.
Berner Builds Success with Bud via Cookies Brand
Berner owes his success to cannabis. Since the brand’s inception in 2012, it’s grown into an industry titan. In the period from 2010 to the brands founding two years later, Berner became a promotional machine for the Cookies Fam.
Through Cookies and cannabis, Berner managed to move away from his position at the old Hemp Center, giving his launch to media fame on Snoop Doggs YouTube show and through his music endeavors.
Today, Berner is a multi-disciplined entrepreneur. Through his natural marketing genius, Berner managed to turn Cookies into a brand that cleared $12-million in sales in 2015. The brand has such a cult following its merch sells out for premium prices in seconds on launch.
The genius behind Berner’s business strategy is branding. Most cannabis companies and brands can’t use the traditional banking system to do business. Everything needs to be in cash because of the banking restrictions imposed by the Federal government around money laundering and the proceeds of criminal enterprise.
Since cannabis is still illegal at a federal level (hopefully not for long), Berner decided to create an innovative strategy to resolve the problem. Still, we’ll talk more about that later.
While Berner is a leader in the cannabis industry and a well-known name in cannabis culture, the man doesn’t involve himself or his brand in cannabis activism.
Berner says he prefers to take the back seat, letting things play out as they should. He states he believes the eventual legalization of cannabis is a certainty, but no one can guess how long that’s going to take. Berner prefers to focus on making money through his business empire.
He has the lofty goal of making $200-million and then retiring from the industry. With the way things are going for the Cookies brand, we expect that’s going to be sooner than later.
Trademarking the Cookies SF Brand & Expansion
Berner decided to make a game-changing move with every grower and his mama cutting Cookies into their genetics. Remember how we talked about Berner’s marketing and business genius earlier?
Well, the federal government doesn’t allow the trademarking of any cannabis brand. That was perplexing for Berner, but he found a solution to the problem.
Berner was already manufacturing and retailing Cookies merch online and in retail stores, but his need to solidify the brand led him to a genius idea., While you can’t trademark cannabis strains, you can trademark clothing.
As a result, Berner trademarked and registered “Cookies SF.” The genius of the move came in the fact that once you have a trademarked name, you can hang a sign in the dispensary, and no one can move in on your territory.
A licensed brand also gives Berner access to the banking system, something that other cannabis entrepreneurs would die for in their business. With the branding in full swing across dispensaries around America, Berner managed to protect the brand from scammers and other con artists that would want to copy their idea.
Why Cookies? How Girl Scout Cookies Changed the Game
So, how did Cookies come to be a household name in cannabis? You’ll find that people refer to bud as the leading strain in the market anywhere you go in the world. Go to Europe, and everyone wants that Cali weed, go to Jamaica, and they want “Ice.” In New York, it’s that diesel.
However, Cookies are taking over the industry, and if you walk around the shady areas of town, you’ll probably hear a hustler saying “cookies” as you walk past. Judges at the Cannabis Emerald Cup admit that Cookies is starting to dominate the market, with over half of all entries in 2019 being Cookies strains.
“Girl Scout Cookies” was the original strain leading to the domination of this brand in the cannabis market. The strain showed up on dispensary shelves in Cali around late 2010 to early 2011. The strain was an instant hit with the market, becoming the new top shelf that everyone wanted to get their hands on at the time. Some 10-years later, it’s still a revered name in cannabis culture.
However, the Girl Scouts Association of America didn’t take kindly to the reference. They ended up mailing cease-and-desist orders to dispensaries offering the “Girl Scout Cookies” strain, killing off the brand.
So, growers and dispensaries did what everyone does in these situations; they change the brand to something similar. In this case, they shortened it to “Cookies.” However, some dispensaries have the original Girl Scout Cookies labeled as “GSC” or “Thin Mints” on the menu.
What makes Girl Scout Cookies and other Cookies strains so great?
The appeal of Cookies comes from two factors. The origins of the strain are still under dispute, with the Cookies Fam still claiming credit. The Cookies Collective claims the strain is a hybrid of the internationally-acclaimed O.G. Kush and a primo cutting of Durban Poison.
The unique characteristics of the strain label it an F1 hybrid. However, Michael Backes, author of the “Cannabis Pharmacy,” states he thinks it’s a cut of the strain “Champagne.”
Whatever Cookies genetic origins, the results of this strain are simply superb. The Cookies strain, and other strains, grow huge, dense, frosty nugs that come in shades of purple and platinum.
The plant produces a powerful, potent high without the downside of couch lock. If you need a strong strain, then GSC or Cookies variants are going to do the job.
GSC and Cookies strains are loud. The plants stink when growing and after curing. The scent of GSC is minty, with a sweet aroma. For this reason, the Cookies Fam also refers to it as “Thin Mints,” celebrating the original “Thin Mint” cookies from the Girls Scouts of America.
It’s an immediately identifiable smell. As soon as you crack the jar or a baggie, everyone in the room knows what you’re holding. For years, Girl Scout Cookies remained at the top of the menu in dispensaries across California.
The plant’s reputation spread across the world, as far as Europe, South Africa, and Australia. New phenotypes emerged in breeding programs, starting the rush into Cookies genetics with more growers smuggling cuttings and seeds across the country.
Today, Cookies are a foundational strain used in creating a variety of top-shelf cannabis. It forms the building block of gold-medal winners, giving patients powerful effects that’s suitable for both medical and recreational use.
Berner continues his march to the top of the cannabis industry, with Cookies continuing to break sales results every year. The brand shows no signs of slowing down; in fact, it’s just starting.
The Evolution of the Cookies Brand & Future State
Cookies work with independent growers, giving each of them a label. The growers produce strains under each umbrella brand, bringing a steady flow of new products to market.
Over the years, the Cookies Fam developed several strains from the Girl Scout Cookies genetics. All the strains have amazing market acclaim, with heads around America praising the high-quality genetics and effects of the plants under the Cookies umbrella.
Since it’s original release back in 2011, “Thin Mints” remains as the most popular phenotype of Girl Scout Cookies. However, many growers under the Cookies Fam Collective use the strain to develop new cannabis cocktails weeping the market by storm.
Thin Mints produces a dark green plant with purple finishes and a platinum coloring. Those same genetics shine through in many of the hybrids of the plant. When it comes to the Cookies brand, the company has had some serious winners in the past.
Flavors like Sunset Sherbet, Birthday Cake, Cookies and Cream, Gelato, Key Lime Pie, and Scooby Snacks are some of the brand’s previous high-demand offerings. All these cuts offered a premium smoking experience, with high THC counts and low CBD, producing a powerful head high that leaves the mind mellow but active.
Cookies continue to offer premium cannabis products to the market. Some of the Cookie Fam Collective specialties available over recent years include the following.
Berry Pie Strain
This hybrid Cookies strain comes with balanced genetics at 50% Sativa and 50% indica. The Cookies fam developed this strain through breeding Girl Scout Cookies with Blue Dream. Some individuals call this strain “Blueberry Pie,” thanks to the distinctive blue coloring on the plant and buds.
Berry Pie comes with a 15-19% THC level, making it strong but not completely narcotic. The taste and aroma of the bud have a strong berry flavor, with a loud finish your can smell from blocks away.
Cereal Milk Strain
Another top-shelf strain from the Cookies Fam, Cereal Milk, was an instant hit with heads across California on its release in 2019. A hybrid of Y-Life (Cookies/Cherry Pie) and the Snowman, a Sativa-dominant phenotype of GSC.
Cereal Milk has a loud smell and flavor, giving the smoker a taste of sweetened milk, like the milk in the bottom of your cereal bowl. The plant produces small, tight nugs that are ice-white and frosty.
Cheetah Piss Strain
One of the hottest strains out of Cookies, Cheetah Piss is a caryophyllene-heavy hybrid that is actually a blend of strains from Growing Passion and Cookies Fam where they cross-bred fan-favorites Lemonnade, Gelato 42, and London Poundcake 97 to produce a funky, sweet, slighly sour skunk, with a tangy aftertaste. Now the naming convention becomes clear doesn’t it!
Cheetah Piss is unique in that in addition to the popular blend of relaxed and euphoric sensations many users also report an increased sense of arousal with this strain, which aligns with many user reviews stating it lifted their mood, made them happier and also increased creativity.
Collins Ave Strain
Berner teamed up with rapper Rick Ross to release this cannabis strain. It’s a balanced hybrid bred in a collab between Cookies Fam and Seed Junkie Genetics. The flavor of the bud is like sweet milk tart, with a citrusy tang.
It’s a gentle head high that’s pleasant, and you can operate heavy machinery on this high. It’s not as loud as the other strains, making it ideal for that stealth smoking session.
Gary Payton Strain
Named after the Seattle Supersonics Hall of Famer, Gary Payton, this strain offers the smoker a powerful, hard-hitting high with long-lasting effect. This strain is for the hardened stoner that needs that high THC content in their bud.
The high is euphoric, and the smell is loud, recognizable from some distance. Overall, this strain is one of the strongest variants of the original GSC cut.
These outstanding buds flowers with a light green color and frosty nugs give the appearance of icing sugar dusting the plant. Gelatti comes with an overpowering menthol edge, similar to the original Thin Mints GSC strain.
The grower can expect large nugs with an OG characteristic and smell during the growing phase. When smoking, you get a strong menthol flavor with a musky finish.
Georgia Pie Strain
Georgia Pie was a smash hit. Next to Gary Payton, heads rate this strain as the strongest on offer from the Cookies Fam Collective. Bred by the Seed Junkie Genetics label, Georgia Pie has a taste and aroma similar to eating a slice of delicious cobbler.
You get an immersive head and body high, with long-lasting effects. The high THC content makes it popular with long-term patients with high tolerances.
The look, smell, and taste of this plant is a connoisseur’s dream. The purple and red looks of the plant with its ice-white finish are astounding. You get a sweet, smooth smoke and a potent THC content that leaves you locked to the couch for hours. The taste is sweet, similar to the berry flavor of grenadine.
Honey Bun Strain
This hybrid Cookies train got its moniker from the sticky baked treat. You get a sweet and earthy flavor with this bud and an instant high that lasts for hours. It’s an amazing strain for relaxing and soothing the nervous system.
Additional Cookies and Cookies x Lemonnade hybrids:
London Pound Cake
Sativa Sister Brand Lemonnade Explained
Cookies and Lemonnade broke many pre-conceived notions of what a vertically integrated genetics, cultivar, and dispensary business could look like. One of the unique things that Berner has done with the brand is split out a sativa-focused sister brand to the wildly popular Cookies brand, offering, as the naming would suggest, a more energetic, fuel-y, sativa dominant menu great for when you want to get lifted but stay focused at the same time.
If Cookies is to relax and chill and feel richly satiated, as one does when consuming a quality cookie, then Lemonnade is sweet, tangy, and upitty, with strains and products designed to delight in a more upbeat and euphoric way vs the calm/sedative nature of many indica-heavy Cookies strains.
Berner and Brett Wilson have found success in this splitting of their vertically-operated cannabis brands, with Lemonnade having their own unique branding, stores, and celebrity collaborations with the likes of Rick Ross, Michael Corleone, and rap duo Run The Jewels.
Popular strains that have come out of the Lemonnade brand in recent years:
Yellow Fruit Stripes
Mushroom Complex Caps By Cookies
If there’s one undeniable fact about Berner and his business mindset is that he is always expanding and looking for new opportunities. One perfect example of this is the Caps mushroom complex brand that was born out of the Cookies as a sub-brand focused on health, wellness, and improved cognitive well being.
Caps combines potent CBD, CBG and CBN with blends of popular health mushrooms like Reishi, Chaga, Maitake, Shiitake, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Turkey Tail.
These are selected and processed into two product offerings; Caps Clarity for daytime use when focus and a clear mind is most important. A blend of energizing terpenes is also added to create a perfect day-time pick-me-up supplement.
CBN and CBD are mixed with with more mushrooms and a calmer terpene blend for a night-time/relaxation product to help calm the mind and promote restfulness. In tandem they operate as a ying/yang, daytime/nighttime duo to help those with busy and stressful lives live their best lives, one productive day and restful night at a time.
Herb CEO Summary
What is there to say? Berner, Brett Wilson and crew have not only created a brand consumers love they have worked hard to provide unique quality offerings that the industry doesn’t see much of these days outside of specialist exotic cultivars.
It seems Berner and co realize this and are doubling down on the exotic strain train by partnering recently with exotic and heavy-hitting seed bank Compound Genetics, famous for their innovative strains like Tokyo Snow, Khalifa Mints, Jet Fuel Gelato, The Menthol, Apples and Bananas (Cookies co-brand) and White Runtz (Runtz co-brand).
Add on top of the cannabis the Caps mushroom project, the branding, merch, events, music, and rapid national expansion and you have yourself a modern day entrepreneur with ambitions not seen since the likes of Sam Walton.
We are excited to see where the Cookies, Lemonnade, and Caps brands go and we are excited to see what else Berner has stashed up his sleeve for the next launch or release.