Wednesday, October 26, 2011

FLAVORAMA: E-cigarette lovers are eating it up, and they have good taste

From "nicotine replacement" to gourmet indulgence
Vaping has become a foodie's dream: luscious, calorie-free confections.

    (October 2013) If you want to put your lips together and blow something delicious, you have so many choices, it will take your breath away: More than 7,000 flavors are now available and, by one estimate, nearly 250 more are being introduced every month, according to a recent article in the New York Times.  
    I am craving cotton candy so much right now. But the butterscotch, creme brulee and fudge brownies are calling my name, too. On days like this, it's best to just close up shop, kick back in your La-Z-Boy recliner (preferably with a view of the clouds outside), and devote yourself to creating sweet clouds of your own.
    For decades now, smoking has generally been regarded  as a "vice," and a "dirty habit,." even by smokers themselves. Then, e-cigarettes stampeded into the market, with the head-tossing ebullience of wild horses. They offered a "clean," stylish, infinitely safer alternative to smoking. A passionate, activist vaping community has sprung up almost overnight, throughout the U.S. and Europe.
   The whole thrust of this energetic, creative entrepreneurial adventure has gradually shifted from nicotine delivery to creating a "smoking-like" experience that provides pleasure and relaxation. The best products envelop the the user in flavor, "throat hit," and aromatic vapor. Vaping has become a banquet, with an ever-changing array of luscious flavors. We aren't in Marlboro Country anymore. Today's men have learned that blowing banana-creme doesn't compromise your masculinity. Neither does kiwi or gummy bear.

From blueberry cheesecake, to English toffee to pumpkin pie to bacon French toast: Have one of each!

    Participants in a study in the journal Addiction (2013) compared their use of e-cigarettes to "snacking" and "grazing." This has become a new recreational phenomenon that challenges our preconceptions about smoking. E-cigs, and particularly the customized "personal vaporizers" (PVs), are becoming lifestyle accoutrements that combine aspects of technology, personal care, fine dining, and fashion. 
     E-cigarettes are perhaps the most charming fraud of our new millennium. They fail to do the precise thing they are supposed to do -- give us a "drug fix" -- and yet we love them. That's a lovely irony! We've been gypped, in a good way.

Yes, my people: You CAN vape tiramisu. We've come a long way, baby.
    And the e-cig phenomenon has unexpectedly unleashed innovative alternatives for achieving the pleasure that dangerous tobacco cigarettes have provided for generations -- alternatives that have little to do with nicotine, but that transform "vaping" into a whole new phenomenon: an endless banquet of luscious sensation.
Luscious juice is on the loose. But what kind of chemicals are used for our inhalatory joy? Nick Oxford / New York Times.

    I have never in my life heard people rave so incessantly about flavor -- not even the foodiest of foodies! I have never heard even the most discerning wine connoisseurs wax poetic about the "notes" and "palate feel" of a special vintage with the same ardency as do vapers describing the latest e-juice concoction.
Kiwi, mango, berry and vanilla cookie, all in one euphoric vape.
    E-cigs have a powerful placebo effect in those who are "addicted" to nicotine. It is expressed succinctly and memorably by one of the world's top tobacco researchers, and one of my most helpful correspondents, Dr. Ricarrdo Polosa, Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Catania, in Italy:

 “An e-cigarette is not a cessation device but a sensation device.”
    And what a nice sensation it is -- much nicer than cigarettes ever were. It is sleek, clean and delicious.

    Polosa elaborates: "The e-cigarette -- a much safer product that can reproduce the experience of 'smoking without smoking' -- is a revolutionary opportunity for smokers, who now can pursue abstinence without giving up the pleasure that derives from their smoking behavior."

   There is something very primal about all of this. We want to suck and blow -- we can't help it! We want to be cloud-makers! We want fragrant flavors wafting through us! We need to keep our oral apparatus pleasantly occupied, one way or another. This may be infantile, from a psychological point of view, but it's a very common fixation, as both smokers and overeaters know only too well.
    This desire has created a blossoming industry whose exuberance and dynamism I hope will slay the nicotine purveyors.   
"Vaping" is the new "juicing."
   The most experienced, dedicated and discerning "vapers" have created a magnificently monstrous new obsession. I think this is fun and kind of funny. Their PVs look more like musical instruments or weapons than cigarettes. Some of them are big, mean machines. But according to their web sites and blogs, to store proprietors I've interviewed, and to emails I've received, the goal is INTENSE FLAVOR, INTENSE HEAT/ THROAT SENSATION AND LOTS OF VAPOR -- NOT NICOTINE.  All those buttons and gauges allow them to tweak everything, except nicotine.

Heaven: Pound cake, cream filling, buttery icing, nuts, mocha, and fruits, forever.
    Most of the connoisseurs of these extreme devices are former smokers who were weaned off of nicotine by conventional e-cigarettes (often without realizing it), and are now ardent advocates for this tasty new pastime. On Saturdays, especially, vape shops around the country are packed with people sharing insights, techniques and tricks.

    They rave about the newest flavors: "Have you tried Purple Dragon? Shit, man, it's better than sex." Or, "Hey, thanks for the tip about Pineapple Rum. It really chilled me out."
    The flavor biz is going wild. I thought it was silly at first. I wanted a plain, menthol e-cig that looked just like a homely, olden-days tobacco cigarette. But the "foodie" aspect of vaping is intriguing. It seems that every day, dozens of new flavors are put online. And now that they've all done the fruits and common confections and beverages, they're creating unheard-of palate pleasers, some of them with "secret recipes."
Peanut butter! Over your palate and out your nose! What could be more divine?

The flavor is the thing -- not the nicotine -- and there are no calories!
      Joe Petner of Vaper Joe’s  predicts juice will continue to become "more and more boutique style with fancier packaging, labels, and unique shaped bottles."
    Phil Busardo, of Taste Your Juice, writes in Duworth's excelllent Ashtray Blog, "I think we’re going to see more and more liquid companies doing things the right way. Clean rooms, immaculate mixing facilities, documented processes, correct air handling systems, etc. I think these are the e-liquid companies who will be around for the long haul. Self regulation is the key to success here. More focus on airflow and where it’s provided. This will allow the ability to tailor your device to the e-liquid you’re using or the environment you’re using it in. Juice flow control would help out here as well. Different heating elements. More power and safer devices."

Ah, feel the fruitiness of nature rippling through your head! Sweet!
    Bloog Vaping seems to be the perfect example of what Busardo hopes to see: "companies doing things the right way."
   Although it lacks the mega-financing to launch flashy promotional campaigns, its dedication to quality directly addresses the health and safety concerns that so many -- including vapers -- have raised about this new phenomenon.
    Disclaimer: Bloog graciously sent me nine bottles of e-liquid to try, at no charge, even though I informed them that I was not a "reviewer" of juice, and that if I did express my opinions, they might be negative. To offset somewhat their gift, I purchased my "hardware" from Bloog. I have never used anything but a pre-packaged, ready-to-use, WalMart e-cig, so I'm having to learn how to screw things together (not my strong suit) and fill tiny containers with fluids (will it be worth it? I'll soon find out).
    Bloog e-liquid, produced by NicoPremia, is the first liquid that is manufactured in a pharmaceutical facility located in the United States, according to the company's web site. The facility is FDA-registered and DEA-certified. Bloog Viquid™ is made with U.S.-sourced ingredients that have achieved USP, (United States Pharmacopoeia), designation and is manufactured using cGMP, (Current Good Manufacturing Process), processes. Bloog requires official certificates of analysis from an FDA-approved, DEA-certified facility, and pass all FDA stability tests, the web site states.
If this industry is to succeed, and be worthy of success, we'll need to see more of this kind of dedication.
     A case study: Kent Brooks is proprietor and "master mixologist" at (he is also a licensed clinical mental health professional -- what a nice combination). His firm was the overwhelming winner in all of the best-flavor categories at the Electronic Cigarette Forum convention in 2013, and was named Vendor of the Year. 

    He creates the recipes for all of his flavors, which include FreNilla, a creamy french vanilla liquid that is "highly variable with regard to a wattage sweet spot," as well as Custard's Last Stand, and Doodle, a tribute to the beloved Snickerdoodle cookie, with its hint of ginger. 
    The two most original creations currently on his ever-changing menu are Gravity, which blends tangerine, cranberry, peach and pomegranate, and H1N1, Kent's personal favorite, which he regards as his first "masterpiece." Despite the "ample throat hit," it is a very smooth vape, he reassures his fans. The flavor is "affectionately known as 'The Virus'."
Kent's Gravity flavor is a fruit-lover's dream.
"Catch H1N1 before it catches you," Kent jokingly warns.
    The predominant flavor notes "depend on device and steep time -- many customers have noted that H1N1 'changes flavor profiles more frequently than a teenage drama queen changes clothes.' Early in the life-cycle of H1N1, notes of chocolate, peanuts, and caramel serve to accent an even-bodied dry tobacco flavor.  There is a faint cinnamon hue that resides underneath," Kent explains, like a true celebrity chef.   

    " "was formed for one reason... we are passionate about vaping," he says. "There is a sense of solidarity, a common experience if you will... this is a community you can be proud to be a member of." 
    Kent is the first vaping expert with whom I corresponded about this intriguing business model. I asked him if I was correct in my impression that gourmet vapers are not particularly interested in nicotine. 
Chocolate, peanuts, caramel: Hey, it's H1N1!
     "Typically with performance increases in the delivery device, the nicotine content in the liquid decreases.  Less nicotine in the liquid itself actually tastes better.  All the high-end gear I have collected is in the interest of flavor and vapor production," he wrote to me. "It has almost nothing to do with  nicotine. (Like most people) I started with low-end gear and 18mg, and now I vape 6mg and it's almost too much.  Soon I'll be on 3mg.  We're all trying to get off nicotine, no one likes being addicted." 
    He likes to think of his product as "dessert without the calories," and that's how I like to think of it as well. I stopped eating desserts decades ago. Now, maybe I can resume my decadent gorging, if I can find some flavors that don't smell/taste like my lip balm or shampoo. 
    Actually, my favorite so far isn't even dessert: It's the strong minty Cirrus by Fancee Juice. So refreshing! And I got zero nicotine in mine. It might just become my sole flavor.                                                         

To quote The Temptations, "Look out baby, 'cause here I come!"
    John Manzione, publisher of Spinfuel Magazine, predicts that the top-shelf companies “will continue to put out delicious new flavors, some even managing to avoid the ‘variation on a theme’ curse and come up with something brand new… see The Plume Room’s ‘Angel Sauce’ for example, or Rocket Fuel Vapes ‘Limerick.' Both are fine examples of the huge improvements in great tasting eJuice.”    

    Spinfuel's review of "Angel Sauce" sounds like an adorable satire: "It is exactly the kind of eLiquid that gets you excited about vaping. That great fruit-sherbet flavor, the great dessert flavor, that one flavor you see among your collection and think “Oh yeah, that one! Come here you!”… And without warning Angel Sauce becomes the all-day vape that you want, you hope for, for one reason; you don’t want to stop vaping it. "
     The review continues enticingly: "After that sweet delicate raspberry sherbet flavor comes a rush of sweet lime with gentle orange notes, as they mix together to form a combination that your taste buds recognize but just haven’t encountered in vapor form until now. Vaping Angel Sauce feels good. I mean you expect it to taste good, but to feel good? That’s new, that’s rare."

Oh, what a feeling! Take your passion, and make it happen!
     It feels good. Like a cigarette should. And there's no mention of nicotine, just the ecstasy of vaping good flavor
    Spinfuel adds: "Angel Sauce says something about the great talent of The Plume Room’s Andrea, a master of flavor, but it also says something about the future of eLiquids, how after all this time new flavor experiences are possible, that the eJuice marketplace doesn’t have to be a market full of ‘variations on a theme’. There remains room for originality and creativity, room for great new flavors that will satisfy in ways you never thought were possible. That’s a lot of responsibility for a single new flavor, but Angel Sauce truly carries that weight marvelously."

The Plume Room's "light, sweet" blueberry-and-cream flavor.
Or try their banana pudding with vanilla & pie crust flavor.

    I find all of this to be "marvelously" amazing. The passion, and devotion to quality and innovation, and the exuberant sharing of information, are the nicest expression of the entrepreneurial spirit I've ever seen.

     Spinfuel has made the review of e-juice into a virtual art form.
     Its team -- publisher John Manzione, along with "dedicated vapers" Tom McBride, Julia Hartley-Barnes, Keira Hartley-Barnes, Dave Foster and Steve Kaderabek -- do a beautiful job of conveying their passion and their sophisticated "taste."
    "Each of us is trained in evaluating e liquids for flavor, vapor, throat hit, complexity, layers, and the mysterious ‘vape satisfaction’ element," Manzione says.   
    " 'Irreducible Complexity'....a term from the scientific method of  "Intelligent Design," applies here perfectly," he explains, in describing his criteria for distinguishing "premium" from "non-premium" juice. "Irreducible Complexity simply means that without ALL the parts of a ‘thing’ it won’t work. With respect to a premium e liquid, if you remove ‘talent’ from the equation a ‘premium e liquid’ is impossible. Remove the best possible ingredients, and the same thing happens. Irreducible Complexity requires ALL the parts; so ALL premium e liquid brands are Irreducibly Complex."
    These delightful people mean business! Like those who love art, dance and avant-garde film, they have thought long and hard about what makes Greatness.
   "The element of ‘talent for creating’ is still elusive, and rare. That will never change, and there will always be certain people, I call them flavorists, who will always bring us the best e liquids," Manzione says, like a true connoisseur. 
    And to think that this whole new phenomenon is based upon an aversion to one of the deadliest consumables ever devised: cigarettes.  

Vaporstix went broke claiming its e-cigs were a weight-loss aid.

Can you 'vape' vitamins? Possibly.
        Vitamin Smoke eliquid claims to contain Vitamin C, echinacea, Vitamin B12 and optional nicotine and caffeine.  It's available in Acai Berry Caffeine, Double Apple, Fancy Creme Brulle, Cinnamon Bun, Grape, Melon Breeze, Mocha Coffee Caffeine, Purple Haze, Blueberry, Mint and Peach.

Rocket Fuel''s "Limerick" is intended to taste like Key Lime pie.
    Will the enthusiasm for vaping endure, or is it just a fad? It seems to me that vaping does satisfy something primal in us (or some of us, anyway), and that if the quality of the experience is good, it might become a lasting part of the culture. I think vaping could easily become a habit, without necessarily being a vice or an addiction. It might establish itself in the accepted smorgasbord of life's little pleasures: a mode of relaxation, an aspect of socializing, a comfort, an aid to contemplation and an after-dinner treat. Those who have never smoked at all might not relate to this scenario, but I think those who have would agree: It's a joy!'s so nice just to lie back and let the thoughts flow.