Lead Writer: Jason Little, with Chelsey Laney
About the Graphic: “Never assume that anyone will have the same sense of humor that you do!” – John Manzione 10/7/12 –
As Jon Locke was hard at work on a graphic to illustrate this review he told all of us that there wasn’t a “tag line” for Highbrow Vapor. Our ever-brilliant Julia, in a nano-second, yelled out “The Hoity-Toity eJuice Company”. After we all regained our composure, (we laughed for 10 minutes straight) we decided to go ahead with it, because, hell, it’s brilliant. We tease of course, and mean no disrespect. Hopefully Highbrow Vapor will see this as an obvious attempt at humor. Then again, when you have to explain the joke it kinda loses the funny. Oh well – Jason Little 10/8/12.
This review covers seven (7) flavors from Highbrow Vapor, supplied in 10ML bottles. Not enough to allow the usual number of 5 team members, but certainly enough for two. Chelsey and I were chosen to do this review because of our preferences to the type of flavors that were sent from Highbrow.
The flavors we reviewed were:
Orange de Sangre
(All eLiquids in this review are 80/20 PG/VG & 12mg nicotine, Highbrow's standard blend.)
Points of Interest
There are a couple of unique features of Highbrow Vapor that are (somewhat) different than we’ve seen from other eLiquid brands. For instance, Highbrow offers only two (2) sizes, 10ML and 30ML.
10ML eLiquids are $7.50, but for $15 you can jump to 30ML, making the 30ML the much preferred size to order once you know what you like. (If you enter HIGHBROW” in the coupon code area you will receive 10% off your order, bringing that expensive 10ML price down a bit. The 30ML price is already a great price structure)
Highbrow Vapor also creates its own extracts for many of the flavors they create. This means that you won’t find any artificial flavorings in their eJuice. Using natural flavorings can prevent the sometimes seen ‘base’ flavor or ‘signature’ flavor we’ve found in some brands. The absence of a base ‘taste’ allows the true flavoring to shine through. Most top-shelf eLiquid companies have gone to natural flavors but few, if any, do what Highbrow has done, creating their own extracts.
Each eLiquid we reviewed were:
- Made with 100% natural flavors, 0% artificial flavors.
- 99.9% pharmaceutical grade nicotine.
- 100% USP Kosher food grade PG/VG.
- Contain No dilution unless requested.
- Come with childproof caps and warning label.
- And were manufactured in the USA with products made in the USA.
The “standard” mix for each flavor is 80% PG and 20% VG. Highbrow Vapor suggests an 80/20 PG/VG mix but they encourage “experimentation”. You can choose the blend you want, and the amount of flavoring you desire. You begin with choosing between three (3) choices for the PG/VG mix; all PG, all VG, or the 80/20. On the order page is a text box for customization, 60/40, 70/30, etc., as well as requesting an extra shot or two of flavoring. Nicotine levels are; 0, 6, 12, 18, 24, and 36mg. (we, Spinfuel, strongly advise staying away from 36mg nicotine levels unless you have permission from your doctor, or if you’re trying to kick a 3-pack a day analog habit. Seriously, 36mg is a lot of nicotine.)
Initial Impressions of Highbrow Vapor – The Company
The very name “Highbrow” suggests a snotty, snobby nature of the company (I mean, come on, right?), so when the eLiquids arrived I expected to see some really fancy packaging, despite the 10ML size. Instead, the 10ML bottles were the everyday 10ML plastic bottles you see everywhere in the ejuice business, and the labels were simple wraparound paper printed on an inkjet printer. The logo, a man in a top hat, was fuzzy and pixelated. I admit I was a bit surprised. Then Julia stepped in and told me that these were ‘sampler’ bottles.
I have not seen a 30ML bottle so I cannot say that they upped their game in packaging for the larger size or simply upped the size of the plastic bottle. Now, this isn’t a criticism, at this point in the review prep I was trying to figure out why they decided to call the company “Highbrow”. Highbrow connotes an upper class society; people who buy Highbrow eLiquids do not stay in steerage when cruising on the ocean in the Titanic.
The Highbrow website (highbrowvapor.com) is packed full of information about the products and the company and the design is well thought out and accessible. Feel free to explore all you want, but don’t miss the “About Us” page. This is where you’ll find out how this family-owned and operated business is run more like a winery than a mom & pop eLiquid company. This page alone will make you want to buy your eLiquids from Highbrow, especially the information on where their eLiquids are made and stored. It does make you wonder if they might have a small line of wine as a side business. And now I am beginning to understand the “Highbrow” name.
While I was not impressed with the packaging I think it’s fair to say that when buying eLiquids the important part is the juice itself anyway. Nice packaging is a great thing, but even the coolest, most expensive packaging cannot hide bad juice. On the other hand, even the best ejuice can lose something if it’s packaged in, say; old prescription bottles and identified with a magic marker. Okay, enough about packaging!
Does natural flavoring enhance the vaping experience? Does the standard 80/20-mix work best, and can this family-owned business create good juice? These are the important questions, and while most, if not all, of these questions can be answered in a review, the relatively small number of flavors and small amounts of each do place certain limits on what we can definitively say about Highbrow Vapor. Highbrow currently offers more than 45 flavors. We are reviewing about a 1/8 of their line, so it’s worth keeping that in mind. We can review the individual flavors, but we cannot say that you can expect the same quality, or lack thereof, from the majority of the line.
Chelsey and I spent a total of 80 hours vaping Highbrow Vapor. We used a variety of hardware, from Variable Voltage to mini-eCigs and cartomizers. We wanted to see how much, if any, the flavors would change when using a cartomizer filled with polyfill stuffing, (Halo G6 burn-resistance cartos); Clearomizers CE2’s and CE4+ (wicks), as well as 3ML tanks filled half way. We even vaped with Totally Wicked Triple Coil 510 Cartomizers on an Apollo VTube and a Lambo 4 from MyVaporStore. We think we covered most of the ways you might vape these eLiquids, if not, let us know in the comments below.
Characteristics of the eJuice
Naturally, an 80/20 mix is going to produce a thin eLiquid. I prefer thin juices for those times when I simply want to use the needle bottle to fill a cartomizer and be done with it. Especially Apollo eCigs cartomizers and Totally Wicked cartomizers. Both brands, in our opinion, are far superior to Boge and absorb the liquid much faster and saturate the material much faster. That means a lot when you are confronted by a heavy VG-based eLiquid.
A Word about Aroma
The Aromas of every flavor from we received from Highbrow were marvelous. Because of the natural flavorings each flavor has a bouquet of its own and none of them were chemical or artificial. Admit it, you know an ejuice that smells good is more appetizing than one that smells of glycerin. Most of the time it means a better vaping experience as well. Sadly, some eLiquid makers don't think about this very important part of the whole experience.
We employed the standard 1 through 5 star rating system we’ve used in every eLiquid review. 1 is the lowest score and it means the eLiquid is unvapable. A rating of 5 means we love everything about it. Any number in-between 1 and 5 speak for themselves but are always accompanied by our thoughts on the flavor. You won’t have a hard time figuring out where we stand on each one.
Customer or “Home” Steeping
Highbrow Vapor will need a little Customer/Home Steeping to fully realize the eLiquids flavor. We don’t know why this is, but the eLiquids we received from Highbrow took longer to “home steep” than any other we’ve ever reviewed.
“Home steeping is when you open the bottle of juice and allow the juice to breathe. The way we do it here, for reviews, is that we open the bottle, fill our tanks, cartos, Clearomizers, etc., and store them overnight in a cool, dry place, usually the stockroom. “
Most eJuice blends require some time for all the ingredients to merge or ‘marry’ into one. Sometimes it can take a few hours and sometimes it can take much longer.
Julia (Barnes) and I are notorious for “cheating” when it comes to trying out ejuice early when they come in for review. We will often take half a milliliter and insert it into a clearomizer and vape it straight away. On rare occasions this works out okay, but the majority of times we find out that the juice needs further steeping.
For instance, the Crème Brule flavor was the one I chose to vape immediately because I had high hopes for it. I’m glad I cheated because there was almost no flavor whatsoever when I took it straight from the bottle and inserted it into a CE2.
Experiencing this total lack of flavor caused me to grab a pack of CE2’s from the stockroom and “lift” half a milliliter from the remaining six, without telling Chelsey. After trying out each flavor I came to the conclusion that each of them needed to steep for 24 hours at least, rather than just overnight. So, without transferring them to their final resting place (cartos, clearos, tanks) I screwed the caps back on, shook them up vigorously and let them sit overnight. Then, the next morning I filled what I was going to use, Chelsey filled hers, and then we put them back in the stockroom again until that evening, allowing another 12 hours to pass. That did the trick.
The difference this additional home steeping made was almost miraculous. During my initial vaping with the “new” juices I was worried that this review was going to score very low. After the steeping each of the flavors came alive like I’d never seen before. They improved dramatically. My suggestion is that if you do order from them, and you should, it would be a good idea to allow extra home steeping to bring out the entire flavor these eLiquids have to offer.
As always, the flavors were chosen at random. We are writing about them in the same order in which they were pulled and discussed. Since it was just Chelsey and myself, we decided to skip the conference room meeting and just hang out at home 80 hours later and talk about them, make some notes, vape the flavors again (of what remained, if any) just to be sure, and it worked out pretty well.
(Note* The entire staff of Spinfuel live, temporarily, together, next door to the office until we all move back to Spinfuel HQ in Concord NH next month.)
And now… the blow by blow of each of the seven (7) flavors.
Blueberry: From the Highbrow website: “We are proud of our blueberry E liquid. Much like the actual fruit, our blueberry juice is mild in flavor while sweet and slightly tart. We think our blueberry flavor is as naturally delicious as any you will find on the market.”
Ladies First: Chelsey: 4 Stars – Highbrow says this is a mild flavor, but I disagree. The taste of blueberry is very prominent here, and very fresh. They are right when they say their eLiquids do not have an artificial taste, my experience with Blueberry was as though I had taken some fresh New Hampshire blueberries and crushed them up and drained the liquid into my cartos and Clearomizers. The flavor accuracy was 100% the flavor of blueberry, it was as real as it gets. Blueberry lost a star because it wasn’t quite sweet enough for an all-day vape. But I did love it. TH: Excellent V: Excellent
Jason: 5 Stars – Chelsey, had Blueberry contained additional sweetness it would have taken away the authentic blueberry-ness of the flavor.
I can usually tell with the first drag if a particular flavor is going to be a 4 or 5, but this one took me a while. It does taste exactly like blueberries. I don’t mean, 80% of 90%, I mean 100% like blueberries. So at first that put me off. I am used to more artificial type flavors and I have had some very good blueberry eLiquids in the past that we probably made with artificial flavoring and were sweeter than Highbrow’s, and none of them was this close to actually tasting like a real, honest-to-goodness blueberry. After an hour or so I couldn’t stop vaping it. Suddenly I was craving it. This is going to be added to my rotation because after vaping Blueberry it has become unforgettable. TH: Excellent V: Excellent
Cheesecake Torte: Highbrow says: “Cheesecake has been a fixture since the era of the Ancient Greeks, and for good reason - it is amazing. Fast forward a few thousand years and its delicious flavor has remained a staple of dessert lovers. Our version of this timeless flavor is distinctively rich, sweet and filled with cream cheese flavor notes. A subtle, fresh and sweet inhale awaits with a pronounced cream cheese exhale that will leave you wanting more. This flavor can be combined with others on our eLiquid menu to more suit your personal preferences.”
Chelsey: 3 Stars – Cheesecake Torte was a very strong flavor, and one I didn’t particularly like. Unfortunately it tasted about 90% identical to another flavor by Highbrow Vapor, which I’ll get to later.
Cheesecake Torte is a strong desert-vape that I can’t see myself vaping again. During my time with Cheesecake Torte I put it down and picked it up more times than I did with any other flavor. I could take a couple of drags then I would have to stop, wait a few minutes, and try it again. This one is very over the top and overwhelmingly flavorful. TH: Very Good V: Excellent
Jason: 3.5 Stars – I know what that other flavor is, and it’s very close to Cheesecake Torte. But I preferred the other flavor to this one. Cheesecake Torte is a very strong flavor, and if you like a cheesecake vape you won’t find a better one, in my experience. There is a very rich and very creamy experience to this flavor. I think it’s one that you will either love or “not love”. I certainly didn’t hate it; it was just too heavy. And the problem is I don’t like cheesecake vapes, though I love cheesecake. Go figure. TH: Excellent V: Excellent
Highbrow RY4 – Highbrow says; “This is perhaps our most sought after tobacco flavored juice. We use our own vanilla bean infusion as well as premium caramel and cocoa flavorings to produce just enough sweetness to match a bold underlying tobacco flavor. The flavors blend to create a smooth, slightly sweet and nutty inhale with a robust tobacco punch on exhale.”
Chelsey: 5 Stars – One of the best RY4’s I’ve ever had, hands down. Very rich, very deep, and very satisfying. After my first vape with this RY4 I decided to see if I could take apart the flavors mentally and identify them (which is something I do when I really want to understand a particular flavor). Each of the flavors; caramel, vanilla, and cocoa were there in just the right mix, and together they blended into one of the richest RY4’s ever.
The history of RY4 is very interesting one and if you haven’t learned about it you should. I will tell you that if you are expecting to vape something that reminds you of a cigarette or a pipe, forget it. That’s not an RY4.
A real RY4 is not a real tobacco flavor, its something altogether unique and magical. Highbrow created one of the best and authentic RY4’s. This is a must-have. TH: Excellent V: Excellent
Jason: 5 Stars – There are as many variations of RY4 as there are eLiquid artisans. It seems that all flavorists want to put their version of this magical creation out there into the world of vaping. It’s not wrong to say that RY4 is the most important eLiquid flavors there are.
Some say that RY4, in its original form, is the “Sgt. Pepper” of eLiquids. You can “cover” the album or the individual songs a million times but you’ll never reproduce the original Sgt. Pepper. It was supposedly magic in a bottle, a once in a lifetime moment. The same holds true to the legend of the original RY4. A million variations of the original, but yet not the original.
Highbrow Vapor's version is as close to the true intent, as I know it, of the legendary RY4. A very deep and rich blend of the three magical flavors; caramel, vanilla, and cocoa. Like The Beatles, caramel, vanilla, and cocoa as separate flavors are excellent, but when they work in unison they create something larger, grander, great.
I’ve tried many RY4’s and the artisans are almost always trying to create a tobacco flavor instead of going for the true, original RY4. I would like to believe that Highbrow’s version would make the originator of RY4 proud. TH: Excellent V: Excellent
Orange de Sangre: Highbrow offers this description: “A crisp, clean, slightly tangy and refreshing twist on one of our favorite fruits. In our part of the world citrus is abundant. We have taken advantage of this bountiful harvest and created a unique and wonderful orange flavored juice you will never find anywhere else.”
Chelsey: 3 Stars – The Highbrow Vapor description of this orange flavored vape is spot on. Had it been sweeter I ‘might’ have liked it more. As it is, it was too tangy for me. One of my least liked flavors is orange, and unfortunately this one possessed the real flavor of orange. I don’t think orange makes a good vaping flavor. TH: Excellent V: Very Good
Jason: 4 Stars – I liked it, a lot. This is a very good, tangy orange vape. Not very sweet, but very clean and crisp. The description is befitting of the eLiquid itself. My only problem with it was I couldn’t just lay back and relax with it. Orange is not an everyday vape for me, much less an “all day” vape. I like it though, don’t misunderstand. But I wouldn’t order it. You have to really like orange vapes to vape this regularly. If it was sweeter and some of the tang was taken out it might turn into an all-day vape. If this flavor were “gifted” to me, I would certainly find times to enjoy it. TH: Superior Vapor: Excellent
Strawberry Lemonade: Highbrows tell us this: One of our most popular flavor requests is finally coming to fruition just in time for the summer. Since we grow copious amounts of citrus in our region and California, as a whole is the largest producer of fresh strawberries in the world it seemed only natural to combine the two flavors. There is not a single beverage that quenches one's thirst on a hot summer day quite like a refreshing glass of strawberry lemonade. The resulting months of testing has produced a tangy and slightly sweet treat that is as close to the real thing as we can achieve. What awaits you is a delightful combination of our popular limoncello flavor infused with locally grown sweet strawberry flavor extractions. If you enjoy Highbrow fruit flavors this is sure to impress!”
Chelsey: 3.0 Stars – This isn’t fair to Highbrow really. I dislike lemonade. I dislike lemons, period. I wouldn’t vape this again because of the lemonade. But, it rates 3.0 stars for other things, like a great throat hit and tons of vapor, and the incredible accuracy of the flavor. TH: Superior Vapor: Excellent.
Jason: 5 Stars – I knew Chelsey wouldn’t like this one but we couldn't just leave it out. She does hate lemons but for some reason loves limes. For me, this was an excellent combination of real authentic strawberry flavor and lemonade. Almost magical in how they blend so perfectly.
The strawberry flavor was authentic strawberry, not too sweet and not too tart. The tartness came from a real lemonade blend. Although I give this flavor the 5 Star rating, I need to be honest about it and say that I would not go out of my way to vape it. There are so many other great vapes out there that some of the great ones have to stay on the sidelines. This is an example of that.
I’m not sure what else to say other than if you like lemonade flavors this one will be your favorites list. TH: Great V: Excellent.
Crème Brule: Highbrow says; “This delicious vanilla custard comes to life in our crème Brule E liquid. We best describe it as a smooth and creamy custard flavor with robust vanilla undertones. A hint of caramelized sugar permeates the overall bouquet of flavor.”
Chelsey: 4 Stars – This, I would swear, is the “parent” flavor in the Cheesecake Torte. This is a very rich, very sweet, cream flavored vape. I like it much better than the Cheesecake Torte, but its still not a flavor I could all day. A definite desert vape that would make an excellent choice after an Italian dinner. All Cheesecake Torte needed was the removal of the Cheesecake flavor ;-) TH: Excellent V: Very Good
Jason: 5 Stars – At first I didn’t like this one much at all. Crème Brule is a very rich desert vape that demands attention. It is so rich that if you were hungry and wasn’t able to eat anything right away, like in the afternoon while waiting for dinnertime, fill a clearomizer with this and you will be satisfied for quite a while. Seriously.
Crème Brule is one of those flavors that grow on you, and once it does, you’re hooked. I found myself reaching for the clearomizer I had this in on the ‘off hours’, just to take a few drags and put it away. Strangely appealing. TH: Excellent V: Excellent
Cappuccino Diablo - “Highbrow Vapor's take on the rich and robust coffee favorite. Creamy, smooth, and not bitter in the slightest, you will thoroughly enjoy this vape in the morning as well as the evening. Slightly sweetened in its natural state, we stay true to form in our version as well. If you prefer a little cream flavoring or extra sweetening be sure to include your request in the checkout box.”
Chelsey: 4.5 Stars – After reading that you can request a little sweeter version of their flavors I just know that if I ordered this one with a little more sweetness and a touch more of cream I would adore Café Diablo more than I do now. I love this flavor as it is, though it’s not quite “fantastic”. Highbrow Vapor is right when they say that this coffee flavor has no bitterness, and instead it has a rich and creamy coffee flavor. I’m going to try it with the extras, just to see. TH: Good V: Excellent
Jason: 5 Stars – To me, this is great just as it is. Ideally sweet enough, creamy enough, and certainly rich enough. I wouldn’t mess with the formula at all. Coffee can be hard to pull off, I know there are only two companies in the prefilled carto business that I like, and only 2 or 3 other eLiquids that I think do an excellent job at coffee flavors. Highbrow offers a new take on it, and a delicious one at that. TH: Excellent V: Excellent
A few days after we talked about these flavors in the official capacity I asked Chelsey what she thought as the days went by. She said she wouldn’t change any of the scores, but that she might have been too harsh on the Cheesecake Torte. She wouldn’t take the score "much" higher because it is a specialty vape, but she admitted to ‘thinking about it’ from time to time, a definite sign (to me) that it’s not only memorable, but also a damn fine flavor. Chelsey told me that it was a shame that there wasn’t enough to get the whole team involved and that after spending time on the Highbrow Vapor website she saw flavors she would have liked to sample along with the seven (7) we did.
Lastly, Chelsey also said that if she could have picked the seven (7) flavors she would have tossed out the Strawberry Lemonade in favor of the Blackberry Limoncello, (she has only recently discovered the magic of Blackberry) and as for the rest of the flavors that remain un-reviewed she thought they all deserved to be reviewed.
As for me, the ones that stick with me are the Blueberry, the Cappuccino Diablo, and the Highbrow RY4. I too thought this was a small sampling of flavors and a small amount of eLiquid to do Highbrow the justice I think it deserved. But I’ve learned not to ask Julia about these things, and whatever the reason I’m sure it’s valid.
Thank you for taking the time to read this review. I welcome your comments below, and I DO hope you comment.
Jason Little with Chelsey Laney