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An e Liquid Review: 5 Pawns
I think I may very well have tried dozens of e liquids at this point — I would not go so far as to say, “hundreds” just yet — and although there have been a few notable exceptions, most of them have been good — varying along a spectrum that starts with, “Hey, that’s all right!” and ascends all the way up to, “Holy crap! That’s awesome!”
Occasionally, however, I receive e liquids that are so far above and beyond the rest that they just blow me away. I’d like to take a little time today to tell you about two of them. Today, I’ll be looking at two e liquids from Five Pawns — specifically, Bowden’s Mate and Grandmaster. The first thing you’ll notice when you look through Five Pawns’ offerings is that these liquids are about $10 more expensive than the majority of the competition.
As a modestly successful author, I’m not in a position to throw wads of cash at things just out of carelessness or extravagance, so I’m painfully aware of the extra cost of these liquids. But let me tell you that, in every way, they are worth every penny.
And here’s the thing; unlike many of the e liquids it is my pleasure to review, these weren’t provided. I purchased these, myself, based on their reputation. But when I discovered just how entirely they have earned that reputation, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell you about them.
These e liquids were tested in a variety of setups, from the Johnson Creek Vea in both Canteen clearomizers and Johnson Creek cartomizers, to the SMOKTech Galileo powering SMOKTech’s own GBC clearomizer as well as the X.Jet Spider, both at 3.7 volts, to the Innokin iTaste SVD powering the Aspire Vivi Nova at first 8.5 and then 10 watts. Each of these liquids, additionally, was given 48 hours to steep prior to use.
Let’s move on to the presentation and common characteristics of the liquids themselves.
The presentation of Five Pawns liquids is among the best I’ve seen anywhere. But it’s time, I think, for me to expand my definition of “presentation” beyond just the physical box and bottle, and to the web site; after all, that’s where many vapers first encounter the liquids, is in the online storefronts which carry them.
Five Pawns’ web site, located here, instantly gives notice to the viewer of the overall visual theme he or she can expect throughout the site and with the physical packaging of the liquid:
That theme is Simple and Informative. There’s nothing flashy (read: distracting) going on graphics-wise. Just plain text on a plain background, with sharp, high-quality photography showing off the vendor’s wares. Navigation of the site is simple and intuitive.
There is a minor bit of extra “unboxing” to be done with each bottle, in the form of a cylindrical craft paper container which, to me, is very reminiscent of the type of box in which the more rarefied premium whiskeys are showcased.
In fact, that’s far from the only way in which this brand’s outings remind me of the higher-end products of master distillers; but let’s leave that just as a sidebar, for now, and revisit it a little later on.
The other thing — the far more practical and therefore important thing — that sets the presentation of these liquids apart from most others is the combination of bottling, labeling, and drip cap.
Five Pawns liquids arrive in 30ml clear glass bottles featuring the usual “squeeze bulb” type dripper cap. The labeling continues the visual theme of the brand’s online presence: the logo — five pawn chess pieces — is surrounded by all of the specifics of the e liquid you could ask for.
Rotating the bottle counterclockwise reveals the name of the liquid inside; under that, you will find the bottle number (an unusual touch) the lot number, nicotine strength, and “born on” date. Rotating it in the other direction and past the logo, you will find the web site URL way up top, then the creator’s signature (most likely machine-reproduced, but still a nice touch), and the PG/VG ratio, which seems to be 50/50 across the entire lineup.
And now it’s time to dive into these two flavor, specifically. And we begin with:
In appearance, Bowden’s Mate is a deep rust in the bottle; interestingly, however, it seems to be much closer to new copper in the dripper. In the rotational test, I see ample evidence of that stated 50/50 PG/VG ratio in the form of a thick but even ripple effect on the interior of the bottle. In a shake test — shaking the bottle a couple of times quite rapidly, then watching the color of the glass to see how rapidly the liquid retreats back down into itself — the movement is quite rapid, lingering for less than a full second.
The nose of Bowden’s Mate is intense mint — not menthol, actual mint — with a deep chocolate undertone. I don’t pick up the French vanilla on the nose, but the chocolate is right there under all that mint, and it smells very nice.
The vapor output from Bowden’s Mate is true to its 50/50 PG/VG ratio, as well, displaying medium density in a very fluffy texture as well as respectable volume. The flavor carriage in the vapor is intense, but really tends to favor the mint over the chocolate and vanilla, which is about what I was expecting would happen with this flavor profile.
Throat hit really does nail the “refreshing” description. This is one for a hot summer day, because the throat hit is not only solid and satisfying, but really is intensely cooling, as well. Not really anything unexpected from a mint flavor, but here’s what was unexpected — the other flavors in the mix take it from a harsh sensation like vaping toothpaste to that gently cooling sensation that makes even a guy like me — who doesn’t strictly like menthol, most of the time — really enjoy this one.
And here’s where it gets really good — the flavor. If you’ve read John Manzione’s take on what makes for a premium e liquid, one of the criteria — and I absolutely agree with it — is the craftsmanship. Nuance. Blending.
The flavor of this e liquid is not menthol. There’s no menthol to it — this is mint. My taste buds tell me peppermint, just like one of those red-striped white lozenge peppermint candies that just flood the shelves and candy bowls around Christmas-time. As on this nose, it is the dominant flavor, but only just.
Because chocolate has the mint’s back on the exhale. And this isn’t any cloyingly sweet facsimile, either. I taste a dark chocolate here rather than milk chocolate. It’s not overly sweet, but neither is it that bitter baker’s chocolate, either. To me, it’s a lot like a deep, rich, Toblerone-like flavor — absolutely unmistakable. Where the sweetness comes in for keeps is on the heels of that chocolate, and that’s where you get that creamy French vanilla on a quick, light finish.
Moving on to Grandmaster, we’ll begin with the appearance. In consistency, of course, it’s identical to Bowden’s Mate, having the same 50/50 PG/VG ratio. Where it differs, appearance wise, is in its hue. This one is shiny new copper in the bottle, while in the dripper, it’s closer to a rich gold in hue. Also as with Bowden’s Mate, the liquid is clean and clear of any particulates or occlusion of any kind.
It’s on the nose where I first begin to get really excited about Grandmaster, because I can immediately smell a perfect fusion of those peanut butter and banana components. I do pick up the caramel, as well, but it’s in the background, and on the nose, at least, I can’t readily identify it as caramel, just as a mild, faintly buttery sweetness.
One personal note regarding the nose on Grandmaster — when I was a kid, around ten years old, one of my favorite things for lunch was a homemade peanut butter and banana sandwich. Oh, man, but I loved those. Every day during the summer, if I could get my way, that was the feature presentation of my lunch. And I had damned near forgotten — until I picked up that bottle after its second day of steeping and pulled that cap.
The vapor on Grandmaster is quite similar to that of Bowden’s Mate — medium density, fluffy texture, good but not unusually big body on it. The flavor carriage seems to strike third parties (I always test that by vaping in my living room while a non-vaping associate sits nearby, by the way) as being much more subtle, and even harder to peg than Bowden’s Mate as a scent that’s coming from a vapor. No doubt the flavor profile is the big, driving reason for that reaction.
And the flavor profile. Again, this is where these liquids are really set up to strut their stuff. Again, what we have here is an incredibly well-blended and layered flavor fusion. In equal measure:
We have a creamy yet savory peanut butter. I’ve had half a dozen vapes that incorporate peanut butter, in some form, into their flavor profiles, but this one is by far the most dead-on accurate rendition I have ever tasted. This peanut butter isn’t the approximation you might be used to from Reese’s Peanut Butter cups — this is the real deal, with that salted peanut taste.
Then — again, in equal measure — we have a sweet banana cream that’s like a bite of an old fashioned banana split, with a three way tie of sweetness between a very authentic, ripe banana, a sweet, heavy cream that, interestingly, doesn’t give me any notes of vanilla but rather melds with that caramel note I didn’t fully discern on the nose.
Recommendation & Conclusion
So let me wrap up, here — would I recommend either of these flavors? With qualifications. Let me spell them out:
These flavors are anything but common. You have got to specifically enjoy flavors like these to want them. Or, at the very least, you’ve got to enjoy the flavors that go into their profiles. Do you like mint? Being that that’s the dominant flavor in Bowden’s Mate, if you do like mint, and if you like chocolate, odds are very good that you’ll like Bowden’s Mate.
Do you like peanut butter and banana? If you do, then the odds are extremely high that you’ll like Grandmaster. But, like I said, here’s the rub: Five Pawns doesn’t do the flavors that everybody else does. Hell, from what I’ve seen, they’ve got a lot of flavors that nobody else does. Judging from these two offerings, though, I’m convinced that they’ll keep the business for those flavors all to themselves even after other folks start producing them.
The other thing to bear in mind, as previously mentioned, is that Five Pawns liquids are expensive. At $27.50 for 30ml, we’re talking just a hair’s-breadth away from $0.92 cents per milliliter.
However, there are two points to balance that. First, they do offer a sample pack of their first five selections for $23.50. On the other hand, and this I’m not happy about, that sample pack consists of 5x 4ml bottles — almost $1.18 per ml. To me, that’s just an outlandish price to ask for any mere 20ml of eliquid.
The second point, however, is that these e liquids — at their full size — are good enough to merit that cost. Would I buy these every month? No. I will, however, buy them as something to be vaped on special occasions, just like I would buy a $200 bottle of Glenmorangie Signet Scotch — even while Old Grand-Dad is my weekend sippin’ whiskey.
With all that said, if something really very special is what you’re looking for, then I think you might find it with one of these liquids.