Robin O’Connor is the owner and artist behind Bird’s Nest Elixirs, a unique and complex e liquids brand. Recently our own Julia Hartley-Barnes had the privilege to discuss several topic with Ms O’Connor in a delightful interview. Below is the entire interview, so sit back, relax, enjoy your favorite e liquid, and read how an artist infuses talent, hard work, creativity, and a touch of genius to come up with some awarding winning e liquids.
SPINFUEL: Welcome to the pages of Spinfuel. Birds Nest Elixirs is very new to Spinfuel eMagazine, and probably many of our readers. Would you like to introduce yourselves?
Robin: Sure, we are a premium e-liquid company and we specialize in complex and unique flavors.
SPINFUEL: And what position(s) do you hold in Bird’s Nest Elixirs?
Robin: I am the owner and “mixologist”
SPINFUEL: First, we truly enjoyed working with the four e Liquids you have in your lineup. Who or what inspired you to get into the e-juice business? And when was that? Oh, and congratulations on winning the Spinfuel Choice Award for Excellence your first time appearing in Spinfuel.
Robin: I was inspired to get into the e-liquid business years ago! I wanted to as soon as I tasted amazing e-liquid for the first time. At the time, I really had no idea at all about what it would take to get into this industry, but it was definitely a desire of mine even early on.
SPINFUEL: We firmly believe that great e liquids come not from a strict recipe, but from a truly talented chef. If you gave out your recipe for, say, Lyric, we believe that if 1000 ‘chef’ attempted to follow your recipe there would be a 1000 variations on a theme, but none of them would be YOUR ‘Lyric’. Do you ascribe to that as well, or do you believe that what you do is more of a craft than an art form?
Robin: Well, I halfway agree with that statement… I personally believe that mixing e-liquids is both artistic as well as scientific, and the best e-liquid creators are a combination of both of those. Mixing the flavors requires precision and the ability to follow strict instructions, but coming up with the flavors in the first place requires at very least a latent understanding of what goes well together.
SPINFUEL: Your website, logos, labels, and so forth somehow really fit the profile for your eliquids. How did you come up with the ‘look’ of Birds Nest Elixirs. And, why the name Birds Nest Elixirs?
Robin: Thank you! It has all really been a labor of love, and I had my hand in absolutely EVERY aspect! I knew I wanted to have a look that was upscale, but I also wanted it to fit in with the industry itself. So since steampunk is the unofficial adopted style of vaping, I went with a steampunk theme. I also think it has an old fashioned apothecary type look, which is why we chose the word “Elixirs”.
As far as the “Bird’s Nest” part of it… Well, my name is Robin, and my nickname since childhood has always been “Bird”. So I guess I’m a little vain… its all about me!
SPINFUEL: LOL! I think its a great name! Now, about your 4 flavors; do you consider Birds Nest to be a ‘tobacco house’ label, or will you offer different flavor categories later?
Robin: Although this was not our intention, it does seem to be working out that way. We definitely are planning on branching out with our flavors in the future, we currently have a fruit flavor as well as a dessert in development. But we do firmly believe that our tobaccos can be enjoyed by people that don’t typically enjoy them. In fact, we believe that statement is true for all of our current flavors. Maestro is for people who wish they could enjoy coffee vapes, but have not found a suitable one.
SPINFUEL: Ah yes, Maestro is something else indeed! When you launched Birds Nest Elixirs how did you decide on your first flavor? Which flavor was that and how long did it take to master?
Robin: Maestro was the first, and actually, I nailed it the very first try! I went through the motions of creating different variations (like 15 or 20), but it was the first one I ever made that became the flavor. So it took about 15 minutes to make, and then about 3 months to make sure that it was perfect.
SPINFUEL: Wow. How would you describe your flavor signature by the way? What type, if any, of vaper do you want to appeal to?
Robin: We want to appeal to people who enjoy gourmet and complex flavors.
SPINFUEL: Which is a growing market for sure. We noticed on your website that you suggest a 2-week steeping period to reach ‘full flavor’. Does that begin from the date the juice was bottled, which is on the label, or does it mean 2-weeks from when it arrives?
Robin: Each flavor has a slightly different recommended steep time, and that time starts from the date that the flavor was made. However, we have been meaning to elaborate about this on our website since we do believe that our flavors are great right out of the mailbox, but they do undergo minor changes throughout the time period described on our website.
SPINFUEL: That was certainly true for us. The “born on” date for the e liquids you sent us for review was February 22nd, and we began vaping them on the 28th, so there was a week there, but you’re bottles were so inviting we just couldn’t wait. I’m glad we didn’t, they didn’t seem to need any additional steeping. What’s the best way, in your opinion, to ‘steep’ your eLiquids at home though, I mean, if you wanted to? Does Birds Nest Elixirs have an area in your facilities where your liquids go to steep?
Robin: Simple, just store them at room temperature, away from light, and shake them vigorously as often as you remember. If you choose to unscrew the lid, as many vapers do, only do so for the first day, and take precautions to not allow any contaminants enter the bottle. We do not currently pre-steep our liquids in our facility.
SPINFUEL: Do you try to create an All-Day-Vape each time you develop a new flavor? What does it take, in your opinion, for an e liquid to be an all-day-vape?
Robin: No, we do not believe that every flavor needs to be an ADV, however, we think that we should offer at least a few. In my opinion, an ADV is a flavor that is extremely satisfying, but not necessarily exploding with flavor. I think they should be light or medium in flavor intensity so that you can continue vaping them without thinking about it for extended periods of time. Bold flavors are fun, but I think they can be distracting for this purpose, and that’s when you get into changing your flavor out every 30 minutes or so. We like having both options available to our customers, because like most other vapers, we also enjoy both.
SPINFUEL: Let’s talk about packaging. How are your eLiquids packaged? Not only their physical appearance, but also how are they sealed?
Robin: I’m glad you brought this up, we are actually in the process of changing this! Our 30 ml bottles are glass, and the cap is shrink sealed for your protection. However, we are currently phasing out our regular glass droppers and will be implementing childproof glass droppers in the future. As far as our sample bottles go, they are plastic, but also shrink sealed. All of our bottles are gift wrapped with crepe paper and twine, and accented by what else…? A feather!
SPINFUEL: Yes, I noticed that! I even took a couple of photos of the wrapping. I liked it! Your new bottles sound great too. There is a lot of concern these days about how and where eLiquids are being made. Could you describe your ‘mixing’ area? Where do you do your mixing? ( Photos of general areas would be a plus)
Robin: This is very important to us as well! My background within the medical field has made me very aware of proper mixing methods and it does scare me to think that there are probably many people out there that to do not even attempt any level of safety/sanitation. For our facility, our current lease is running out soon, so we have an imminent move coming up. Once we move into our new lab, we plan on applying for certification from AEMSA. We take this very seriously, and hope that all other responsible e-liquid manufacturers do to. It is our responsibility to follow the strict guidelines set forth by the AEMSA, and it is important for the whole industry to get on board with this.
SPINFUEL: We agree completely. Spinfuel will no longer review brands that do not take all this seriously. How do you make sure your mixing tools and containers are kept clean and sterile? Would you call your mixing environment a ‘clean room’, or at least a sterile room?
Robin: Our lab is dedicated, meaning it is not used for any other purpose beyond mixing. Mixing surfaces are non-porous, and we disinfect all surfaces morning, night, and in between each flavor. All of our tools are kept sealed, and away from dust/debris. Packaging and shipping is done in a separate room.
SPINFUEL: Does your crew wear any type of special clothing when they are mixing?
Robin: Oh yes! I should take pictures of us in our outfits! To enter the lab, you must wear a labcoat, surgical booties covering your shoes, eye goggles, face mask and gloves must be worn when mixing. No eating, drinking, or even vaping is allowed in the mixing lab.
Spinfuel: We’d love that! Are there steps taken each morning to get the place open and ready for mixing, filling orders, shipping? Can describe a typical workday, in general terms, so that our readers can get a feel for what its like to be in the business you’re in?
Robin: Yes, after disinfection and cleaning of all surfaces, orders are filled, bottled, and sealed. Once we are finished a flavor/strength, the bottles are taken to the shipping room where the get their pretty labels and shrink seals. They are then placed in a holding area designated to each flavor/strength and once every order for the day is finished, they are carefully packaged and bagged/boxed for shipping.
SPINFUEL: Sound like you have it all in control. Let’s talk about nicotine for a moment. Tell us about the nicotine you use in your juice.
Robin: We only use USP grade nicotine, vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol. Also, as a measure to further protect ourselves against nicotine poisoning, we use 60% and NOT 100%. This measure does not affect the quality or efficacy of our juices, but it does help us prevent ourselves from getting hurt in case of a spill.
SPINFUEL: Good thinking! Do you mix everyday? Bottle by bottle, to order, or in batches?
Robin: We mix in small batches. We gather the info for how many of each flavor and strength is needed for that day, and mix accordingly. So if we have ten orders for “Fanfare” 24 mg, we do mix them all at once so long as there are no other special requests. Special requests (ie PG/VG ratio) are done the same way if we can, but often times, they are mixed one at a time because most people do tend to stick with what we recommend.
SPINFUEL: When coming up with new flavors, is demographic data used to determine what flavors would sell to “your base”, or do you come up with flavors that please you, that you want to vape, and hope that your audience will want to as well?
Robin: Well, its really a combination. We definitely try to pay attention to what people want, but at the end of the day, each flavor MUST be complex and unique. We have made quite a few flavors that tasted great but did not make the cut because they were not unique enough… or complex enough. We want our flavors to stand out from the crowd, so we do not release anything that does not fit our standards… even if it tastes fantastic.
SPINFUEL: I can only imagine some of those great flavors never making it out the door. How sad. But completely understandable. What types of hardware (mods, tanks, cartos, etc.) do you use when testing your liquids? Is there any specific hardware that provides the best ‘vape’ for your eLiquids? Is there a suggested voltage setting to maximize flavor or vapor?
Robin: Haha, this is an area that I rely on the expertise of other vapers to figure out. I am not technically inclined at all, so when I do the testing, I first use a bridgeless atomizer on an ego twist (pretty basic I know), then I move up to a pyrex clearomizer on my z-max. If they pass these tests, I send them off to vaping buddies who have more complex gear than I do. I would love to learn the more advanced gear, but most of my time in the vaping world has been spent on the flavor side of things and not the mod side of things. I actually own a GG UFS, but I have not ever used it because I have no idea how to.
SPINFUEL: Haha, I know the feeling! How do you make sure that your flavors are always consistent, that each batch or bottle delivers the same flavor and nicotine levels time after time?
Robin: This is where precision comes in… and math! I follow my own recipes exactly.
SPINFUEL: And how long will your eJuice last if properly stored? By the way, how should a customer store their eLiquids before they open them and after they’ve been opened?
Robin: Expiration date is one year from bottling date. They should be stored with caps secure, in a cool/room temp, dark place.
SPINFUEL: If you change your VG/PG ratios how difficult is it to recreate the same flavor in your eliquid? Is there a lot of experimentation?
Robin: Oh yes! A ton of experimentation! We urge our customers to buy are formulations before changing them. It took a lot of time and effort to figure out the best ratio for each flavor and we firmly believe that the ratio we set for each flavor IS the best way to enjoy them. This being said, we do try to make our flavors as close to 50/50 as possible, because this seems to be easiest on equipment as well as a popular choice for vapers.
SPINFUEL: I think it must take a lot of patience to be a good e Liquid flavorist. (our term for e liquid creators). For instance, obviously you must have dozens of experimental flavors being steeped at any one time. How do you keep them straight so you know what is what, which is which, and does it drive you crazy waiting for your new flavors to reach their maximum potential? 2 weeks is a long time to wait to see if your newest ‘recipe’ is the one that will make the cut. Or do I have it all wrong/
Robin: I label like a mad woman! The waiting used to drive me crazy, but at this point, I constantly have new things to test and re-test on a semi-daily basis.
SPINFUEL: Were you a smoker before you switched to vaping? If so, what made you decide to quit smoking? Was it difficult to quit? How long did you smoke?
Robin: Yes, I smoked for about 15 years, and until I found vaping, I never successfully quit with any other method… and I tried A TON of different methods… cold-turkey (yeah right… impossible), nicotine patches which always seemed to make me smoke MORE, nicotine gum which was really only effective at keeping me calm for plane rides or functions where smoking was just not possible, Chantix which made me extremely depressed, sure I didn’t want to smoke, but I also couldn’t stop crying so that was obviously not going to work, and I even tried hypnotism… where I lit a cigarette walking to my car as soon as the session was over.
SPINFUEL: LOL! Actually, our publisher’s wife quit smoking through hypnotism. Well, that’s not entirely true. She managed to quit for 3 months and then it kind of wore off. What type (and/or brand) of eCigarette did you use to break away from analogs?
Robin: I started with the cigarette lookalikes like most people. I immediately saw the benefits and drawbacks and started researching better options. Within a week, I upgraded to an ego style, and within a month, I was off cigarettes. I have had a few relapses along the way, but I always go back to vaping.
SPINFUEL: At what point did you realize that vaping was going to be successful for you, that you could finally leave analogs in the dustbin of history?
Robin: Almost immediately!
SPINFUEL: How often do you vape? How many hours per day I mean? And, more importantly, do you ever worry about how much you vape?
Robin: well I don’t chain vape anymore, or at least I try not to. I usually vape for about 5 minutes at a time, every few hours. I like to mainly stick to 12mg, but I do have higher options available if I feel like I need it, and lower too.
SPINFUEL: I used to chain vape all the time, now only when we’re in a review period. When we’re not, I guess I vape about the same as you. Do you have a “favorite” flavor in your lineup? If so, which one is it?
Robin: This is such a tough question because they are ALL my babies! And I truly do thoroughly enjoy each one of them. I guess the one I vape most often though is “Fanfare”. It is just so damn satisfying!
SPINFUEL: Fanfare IS satisfying! You don’t have to answer this question obviously, but out of all the e liquid brands and flavors you must have tried before striking out on your own, which brand/flavor was your all-time favorite?
Robin: I have no problem giving credit where credit is due… I had a few favorites that I was loyal to, they were “The Plume Room” (candied cavendish was my number one fave from there), “Alice in Vapeland” (favorites varied), and “Velvet Cloud Vapors” when I wanted higher vg. I probably tried almost as many flavors as you guys tried, and I definitely believe that we can share the spotlight with other talented and creative companies out there.
SPINFUEL: That’s so true. I haven’t tried Velvet Cloud yet, but now maybe I will. Do you have a favorite mod or APV that you use for your personal vaping (besides the ZMAX, which is my favorite), or do you use more than one? In that I mean, do you use something different for yourself then what you use when testing new recipes?
Robin: I’m a simple girl when it comes to mods. I don’t fiddle or fuss with rebuildables or mechanical mods. Though I wish I could. I would need someone to actually teach me… the youtube tutorials do not work for me.
When testing, first I use a bridgeless atty on an ego twist, then I load up my regular setup… a pyrex clearomizer (currently smok tech aro) on my z-max.
SPINFUEL: In your opinion, what makes a good eLiquid?
Robin: Beyond quality of ingredients used, I think it boils down to complexity and originality.
SPINFUEL: I agree. What order of importance are flavor, vapor, and throat hit in a Birds Next Elixir flavor?
Robin: That’s right, you already said it in the perfect order! Flavor is always number one with us, vapor follows close behind, and throat hit…eh, it is what it is. For our liquids, TH is almost entirely Nic level dependent. Sure, some of our flavors (like uproar) might naturally have a bit more, but for the most part, throat hit is just not something we focus on. If you order 24mg, you will get TH, if you order 6mg, you will get almost none.
SPINFUEL: Where do you think the ecigarette industry is headed? Are eCigarettes the future of smoking?
Robin: I’m not entirely sure, I think there are more than a few factors that will determine the outcome for all of us. I do believe that we should come together as a community and try our hardest to protect what we have going on. And the more responsible vendors are, the better shot we have of keeping this primarily in our own hands.
SPINFUEL: While you were trying out different e liquids like you mentioned before, did you buy your e juice from a single vendor or did you spread it around? Do you, or did you, enjoy exploring new brands and flavors?
Robin: Well, I used to review flavors myself, so I tried so many juices out there. But there were 3 vendors that I purchased from repeatedly, and they stayed my favorites until I started making my own. Sometimes I still get an urge to have one of them here and there.
SPINFUEL: I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I guess I’m going to: Why should our readers buy their e-juice from you?
Robin: Because our flavors are complex, unique, and completely satisfying.
SPINFUEL: Good answer! Do you have your next flavor “on deck” as it were? When do you expect to launch it? Can you give a hint on what it might be?
Robin: Why yes we do! “Verses” is another tobacco (and the last one for a while). It is an extremely smooth cavendish variety with brown sugar and juicy apples. We are currently sending samples out to any customer who purchases at least (1) 30ml bottle. We are allowing our customers to help us perfect this one and inviting their feedback. Once it has enough people asking for larger bottles, we will release it to the general public.
The fruit and dessert flavors we are working on are taking a bit more time to finalize, at least to our standards. But are are working on getting them released as soon as possible. Once we have versions of these that we are willing to put our name on, we will release them in the same method as I described for “Verses”.
SPINFUEL: Hmm, we sure would have liked to try Verses as well, but maybe next. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers while you have their complete attention?
Robin: We would love to thank our current fans for getting us this far, and also we very much look forward to the possibility of growing our fanbase with this publication. We also would like to inform your readers that can enjoy a 15% discount for the next 30 days by using the discount code “Spinfuel” when they checkout.
SPINFUEL: I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to answer our questions. When we conduct a review of a brands e liquids we want to know the people involved, or at least try to. We believe our readers enjoy getting to know them as well.
Robin: And thank you also, I have really enjoyed this interview!