Fun with Concentrates
November 1st – 2012 – Fun with Concentrates – Yesterday afternoon I had a heated (but loving) argument with a woman I’ve known and worked with for 10 years, Julia Barnes. Julia’s title is Asst. Editor, but in reality she is the power behind the throne. Julia runs things around here, I sign a lot of checks and write a column, opinion pieces, and handle other less glamorous things. So, when Julia talks people listen.
The argument centered on whether certain people should go into business selling eLiquids or if they would be better off keeping it a hobby. Julia believes that anyone going into the eLiquid business needs to jump in with both feet, meaning that it should be the “only” job they should have. My position “was” different. I lost.
You see, Julia likes to say that; “Just because you CAN make eJuice doesn’t mean you should SELL eJuice”. Unless you are prepared to make it your full-time career you shouldn’t do it. That without a full-time commitment to creating unique eJuice you’ll never be able to offer the public something truly worthy. The more I thought about it the more I thought about this column, and the more I realized she was right.
Without a commitment to creating eLiquids, a full-time commitment, you just won’t find the time to learn the nuances of the flavors you create. And unless you are adding something unique to the industry there is no need to throw your hat in the ring. Last week I wrote about the signature, or style of some of the best eLiquids I’ve had in 2012, and how each brand has carefully constructed deeply complex flavors because of their knowledge of how flavor concentrates work together (and alone) and what can be combined with what, and how every ingredient adds to the whole, which helps you create your signature, a delicate “tell” that informs your customer that the eJuice being vaped belongs to your brand. This has been so obvious to me since I had vaped my 32nd brand last week. Every “great” eJuice company had their “tell”, their style/signature, and they rise up the whole industry with their amazing products.
I suppose that there may be exceptions to the rule, there usually are in everything. But think about it; 8 hours at work, 8 hours sleeping, and a few hours each week dedicated to cleaning, cooking, shopping and all the rest. Even if you had zero “play” time, how much time do you really have to develop not only your skill of mixing ingredients for an eLiquid, but to create a consistently great flavor with a good deal of complexity and nuance? Perhaps there are some people who were “born” to do this, and maybe they can work another job and all the rest, and still create an eJuice that people want to throw money at them in order to vape it, but how often does that really happen?
Single or Double Flavor eLiquid “At Homes”
These past few weeks I have been finding an hour here or an hour there, and one or two days each week I find several hours in a row, learning how to mix Totally Wicked eLiquid concentrates and their PG/VG ingredients. I’ve become somewhat adapt at doing so. As long as I properly “age” or “steep” my mixes they come out “okay”. In fact, I am quite proud of the results, to date, and never believed until a week ago that I could really pull it off. Vaping your own eJuice is an amazing feeling.
Even my best juice, my Coconut/Pineapple eLiquid, is nowhere near the level of several of my business friends that do this for a living. It’s okay, but just okay. I can mix up the Coconut/Pineapple eJuice in two different PG/VG ratios that taste the same, and I can do it consistently. Still, the one thing, and it is a most serious thing, this juice has a one-dimensional taste. In other words, you taste coconut and pineapple while you inhale and the same flavor when you exhale. Worse still, the tastes are well defined, your taste buds and brain tell you, every time, “this is coconut and pineapple, nothing more”. There is no guessing, no nuance, and it’s boring.
At the 50/50 PG/VG ratio this eJuice produces a ton of vapor. If you like coconut and pineapple together, and lots of vapor, you might enjoy this flavor…for a while.
At the 70/30 PG/VG ratio there is less vapor, but not much less, and a stronger throat hit (both mixes are 1.2% nicotine), but the flavor of coconut and pineapple are about even. Not perfect, but I think I can use the word ‘consistent’ and get away with it.
Neither one is close to being “good enough”.
The next stages I plan to take my Coconut/Pineapple mix is to began to tweak my recipes in a couple of different ways. If you are following at home, you might want to try this.
Tweak #1 – Coconut/Pineapple at 50/50 PG/VG Using VG/nicotine solution
A 50/50 PG/VG mix is a thick eLiquid unless you use just a tad of distilled water to thin out the VG. But, if you are using a Totally Wicked product I would suggest using the AVG that I use. It stands for Aqueous Vegetable Glycerin, and it is slightly thinner than a 100% VG mix, and just as pure. It is particularly fantastic when you want a higher VG ratio than the standard throat punch 70/30 PG/VG. For my 50/50 Coconut/Pineapple I use AVG and it works wonderfully well.
My first tweak for the 50/50 juice is to add a bit of nuance to the flavor. By that I mean that someone should approach the flavor expecting one thing, but pulling the ecigarette back and realize the combination of flavors was slightly more than expected. To do this I started to look for other flavors on the market that people have combined with coconut and pineapple. Always using the ‘Best Practices’ method (until I find something better), I look to see what others have done with these flavors and test them out for myself.
For instance, there are flavors out there in the market like “Coconut Almond”, and “Coconut and Chocolate”, and many others. The same with Pineapple, there are different combinations of flavors that use Pineapple in the mix.
I have chosen to mix an Almond flavor, as well as a few other “nutty” flavors, and begin by adjusting my “coconut” percentage to allow for a 5% inclusion of this new flavor. So, if I had decided on a heavy flavor juice that contains 25% flavoring (which is a lot), then it would be 10% coconut, 10% pineapple, and 5% Almond. My usual “working” mix is 15% coconut and 10% pineapple. By lowering my coconut to be even with my pineapple, and throwing in a small amount of Almond I am hoping to create a more complex flavor with a nuanced hint of Almond. The hope is that a Vaper would take a drag of the juice, recognize the pineapple/coconut mix, and then pull back and receive the hint of Almond. At least, that’s my current theory.
If I get that hint of almond but its not quite right, then I will go through a series of tweaks to find the right ratios of the 3 flavors that will do it. But, if the addition of Almond ruins what I’ve achieved I would abandon that flavor immediately and rethink the problem.
Tweak #2 – Coconut/Pineapple at 70/30 with PG based nicotine solution
This tweak is going to be simple, and done for the singular reason of adding a mellow sweetness to the fruity concoction. Will it work? I have no idea, but based on what I’ve been reading about flavor concentrates it just might.
I’m going to introduce 5% Vanilla concentrate to the mix. So my Flavoring Recipe will be 10% coconut, 10%pineapple, and 5% Vanilla. However, I will also alter these percentages so that I get half dozen different flavor ratios so that I can see where I need to go. I don’t believe in this mix as much as I do the coconut/pineapple/almond blend, so rather than wait it out I’ll make up different ratios so I can either move on to something different or I’ll know this will work, and then judge the direction accordingly, after I vape each ratio.
Tweak #3 – Coconut/Pineapple at 70/30 PG/AVG with PG nicotine solution
This mix is much thinner than the 50/50 mix what with 70% PG, a thin liquid that delivers much of the throat hit you get from eJuice (along with nic levels), and its sweeter than VG. The vapor production is noticeably less, but only a little. My tweak for this mix is also to add some complexity, but with a pineapple-assisted flavor in a much larger way.
One of my favorite eLiquids is Pineapple Upside Down Cake blend. This flavor is made is pineapple, a yellow cake flavor and a hint of maraschino cherry. I haven’t attempted this yet because it is a 3-flavor blend, but I plan to in January. Anyway, for this much larger tweak I’ve decided to go for a coconut/pineapple/Strawberry Shortcake blend.
Why Strawberry Shortcake? Well, the main reason is that the Totally Wicked Gold Standard concentrates do not yet offer a “cake batter” flavor. But, the Strawberry Shortcake does have a cake flavor built in, and the strawberry flavor “might,” add some zing to it. Honestly, I have no idea, but it’s worth a try.
Because this tweak is kind of “out there” the possibility that something unique and wonderful will happen is in doubt. So I’ll mix up a couple different ratios of flavoring and then if it works I’ll continue, if it doesn’t it will be ditched and I’ll move on.
Complexity is serious business
The reason why I want to move on now, rather than later, is because mixing up single flavors or even common double-flavor blends like coconut/pineapple, is pretty simple after 3 weeks of mixing, and once you get a decent but one dimensional flavor down you have to push ahead, you have to challenge yourself to do better.
If you want to impress yourself, or others, with your skill as an artist in eLiquid creation than you must push your limits beyond your comfort zone. Never be satisfied with where you are, always look to where you want to go next.
My finished Coconut/Pineapple flavor will offer the Vaper a new take on this common mix. I’m not so sure which one it will be, but the people that wind up vaping it will be pleasantly surprised that they got something they didn’t expect, and what they got was exceptional. Right now, today, mixing up some flavors with the rest of the simple ingredients that go into an eLiquid, is a simple craft; there is no ‘art’ involved. From this point on I want to put some ‘art’ into my work and see where it takes me.
At this point in the game I am capable of mixing up common flavors and producing adequate eLiquids that can do “in a pinch”. But they are one dimensional and boring. I’ve vaped some wonderful flavors by some wonderfully talented artists so I don’t vape my own juice any more than I have to.
I am now beginning to tweak my decided upon flavor of coconut/pineapple. I want to produce a good, sweet coconut/pineapple, which I will try to do with adding various amount of vanilla to see if this takes me down that path. In addition, I am taking the coconut/pineapple toward a mellower, but fuller tasting vape. I’m starting by playing with some ‘cake’ based flavors, strawberry shortcake being the first.
Complexity and nuance are the most important aspects of great new eLiquids, and without them you produce simple, mediocre eJuice.
Finally, the need to push yourself is vital. Never live in your comfort zone unless you are ready for a mediocre life. If mediocre living is fine for you, that in itself is perfectly fine. But if you want to get really good at something you have to push yourself beyond the comfort zone. In making eLiquids, the same holds true. Never settle for mediocre. Never.