Assistant Editor Julia Barnes recently spoke with Christian Vargas and Miguel Monterrey of Hurricane Vapor to discuss several interesting issues concerning the modern eCigarette industry as well as several topics about Hurricane Vapor specifically. Below are the highlights of their discussion. If you have not yet read the Spinfuel Review, you can access it below.
SPINFUEL: Welcome to the pages of Spinfuel. We’ve been looking to talk to you guys for some time now. Would you like to introduce yourselves to our readers?
Miguel: Hello Julia and the rest of the SPINFUEL Staff! We have been looking forward to speaking with you all as well. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce our selves and our brand to you and your readers. We are a partnership of two dedicated individuals. I am Miguel “The front man” Monterrey and this is Christian “the cook” Vargas, my business partner and friend, and we are Hurricane Vapor, Miami’s new, premiere crafters of quality and decadent e-liquids. I hope you enjoyed the treats we sent over!
Christian: As long time citizens of the Miami, we pride ourselves, as being coinsures of the flavors, culture, and diversity this great city has to offer. We are hard working and diligent at our craft, yes, craft, as we believe that vaping is a delicate and elegant art form. I was really excited to finally get some feedback from such a dedicated team of reviewers.
SPINFUEL: What positions do you hold in Hurricane Vapor?
Christian: I am the president and founder of the company in charge of the overall direction and structure of the brand, as well as manage our official business functions and legalities. I also play the role of the “cook”, designing and formulating all the recipes of e-liquids we offer at Hurricane Vapor, which I take great pride in and have come to appreciate as an art form, one which I believe has not been truly realized by most of the market today.
Miguel: And I am the Vice president of the corporation in charge of sales and marketing, out there on the field promoting, attending meetings, covering sales calls, and handling overall public relations. I also play a key role in developing marketing strategies for our company with a key focus on bringing something different to the brand image to drastically contrast what has already come before. I guess you would say those are our official functions, but being that we are still in the infancies of our corporation and still growing every day at a rapid pace, we all wear many hats at the Hurricane office so that things run smoothly day to day.
SPINFUEL: Who or what inspired you to get into the e-juice business with the launch of Hurricane Vapor?
Miguel: Christian, here, as a matter of fact is the only reason I became a “Juicer”. I was a pack a day smoker and so was he. Once he made the switch from smoking to Vaping; on account that he is about to be the proud dad of now 2 beautiful children, I was convinced this alternative to tobacco could save people more than just money, it could save lives and that’s something worth getting in to.
Christian: Well, look. When you get into vaping for the first time I think most people go through similar stages. At first you expect, or hope, that this will instantly replace your need for cigarettes. Then you immediately see the contrast when you take that first puff; that it doesn’t taste exactly how you wanted it to taste, the vapor output isn’t quite right, and the throat hit isn’t the same. It is either too soft, or as I believe is the case most of the time, the throat hit is too harsh. You even start to realize the maintenance required. Charging batteries, changing atomizers or cartridges, etc. From this point on I think a first time user hits a crossroads. They either give up immediately, and return to analogs, or they see the possibilities.
Even though this first run didn’t seem successful, it acts as an introduction to the idea, and this person thinks “yes, this didn’t hit the spot, but I get where this is going and understand what it can be, and if it can be better, what other brands are out there?” You see, I went through this experience when I finally decided to kick the habit and I chose the latter route. The first brand wasn’t the one, but I quickly got myself on a computer and began to search the internet for better quality products, especially those which taste, and vaped better. My point is that I just don’t feel that the market is flooded with a great deal of top quality liquids, and when I say that, I mean “Top Shelf”; something really worth your investment.
You really have to look and do your research, and you will find those companies. I mean honestly, how many people really want to do that when your local gas station is 2 minutes away carrying your brand of analogs? To me this is a big problem and allows someone that could potentially quite smoking miss an opportunity to pursue a great alternative. So I feel like, because of this, there is so much room in the market for a “Top Shelf” brand. I quickly began to realize that potential ex-smokers being introduced to this concept are being forced into this crossroad because of the lack of top tier quality. And I looked at where I live, my city, and realized that locally we didn’t really have this level of quality really available, or at least readily known. Because I persisted in this concept and came to the realization of how good it could be, it actually frustrated me a bit, because not many people were introduced to the actual potential that vaping has. E-cigs in general are really starting to boom and people are starting to hear about it more and more. But they are hearing about those with the highest marketing budget and not those with the greatest pallet for flavor and quality.
So an idea quickly popped up in my head; if we’re not being exposed to or have access to a top tier brand, why don’t I make one? I had already done a significant amount of research in pursuit of getting to the point where I was fairly satisfied with the products I use my self, which in turn already involved learning key concepts about vaping and e-liquids. Why don’t I just go even further? This really started me on the path to beginning my mastery of mixing, and creating my own brand.
SPINFUEL: Hurricane Vapor are located in Miami. Miami seems to be a huge hub for eCigarettes. Do any of you have any connections or prior work history with any eCigarette brands that are located there?
Miguel: No, neither one of us has ever worked in this industry. My formal training is in sales, marketing and logistics. Where as Christian is a genius in the information technology field of computing, web and graphic design and as you can see from our “Storm Juice” he is a pretty kick ass “cook”. We are very fortunate to be in south Florida. The mixture of Latino’s, Caribbean’s, Europeans, Asians, Brazilians and good old fashion southern folk too, gives us the flexibility we need to appeal and convert them to the vaping lifestyle.
Christian: And though we have no “official” experience in the market, in a way I believe that is a good thing. The reason I say that is because, where one says you have a leg up because you came from the business, I say we have strength because we a coming from passion for the concept itself. We really pride our selves in being a “grass roots” company, springing from the ground, driven by the shear belief that we needed to.
SPINFUEL: You did a wonderful job in marketing your upcoming launch. How did you decide how to launch it?
Christian: When we initially spoke about what our marketing strategy should be we went through a lot of ideas, from tailoring to the high class “aficionado” crowd, to just for the ladies, I mean you name it. Our goal was clear. We wanted to be different. But in the end we decided that there was something we could bring to the table that no one else was bringing, and it was something we knew all about. And that was the flavors of the Miami melting pot. We grew up with so many Latin treats, drinks, pastries, and so many other things inspired by the local area and beyond, and we both had so many friends from so many different cultures, which allowed us to experience so many other flavors as well. This was decided to be our weapon of choice. And then we went through methods in which we should present ourselves to the public. We didn’t just want to be another e-liquid company. We knew we had something special here, something new and exciting. We wanted to present it as such. One thing we realized is, no matter how good our juices were, what mattered the most is making the consumer utter those 4 simples words…”That is just cool”. Look at other markets.
You look at Nike for example. Why do they dominate the market? Do they have the highest quality athletic shoes of any company? In the end that’s debatable. But, you gotta have that “Swoosh”. The image is great, the visuals are exciting, the style appeals to a broad spectrum of people and they make you know that they want to impress you. That’s one of the reasons we released a You Tube teaser trailer for our brand. In the video, we don’t have to show one bottle of e-liquid, or even one e-cig. But in that video we wanted to make sure that the viewer knew that we wanted to blow them away. That was the point. And that’s something we will continue to do. But there’s one important thing about this I want to make very clear. Unlike companies that feed off marketing alone without the product that really seems deserving of such a presentation, we plan to deliver on our promise, in a big way.
Miguel: You can’t tell people a hurricane is coming without causing a little panic. But that’s exactly what we have been banking on since the inception of our brand. If you have never been in a hurricane, you would know that it doesn’t just hit you and run away. It moves in gradually getting stronger and leaving a clear-cut path. That’s pretty much our business strategy in a nutshell. We have only had a soft launch so far. The eye of the storm is scheduled to make landfall this December for vendors interested in buying wholesale and January 2013 for the public. We will be hosting our official launch at a posh location in Miami Beach and throwing a party that will blow every one away.
SPINFUEL: How did you decide on your first set of flavors?
Christian: We are really making a lot of plans for new e-liquids, liquids that will really capture the Miami style we are setting out for ourselves in a big way. But for our first set of flavors we wanted to create a collection that seemed somewhat familiar but at the same time infused with our new style. For those craving a solid coffee flavor we created coffee with that Cuban touch, “Cuban Coffee”. For that local pub flavor, we added a swig of Irish Cream in our peach blend, “Peaches and Irish Cream”. We even created an orange creamsicle flavor that will harken back to those old days when the ice cream truck sung it’s tune down the nieborhood and the taste of that trusty orange creamsicle was the only comfort during those sweltering Miami summers. All our launch flavors follow this pattern, which I believe is a solid stepping-stone towards the direction we want to follow.
Miguel: We wanted to keep true to our south Florida and Latin roots. We decided to embrace the diversity of Miami and make it synonymous with the Hurricane brand. We both also enjoy a good old fashion cigar from time to time, so we took the perspective of a fine tobacco coinsure when crafting our tobacco blend flavors. As you can see and taste in our product we want our patrons to be transported to a tropical place where they can literally feel the sunshine on their face and soak in the rich flavors and bold attitude of the Caribbean tropics.
SPINFUEL: How would you describe your flavors?
Miguel: In a word, DELICIOUS! We don’t call Christian “the cook” for nothing. We try not to limit our possibilities when it comes to what flavors we can develop. We have aspirations to develop several unique and innovative flavor lines. We are already drawing up secret plans for new flavor line to be released shortly after the début of the “storm juice” line.
SPINFUEL: Do you have a goal in mind as to the number of flavors you would like to offer in the next year?
Christian: In the next year we are looking at an extension to our current line, adding at least 15 more flavors to the collection. But that’s not all we’re planning. In addition to this we are also going to be launching a 2nd line of liquids under the Hurricane banner with a specific theme in mind. For now this is top secret, but we promise you haven’t seen a collection like this all in one place. Expect updates very soon.
SPINFUEL: Do you steep your eLiquids before they are shipped? If so, how long do they sit before you ship them out? If you do not, do you suggest that customers ‘home steep’ them before vaping?
Christian: I’m glad you asked that question. We actually do steep our liquids. Currently, we are running this process within a build to stock model and not a build to order model and steep for 1-2 weeks. We are even planning for our final process to run on a 30 day steeping cycle, involving an organized process of cycling out dated batches after proper steeping. We hear a lot of companies build to order, and on the surface they may sound like a nice process flow for the customer. But we feel that there is a great deal to gain in steeping and allowing the full nature of the flavors to fully set in. Currently a system is already in place in the form of a “Steep Wall” that we’ve setup where all batches are organized to got out at least 1 week steeped. To us, our area is like a winery, and like a winery we take great care to create a quality product and spend that extra time and effort to produce something better. And we don’t believe the customer should have to put in this effort in them selves. We are glad to do this for you, and we’re proud of that. We will take that extra time even if it would be a cost to us. I think you will taste that extra something in our blends.
SPINFUEL: How are your eLiquids packaged? What sizes do you offer? We love the square bottles, how did you decide to go with something so different? Are there any advantages to you in being square? I know for us square bottles are much easier to store or place on our eLiquids shelves.
Christian: You hit the nail on the head. One of the main reasons for our square bottles is with keeping our vendors in mind. They are perfect for shelving and better for shipping. But again, when sourcing our bottles, from the very beginning, we wanted to be different. We saw what most companies were doing, and we decided we weren’t going to use the standard plastic squeeze bottles that most “juicers” are using. We call those “Squeezies” around the office. When people look at Hurricane, we don’t want our liquids to remind you of something that you can drip into your ear to clear out an infection. I don’t want to knock those guys, but we decided that it was worth it to take that hit, and not to pass that cost to the customer, to deliver quality, not just in our liquids but also in the total package. Our bottles are equip with childproof caps over 30ml. We also place shrink plastic bands on all bottles for proper sealing and all bottles come with high quality glass droppers. Also, as a little extra perk, imagine finally being able to suck up those last few drops at the bottle of the bottle by using that corner your bottle now has.
SPINFUEL: Please describe your ‘mixing’ area? Where do you do your mixing?
Christian: We’ve setup a “clean room” at our offices that we’ve prepared by using guidelines from the certification standards ISO 14644, ISO 8573, FED-STD 209E, IES-CC-RP-006.2, NSF-49 with plans to be utilizing MSDS and COA as well. That’s Material Safety Data Sheets and Certificates of Analysis for those who are unfamiliar. This will eventually be used in our analysis reporting on each batch we do. Although we are not officially certified in these standardizations at the moment we have paid close attention to adhering to them so that we operate in a “clean room” environment. And we are in the works at officially certifying our area in the future. This room features things like ventilation system designed to create a low level of environmental pollutants, and is only utilized when wearing proper attire such as anti-static smock jackets and hairnets.
SPINFUEL: How do you make sure your mixing tools and containers are kept clean and sterile? Would you call your mixing environment a ‘clean room’?
Christian: At our current state, I can say that we consider our lab a “clean room”. In regards to our tools and containers we cycle all of our mixing equipment and use an ultrasonic cleaning machine to clean and sterilize all of our equipment before using again. This device is widely used in laboratories as a method of using ultra sound and water to “flash-clean” equipment and return to lab level sterilization, ensuring that no traces of nicotine and environmental pollutants are present.
SPINFUEL: Does your crew wear any type of special clothing when they are mixing?
Christian: We wear smock jackets to protect from any debris, if any, that are on our clothing from entering the air, and to protect us from any splash back, we wear safety goggles to protect our selves when working with liquids and nicotine, and we wear hairnets to protect the products from contamination.
SPINFUEL: Do you mix everyday?
Christian: At the moment we are not mixing every day, as we are hard at work building funds and investor relationships to fully launch the business. However, when we are running at full throttle we still will not be mixing everyday, at least at first, because our build to stock, steeping rotation model allows us to schedule cook days in blocks of time with the week. Consequently, we will not be running around trying to mix and ship an order all in the same day, but instead a shipment will always be ready to go out at any given time.
SPINFUEL: Do you have a specific audience in mind for your eLiquids? In other words, are your eJuices best used with cartomizers, tanks, and clearomizers? Does it matter?
Christian: We like to think of our liquids as designed to work well with all types of carts. As we were designing our base formula we used all types of carts out there and really ended up with something that performed really well with everything. That was one of our goals from the very start. But if I would have to give you an answer to this, my personal preference would be a clearomizer. I believe our liquid really does soak up quite nicely into the wicks. But in the end our main audience was everyone. I wanted no one to turn away simply because we didn’t keep them in mind when designing our product. I know from personal experience that I have a favorite cart, and it’s my all day vape acrt. You can’t turn me away from it. And if an e-liquid brand doesn’t vape well with it I find that I just simply won’t buy that liquid anymore.
SPINFUEL: How important is it to use pharmaceutical grade ingredients?
Christian: Very. Every ingredient used in “Storm Juice”, with the exception of flavoring, which is of course food grade, is USP grade. The nicotine, PG, and VG we use are all USP grade. At Hurricane Vapor we will never settle for less. As I’ve said before, quality isn’t just key, it is our driving force.
SPINFUEL: What is your suggested PG/VG ratio for your eJuice? Is there a reason for that ratio?
Christian: When it comes to the actual ratio of our “Storm Juice”, well, let’s call this our secret formula. We’ve gone above and being when trying to come up with a ratio that is not too soft, not to harsh, and that would appeal to almost anyone. We’ve even went through the process of conducting a study at the local college, asking every smoker whom we were able to spot, what they preferred when trying different ratios we had on hand vs their analog, and the consensus would almost always be that they wanted balance in their throat hit. Something, as I said, is not to soft, but to harsh. What I can say about our ratio is that we use more VG than a lot e-liquid makers unusually use. But this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more VG in the mix than PG either.
SPINFUEL: Do you mix customer’s orders by the bottle or by the batch?
Christian: In accordance with our build to stock, steeping rotation model, we mix by batch. After each batch is complete, it is dated and tracked for proper steeping and organized and readied to go out when it has reached it’s flavor maturity.
SPINFUEL: Do each of you come from an analog cigarette habit? If so, what made you decide to quit smoking?
Christian: We both come from an analog cigarette habit. But I know for me, it became very clear that I needed to stop for the sake of my family. The 2nd baby is on her way, and that really smacked me across the head. I could not risk my health anymore; I never should have to begin with.
SPINFUEL: What type (and/or brand) did you use to break away from analogs?
Christian: It took me a while to find something that would really be worth it to me to break away from analogs. In all honesty, the brand that did allow that to happen was Johnson Creek. They do put a great deal of care into their product and are one of few e-liquid companies out there I was talking about being in that “top shelf” category.
SPINFUEL: How long did it take to completely leave analogs behind?
Christian: I would say for me it was 3 months. But keep in mind we’re talking 3 months of vaping and turning to cigs here and there, once in a while, about 5% of that stretch and the main reason being, I was running out of juice that was any good since at that time I was experimenting with a lot of brands, looking for the one I would stick to.
SPINFUEL: How often do you vape? How many hours per day?
Christian: I’m not sure I can really put a measurement of time on it. But I can safely say it’s the equivalent of a pack a day smoker.
SPINFUEL: Do each of you have your own “favorite” flavor? What is your favorite category of eLiquids for your personal vaping?
Christian: I wasn’t an exclusive menthol smoker when I smoke real cigarettes, but I would dabble in it from time to time. However, with vaping, it’s starting to grow on me more and more. So definitely menthol and really anything with a minty flavor has become part of my regular vapes. But my favorite flavors, for all day are dark rich flavors, like coffee, or a heavy full-bodied tobacco flavor. Miguel is still trying to decide, but he’s leaning towards lighter tobacco flavors.
SPINFUEL: What makes a good eLiquid? In other words, what order of importance are flavor, vapor, and throat hit in a Hurricane Vapor flavor?
Christian: Tough question. If I would have to give it an order of importance I would say flavor, throat hit, and vapor output. But truth be told what we’re working towards everyday at the Hurricane Vapor office is producing the best of all 3. But we do have a great dedication to flavor and spend an exuberant amount of time perfecting a flavor at times.
SPINFUEL: What advice do you have for people that are new to vaping?
Christian: My advice is to be open-minded. Realize that if you’ve started and the brand you have just isn’t doing it for you, there are others. Don’t let a bad first impression turn you away from the concept. Remember that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death amongst all others combined. This can work for you if you give it a chance. Trust me that when you have the right e-liquid, model, and carto, you will realize that this is even more than a way of quitting your smoking habit, it is and continuing to evolve into something else all together and becoming an experience of decadent delicious flavors, not just a nicotine fix.
SPINFUEL: Where do you think the ecig industry is headed? Are eCigs the future of smoking?
Christian: I do see ecigs overcoming cigarettes in sales in the years to come. I don’t think that there will be anything to stop it. Although it will take some time, because at first glance the consumer is a bit confused or often concerned about this concept, I think that once someone tries it, most of the time, they see what this can be. As long as more and more quality companies spring up and make the transition to ecig more of a no-brainer at first impression, the sky’s the limit.
Miguel: With the economy the way it is and no indication that tobacco prices will be going anywhere else but up I see our industry as being poised to embrace the legions of people who have been let down and stepped over by big tobacco, ostracized and persecuted by legislators and the public alike. Recognizing this tipping point in a culture’s development and acknowledging the responsibility we hold as the pioneers of this industry I see the Ecig industry Heading in the direction personal computing took when apple hit the scene back in the day and which has now become a form of personal expression. I feel that with the endless possibilities of flavor and the option of a nicotine free product we can appeal to audiences looking for more than just a cig to calm their nerves, we can evolve and grow beyond the limitations of our own imaginations.
SPINFUEL: Why should our readers buy their e-juice from you?
Christian: I think if your readers are interested in something new, fresh, but still top quality, they should choose us because we are offering something a bit different from the rest. As we said before, our flavors are and will be heavily influenced by the Latin and multicultural infused city of Miami. We’ve also put great care in creating one of the best e-liquid mixes, producing an excellent level of vapor output and a smooth but noticeable throat hit. I think we’ve really created something special here. I also think that your readers will really appreciate a liquid producer, which treats this as an art, and not a manufacturing line, knowing that with every recipe we create, and batch we produce, we are keeping the customer in mind. In the end our liquids are made by people who love vaping for people who love vaping.
Miguel: With so many great E-juice vendors out there, we know it will be hard to convince every one that the new juicers on the block are worth giving a shot to. We hold our selves to the highest standards of quality and always plan on surpassing the expectations of the public while still keeping our values and ethics in line; always remembering that our clients are what keep us alive and progressing.
SPINFUEL: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Miguel: We want everyone to know that we are here to make a great product for you and are striving to be artisans in this craft. We also plan to bring all this to you at reasonable prices, and pass on the savings to you whenever we can. We are also coming out with new ideas and marketing strategies that will really benefit the costumer in the end. I implore you to follow us on twitter @hurricanvapor as we will be announcing some really interesting things in the coming months. We launch on January to the world, but December we will begin sales for brick and mortar stores and other vendors that are interested.
We hope that we have the pleasure of serving you a bottle of “Storm Juice”, premium USA made e-liquid, made from USA ingredients, hand crafted in sunny Miami, very soon.
UPDATE: Hurricane Vapor is now one of the leading premium eliquid vendors in the United States. Visit their online store here, or visit one of hundreds of retail vape shops that carry the Hurricane Vapor line.