One of the promises you must make if you are hired here at Spinfuel eMagazine is to always, under all circumstances, tell the truth. Even if your version of the truth goes against the grain. Sometimes things need to be explained too, which is what we’re doing today. What is ‘your’ definition of a ‘premium e liquid’? Today we present two slightly different views on what we believe constitutes a premium e liquid. Enjoy!
A few weeks ago while reading a review by our own John Castle, I read words that caused my head to snap back on pure reflex. One of my favorite e liquids was, in John’s eyes, a ‘middle tier’ e liquid, a ‘non premium’ brand. My eyes widened in disbelief, and for moment or two I was aghast at what our audience was reading on our pages. Why? I’ll get to that.
Still, it had sailed through the proofing stage and was published by our own Dave Foster. I knew it was heartfelt coming from John, but I asked John about it anyway. I also asked him to tell me what, in his eyes, IS a premium e liquid, because clearly, we had two different ideas about this.
I thought later, that perhaps the confusion between John and I’s definition was more about ‘semantics’ than a real disagreement. But, then again, maybe it wasn’t. In any case, I needed to know, so I asked him to write something on it, which we are publishing today, along side my own views of what constitutes a premium e liquid.
Teams are Individuals too
Here’s why I was ‘aghast’ at learning that John thought one of my favorite brands was middle-tier…
It’s not like all of us have to be on the same page all the time, but I do believe that you, our readers, might be more apt to say to others when talking about a review in Spinfuel, something akin to “Spinfuel says Brand X is a great [PRODUCT]” rather than “[INSERT NAME HERE] at Spinfuel thinks Brand X is a great [PRODUCT]”.
We are individuals, with different likes and dislikes, which is the very reason we tried for as long as we have to create ‘teams’ for all of our e liquid reviews. Lately though, we’ve had more individual e liquid reviews than team reviews (which will change this week with a team review for Virgin Vapors!), and that can certainly help dissuade the idea that when one of us says anything about anything it is attributed to the whole of Spinfuel. It isn’t.
While each of us is trained in evaluating e liquids for flavor, vapor, throat hit, complexity, layers, and the mysterious ‘vape satisfaction’ element, that training still leaves plenty of room for disagreements about each and every e liquid flavor we’ve ever tried. However, even though we can disagree any time we want to, when it comes down to whether or not a certain brand is ‘premium’ or not, we shouldn’t disagree. There should be certain ‘truisms’ that make a premium brand a premium brand.
What is Premium? Irreducible Complexity
Irreducible Complexity is a term I first learned about while I was studying the scientific method of “Intelligent Design.” It applies here perfectly.
Irreducible Complexity simply means that without ALL the parts of a ‘thing’ it won’t work. With respect to a premium e liquid, if you remove ‘talent’ from the equation a ‘premium e liquid’ is impossible. Remove the best possible ingredients, and the same thing happens. Irreducible Complexity requires ALL the parts; so ALL premium e liquid brands are Irreducibly Complex.
Judging An E Liquid
There are only two reasons why I won’t like an e liquid. The first being that the quality of the juice itself is poor, and the other is that the flavor, no matter which brand made it, is a flavor I don’t like. Let me explain…
- Non-Premium Juice – With a non-premium e liquid there is much more to dislike then just the flavor alone. There could be a chemical taste, or an artificial taste to the juice. It could smell bad, or contain particulates that shouldn’t be there. In other words, an e liquid I dislike could be a ‘flavor’ I love, like vanilla or chai tea, or raspberries, and because of certain conditions, it tastes awful. Of course, that doesn’t mean that some poor quality banana flavored vape won’t have a banana flavor, but it might also have a tinge of soap-ish flavor, or strong alcohol, or some other strange addition.
- Premium Juice – When I am vaping premium e liquid there is only one possible reason I won’t like a flavor, and that reason is “I don’t like the flavor.” Guava maybe, or mushroom soup, or even lemonade or some other flavors I wouldn’t like even in its original form is going to be an e liquid I won’t like. It would have nothing to do with the actual quality of the juice however. That’s why you will sometimes see a premium e liquid receive a high score for a flavor we didn’t like. With a premium e liquid there is never an artificial tinge to it, any alcohol that might have been added has dissipated, and the flavor is genuine.
A premium brand of e liquid is made with care; there is no expense spared to create the best e liquid possible. A premium brand will throw away a batch that didn’t come out exactly right, no matter the cost involved in doing so. And, if for some reason a mistake was made and the flavor is a little off, it too will never be sold. Consistency matters.
The highest grade ingredients, the best quality bottles (plastic that doesn’t leech or instance, or glass), and other such measures all matter, but it doesn’t stop there.
Talent and Details
First, the details. With a premium e liquid brand the label on the bottle will contain real information you can use as a consumer, and/or the retailer stocking the bottle. However, not every option imaginable has to be on the label.
Ingredients are something that should be on the label, and the nicotine strength is a must. The date the juice was made (the DOB), should also be on the label.
Some brands go even further by putting batch numbers on the labels, and other ‘control’ information, but those are usually used by e liquid brands that are automated. These large brands make their e liquids without any human handling during the mix, bottling, and packaging. That can sometimes be a good thing, a great thing even, though some e liquid ‘factories’ are makers of non-premium brands.
When it comes to packaging there is a really one ‘must-have’ feature that, if missing, tosses them out of the premium circle immediately. That feature is tamper proofing. There are several ways to seal an e liquid bottle, and as long as it is sealed properly, it doesn’t matter to me which way it’s done. Any brand, no matter how delicious the juice is, that doesn’t feature tamper-proof bottles are simply not premium brands.
Over the past few months I have been exposed to more boutique brands than ever. I’ll get more into that later, but for now I do want to state that I have seen a few boutique brands deliver their product in bottles without any seals at all. This is just not acceptable to me any longer.
By far, talent is the biggest factor when determining a premium brand. Without a talent for mixing, without the talent and extraordinary taste buds of a talented creator, a premium brand is impossible to achieve. There is that rare instance when ‘random mutation’ rears its ugly head and even a beginner DIY mixer might create something truly delicious, by accident. But rare accidents does not a premium e liquid make.
To me, a talented e liquid creator is the person that invents recipes, not follow them. When creating a new flavor a talented e liquid creator knows what will work, what flavors will combine to create something special, and will then work tirelessly until that flavor is exactly what that creator had envisioned. It could take a week or a year, but there is no ‘miss or hit’ going on, it’s a careful, purposeful creation.
On the other hand, a ‘normal’ e liquid mixer, someone who might love vaping and who might want to start up an e liquid brand of his or her own, will follow recipes derived from others. They may be excellent ‘cooks’, but in reality they are really just good recipe followers.
The Recipe for a Premium e Liquid Brand
One Part – Ingredients
A Premium e liquid brand is a brand that truly uses the highest-grade ingredients on the market. They just don’t say they do, they really, truly do. You can spot the ones that claim to use the highest-grade ingredients but really don’t by the visual appearance of the liquid, and the aroma, or by the appearance of an artificial aftertaste.
One Part – Information
A Premium e liquid brand will tell you exactly what is in their e liquid. They don’t have to reveal how much PG/VG is in the mix, but they must give you information that you can trust. Is it made with all artificial flavor? Some artificial flavor? Is it all 100% natural, or 100% organic? Not that it matters, the only thing that does matter is that the information is there, and it is accurate, trustworthy information.
The other information on the bottle, nicotine level, the date of its ‘birth’, and so on, are information we care about, and a premium label knows we care about it. Hell, I don’t even mind if it’s just a sentence that reads, “Best used by ___.” Give me information I can use!
Half Part – Presentation
Over the weekend in Tampa at the vape convention with my buddy Joe (Smokenjoey), we had a discussion on fancy labels and bottles. It was my concern that with tens of thousands of new vapers every month, slick marketing is becoming very important, for good and bad reasons. We’re going through growing pains right now, the industry I mean, and now is the time when anyone with a little money can launch a business and find some modicum of success. That’s scary.
I have a lot to say about this topic, and I will address it down the road in another piece, but for now let it suffice to say that while presentation is nice, its what’s on the inside that counts. Premium e liquid is premium ‘e liquid’. Best ingredients, sterile surroundings, and talented mixers/creators. That’s a premium e liquid. The presentation is the icing on the cake; it’s not the cake.
Half Part – Price
Price is not an indicator of how good an e liquid is. That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But you would be surprised how many people look at the price of a 15ML bottle that sells for $22 and think to themselves that this has to be a great e liquid. Nothing could be further from the truth. Often times a 15ML bottle with a $22 price tag is simply an overpriced middle of the road e liquid. It certainly is not an indicator of a premium e liquid.
A premium e liquid doesn’t have to be expensive. There isn’t any guarantee that a $22 bottle of e liquid even contains high-quality ingredients. In fact, knowing the industry as well as I do, I am suspicious of any brand that prices their e liquid this high, and even higher. Exclusivity does not breed better juice.
The way I look at it, which might be sort of cynical, is that if you have the nerve to charge $22 for 15ML then I wouldn’t put it past you to have the nerve to say you’re using the best ingredients money can buy, when in actuality you’re using the cheapest ingredients money can buy.
The above ‘recipe’ is how I judge whether an e liquid should qualify as a premium e liquid. Funnily enough, just about every single brand of e liquid on the market call themselves ‘premium’. Thankfully, Vapers pretty much take that with a grain of salt.
Happily though, more and more e liquid brands are becoming ‘close to’ premium brands. Proper labels, high quality ingredients, tamper-proof bottling, and even the talent of following recipes are becoming the de facto standard in our industry. Even so, the element of ‘talent for creating’ is still elusive, and rare. That will never change, and there will always be certain people, I call them flavorists, who will always bring us the best e liquids.
A Word About Boutique Labels
Boutique Labels do not automatically qualify as premium brands and it amazes me that they often are. While I agree with Castle on many areas, I don’t agree at all with the ‘exclusivity’ of boutique brands. You’ll never see me buy a bottle of e liquid because it’s hard to find, because it’s a gorgeous presentation, or because it’s expensive. But, many people will.
People new to vaping will look for the best looking presentation, be in awe of the brilliant photography being used by companies like Vape Revolution, and they will spend the money it takes to bring home a bottle of “fancy juice” (not to be confused with the premium e liquid FanceeJuice). I’m not saying these boutique brands aren’t good, and that none of them deserve the premium moniker, some certainly do. I, for one, love the juice that comes from POET, a small number of flavors by Randy Freer, especially his Americano Ciambella, but I won’t pay $14 for 15ML of e Liquid ($28 for 30ML), not when I can buy extraordinary e liquid for $14 for 30ML from a variety of premium brands.
In The End….
On my list of premium brands you would find names that I trust. I know the ingredients that are used, I know the dedication of the owners, and most of all, I know the talent they have.
When you combine great ingredients with great talent, you have a premium brand.
For me, all premium brands are irreducibly complex. All the parts have to be there before it works.