Mountain Oak Vapors makes a splendid line of eJuice. Steve Nair recently talked with us about his company and his passion for eJuice.
The Spinfuel Review Team conducted an interview with Steve and Brandy Nair of Mountain Oak Vapors. Below is that interview. To read the review, click here.
To read the review for Shangri-La, a newer flavor from Mountain Oak Vapors (available after the original review, click here)
SPIN: Tell our readers why you decided to get into the e-juice business:
MOV: To be honest, we’re not sure when it all started. We tried our hand at do it yourself and we got to thinking we really enjoyed our own blends more than a lot of what we had been getting on the market. One thing led to another, and getting some backing from Liberty Stix, a New York based E-Cigarette company helped to get us off the ground. We still wholesale by the gallon to that company today (they use our E-Liquid to pre-fill their cartomizer packs.)
SPIN: Who inspired you to get into the e-Juice business?
MOV: I’m not sure that our inspiration really came from anywhere. We saw an opportunity to do something for ourselves that we could be proud of. I think ECF and their community as a whole has had the biggest impact and influence on us over the past year.
SPIN: How many resellers stock your e-juice?
MOV: We are currently wholesaling to Liberty Stix, and USA Based E-Cigarette Manufacturer. We are also now wholesaling to a startup company in Israel known as Istech, they are working on making e-cigarettes a reality over in that part of the world. Both of these companies are pre-filling carto’s for their branded e-cigarettes with our liquid. Another part of our wholesale operation is custom bottling/branding. We offer this at the wholesale level to one company currently. We basically create custom e-liquid to their specifications, bottle it for them and sell it to them at wholesale pricing for them to resell under their unique name. It’s really fun for us to do things like this and although we don’t get any direct recognition for those efforts, it’s still an area of tremendous growth for our business. We have also just recently closed an account with a retailer based out of France. It’s really exciting to be “going international” so to speak and it’s great to be getting our product out to other parts of the world. Being a company that is just 3 months old it’s really exciting for us to be having all of these opportunities for growth. We also have received interest from a couple of retailers in the states and are currently in talks with a few of them. This is a part of our business that we are very actively working on growing.
SPIN: Why is American Made e-Juice so important today?
MOV: That is an interesting question. Culturally I think in America we have certain standards that we put on our products and certain expectations we put on companies that produce them. That said there certainly can be subpar American vendors that could actually be even more careless in their manufacturing process than those of our overseas counterparts. However, I think for the most part there is just a greater sense of responsibility and consequences that work to keep an American vendor more in line. In the end I think it’s important to the consumer’s peace of mind. Something else of importance is the quality of American made flavors. To touch on the cultural point, we all know how different tastes in food can be from culture to culture and nation to nation. I think American vendors just have a better gauge of what our target audience desires in the vape medium. Americans, for example, like things a bit sweeter.
SPIN: How do you concoct such amazing flavors?
MOV: A lot of time, hard work and patience. That’s what it boils down to. Being just 3 months old in this business we can tell you we have learned a lot about the do’s and don’ts of being e-liquid flavorists. Every time we create a new blend we learn something from that process.
We spend a ton of time (and money) tasting different variations of a flavor from flavor vendors all across the US. Every week we get more flavor samples in for our R&D. For every 4 or 5 ideas we have, maybe just 1 will ever make it to the market. I think someone said it best in that “You have to know when to hold em, and know when to fold em!”
Sometimes, no matter how badly you want a flavor to work, it just doesn’t, and you have to set it down and move on. We’ve found that often times no matter how hard you try that awesome flavor you’re trying to replicate is just never going to taste like eating or drinking the real thing. The great thing is, it doesn’t have to! This is vaping. We are dealing with the vape medium. We have learned that we can take some liberties and concoct truly delicious blends that have no counterpart in any other medium be it food or drink.
Take for example our Nirvana flavor, a complex blend of fruity flavors that really cannot be compared to anything. One of our newest flavors Legendary, it has notes and hints at something like a Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Cream Pie or maybe a Chocolate Caramel Banana Nut Bread. Is it any of those things? We don’t think so. It’s our own creation and it’s just amazing to enjoy it in the vape medium.
The same can be said for the allure of Tobacco Flavors. It doesn’t taste like any food or beverage. Sweet flavors, fruit flavors, those seem to get old with time, your taste buds tire of it. Tobacco flavors are unique and different and unlike anything you might encounter in a food or drink setting. I think for the tobacco vapors out there, it has that lasting quality that some of the sweet and fruit vapes don’t have. All of the different types have their own places in vaping, though, and certainly can be enjoyed by anyone! We even see those 3 things cross, where you have a Sweet Tobacco like our Classic CountRY4 (RY4). It’s basically like a tobacco cake. Does it taste like anything that you could compare it to? We don’t think so! But it’s sweet with caramel and vanilla rounded out the tobacco flavors. We also have things like Bliss, which has raspberry and cheesecake flavors. That’s the fruits mixing with the sweets. Or take our Applewood Tobacco, fruits blended with tobacco. There are just so many options available to us that it really is a lot of fun to sit down and create something new.
SPIN: How long does it take to go from an idea to the final product?
MOV: Sometimes it takes a very long time, and sometimes it doesn’t. Because of our size we are able to be very mobile and flexible. Even our labeling is done in house (although you probably can’t tell) and this allows us to roll out a new product with swiftness when we feel strongly about it. However, for the most part what we do is come up with an idea and create around 4-5 variations of that flavor, tweaks to different things here and there. We drip those creations and test them on different devices (ego 3.7 low resistance, ego twists at different voltages on a standard resistance, Provari’s and lavatubes at high resistance/voltage, dual coil tank setups, standard stick batteries etc.) Between the two of us if we can settle on a favorite of that bunch and vape it for a few days on end, we know we’re ready for phase 2.
It’s important to make sure that you can vape these new creations for the long term. Dripping a few drops on an atomizer may be amazing. You may think you’ve created the next best thing. Load that flavor up for the long haul and your opinion may change. Our goal is always to create “all day vapes” that can be enjoyed by the veteran and the newbie Vaper alike. So this sort of pro-longed testing is important to us.
At this point if we’re satisfied with what we have, we send samples off to a handful of testers for feedback. Usually this group consists of 3-5 people whom we trust to give us detailed and honest feedback. We take their feedback and combine it with our own. If it’s a thumbs up we start the process of mixing our concentrate batches and preparing our website and labels. All in all this process can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks. A lot of times these ideas never even make it to fruition. We think the effort we put up front in this process saves our customers a lot of heartache (and us a lot of bad press!). When you shop with us you will know with each flavor, you’re getting the very best we have to offer.
SPIN: Can you tell us a little about your background?
MOV: I am a Senior Software Developer who works at a financial institution; my background is mostly in the area of computer science. It’s a big help to us that I am able to handle all of our graphics and technical needs for our website in house at no extra cost. My wife is the co-owner of our company and she has her hand in just about every piece of the puzzle as well. From new flavor creation, batch mixing, to sales & marketing. We are a team, and it’s great to have each other to fall back on as our business grows. Certainly in the past weeks business has been good and our time very occupied!
SPIN: Safety is a huge factor today. Tell our readers what kind of measures you take to make sure that your e-juice is safe to consume?
MOV: It’s definitely important to all consumers to know that their e-liquid is safe to consume. We have taken it upon ourselves to send our juice off for a very costly laboratory analysis performed by Avomeen Analytical. You can see the results of this analysis posted on our website. This is a GC-MS Laboratory test that shows the concentrations of ingredients in our juice. You can see for yourself the accuracy of our disclosed nicotine, PG and VG levels. We also had them test for Tobacco Specific Nitrosamines and the common concerns of Diethylene and Ethylene. For us it was important to get this done to give our customers peace of mind. This analysis ran us around $4,800.00 USD but it was worth every penny. We have also gone to great lengths to implement quality control practices that are required in the FDA Tobacco Regulated world.
We create all of our concentrates in large batches. These batches are associated with the batch numbers of the individual parts (ingredients) that we get from our reputable USA based suppliers. We keep a log of our batch mixing, and keep all of our tools (graduated cylinders, syringes, droppers) cleaned with Distilled Water (it’s important to keep tap water out of the equation.) We’ve gone to extra lengths to make sure that NONE of our flavor ingredients contain any Diacetyl, Acetyl Propionyl, and Acetoin. Many vapers don’t even know that these compounds are hazardous when inhaled and are found in almost ALL butter and custard flavor notes.
It is possible to mimic and immolate those notes without the use of these ingredients, however it never quite tastes the same. We always shudder to ourselves when we see an e-liquid review for a buttery or custard type flavor. The fact is, we’re vaping to be safer, and there is no need to complicate that with those kinds of ingredients.
We also made it a choice to go with Glass bottling before we ever started this endeavor. We always preferred receiving glass packaging from vendors back before we got started with our business. A classy touch but it is also a safe one. There is no worry of leaching due to prolonged nicotine and glycerin exposure with Glass. Although vendors can take measures to insure they are buying chemical grade plastic, there is always the worry of leaching after say, 6 months on a shelf. With glass, it’s never a worry. This was another safety concern that we did not want our customers to have. Speaking of shelf life, we also make sure that our ingredients and sub components are moving fast and that we’re not over-purchasing. This is important for freshness of flavorings and accuracy of nicotine. The longest any individual ingredient is sitting on a shelf in our lab is 1 month. There have been some studies done to show that nicotine can and will degrade over time so it’s important for us to get it in, and get it out in our finished products.
SPIN: How important is it to use pharmaceutical grade PG, VG? Do you use distilled water? Are there any “filler liquids” in your juice?
MOV: Our ingredients are fully listed on our site on each and every product’s page. It’s very important to use USP Grade Kosher Certified PG and VG. This is the grade that is generally accepted as safe for consumption, there is absolutely no reason not to use this grade PG/VG as it is readily available in the USA at reasonable prices.
Our ingredients are simple.
- Nicotine (not in 0%)
- Distilled Water
- Natural and Artificial Flavorings
- Citric Acid as a natural preservative.
We don’t add any extras such as vitamins, caffeine or whatever else may be out there these days. We keep the ingredients very simple for safety purposes. Distilled water is used to thin Vegetable Glycerin and make the substance easier to work with. We also found it useful in controlling the specific gravity (density) of our e-liquid to make sure it functions correctly across a wide range of devices, including the little stick batteries you find at most gas stations. This was important, because we wholesale to that industry as well. You can see on our Certified GC-MS Lab analysis the exact quantities of Distilled Water, Nicotine, Vegetable Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, and Citric Acid present in our product.
SPIN: Is your flavoring organic? Are they also “American Made”?
MOV: They are American made, but they are not organic. We use Natural & Artificial flavors. There is quite a difference between “Natural” and “Organic”.
100% Organic means that the flavoring must be extracted in Vegetable Based Glycerin and not Propylene Glycol.
Propylene Glycol based flavor ingredients account for almost the entire market of flavor ingredients. It is extremely difficult to purchase Vegetable Glycerin based ingredients. It is easier to purchase Ethyl Alcohol based ingredients, or ingredients that are “PG Free” (Ethyl Alcohol can also be “Organic”) and indeed a lot of the Vegetable Glycerin based ingredients are mixed with Ethyl Alcohol as well (so are some PG based ingredients.) For our money, we find that the taste of the Ethyl Alcohol is too much and for the most part don’t like to use flavors that are heavily based in it.
We are still actively pursuing a 100% PG Free line that could open the door to 100% organic, but thus far the flavorings we’ve found have just been subpar and for that reason we only offer (at most) a 70% VG 30% PG mix. This is also the reason we do not have 100% organic flavor offerings (PG is not an organic compound.) We would caution your readers and other vapers as well to consider what organic means. In a lot of cases inside and outside of the vaping world this term just becomes a selling point. There are lots of organic things in this world that you would rather not ingest (or inhale). Heck, tobacco itself could be considered 100% organic (of course the big tobacco companies do an awful lot of processing, I think you understand my point.) The word itself is a dangerous one and we encourage everyone to approach “organic” with an open mind. As far as being 100% USA made, every single one of our ingredients (including every part of our packaging) is purchased and sourced from USA manufacturers. That’s kind of our shtick! We have never placed an order from outside of the United States for any material and we never will.
SPIN: How can you make sure that your flavors are always consistent, that each batch delivers the same flavor and nicotine levels?
MOV: It’s important to leave the work of creating the base flavor compounds to the professionals. All of our flavorings come from professional USA labs with strong quality control practices. If we were, for example, extracting the flavoring ourselves organically or naturally, it would be very difficult to control this consistency. By leaving it to the professionals, we know and our customers can know that each flavor will always be the same.
On our own end, we keep a manual log of our batch mixing for reference. All of our flavor batches are mixed very exact and are measured out to 1mL graduated cylinders. Each batch of nicotine we receive is tested for its purity and strength before sale by the supplier. We also do our own test on its strength, which gives us a very close approximation.
We are very transparent with our customers about recipe updates as well. We have a blog where we make notes of any changes that are being made. We try to avoid changing things as often as possible, but sometimes it is necessary if we feel the change is an improvement on the overall experience for our customer base at large. These updates are also made public knowledge on the product pages of our website. Sometimes a flavor is not doing as well as we hoped it would, we never stop chasing perfection in the vape medium. I think that’s one of the reasons our customers regard us as one of the best in the business.
SPIN: How many flavors do you offer today? Which are your favorites?
MOV: We have 3 different lines of juices catered to different people in the vaping world. Tennessee Original™ is our Tobacco line and we offer 12 different juices in this category. My all time favorite is our Classic CountRY4™. It’s followed pretty closely by Blue Ridge™ and Applewood.
Dark Temptations™ is our sweets line and it contains 11 flavors to date. Heavenly 7™ and our new Legendary™ flavors are definitely at the top of my list. Lastly our Sweetwater Valley™ line appeals to the fruit lovers. This lineup has 11 flavors to date and some of my favorites are Nirvana™, Red Drop™ and Winter Rain™. I think that makes our total at just around 34.
We also occasionally offer seasonal flavors such as our 4th of July flavor “Independence”. Around Easter time we had a special “Orange Chocolate Cream” flavor. It’s important to note that we have over 150 different flavorings from 4 different flavor suppliers across the nation. We are not just putting 1 or 2 flavor combinations in a bottle and slapping a label on it to send it out the door. Each of our recipes is extremely complex, sometimes there are upwards of 6-7 different flavor notes. Our tobacco base alone has 8, and it is then mixed with additional ingredients to create flavors such as CCRY4, Blue Ridge, or Applewood. We consider ourselves flavorists and we work to create unique and complex flavors for the vape medium. We try very hard with each recipe to give a flavorful and satisfying experience to our customers. One thing is for sure when you’re shopping with us: you haven’t had this flavor before!
SPIN: Why should our readers buy their e-Juice from you?
MOV: I think when you buy from us you are guaranteed a complex and flavorful vape that is clean, crisp, and unlike anything you’ve tried before. We are the new guys on the block to be sure, but we’ve made strides to establish ourselves as a quality supplier of all American juice. We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk from our own quality control practices to a 3rd party certified laboratory analysis. From our very rigorous favor testing to our safe and classy packaging. We are small enough to care greatly about our customers and to make sure they have the best experience possible, yet our ambition is big enough to give those very same customers the vaping experience they deserve. Even our shipping is lightning fast (same day). I guess to sum it up we have clean, complex and unique flavors, excellent customer service, fast shipping, a safe production environment and the absolute greatest desire to perfect our customer’s experience. It’s also important to note that even though our quality standards are high and our packaging professional, our prices are still quite competitive.
SPIN: Lastly, What are your plans for the rest of 2012 and beyond
MOV: We are just going to continue to do what we do best and make high quality e-liquid to be enjoyed by the vaping world at large. I think if we keep that up, the rest of it will just fall into place!
SPIN: Steve, it was wonderful to get so much detailed information on your ‘process’. I am quite sure that our readers will have a newfound confidence in the way some of our eJuice companies work. It was a total delight to spend a few days with your marvelous juices
MOV: Thank you so much for the opportunity and the interview! We really hope your readers enjoyed it.