The Weird World of Wine and Spirits Vaping

As the multi-billion-dollar e-cigarette business continues to come of age, a subculture of "vaping" flavors and production methods are taking cues from both wine and spirits. Jennifer Cacicio on everything from vape and wine pairing websites to "aged" e-liquids.

Appletini. Buttery Nipple. Merlot. Yes, this is a short list of beverages that can be ordered and sipped in a cheesy Midtown bar. But these three—as well as Amaretto, Pink Champagne, Eggnog, Mai Tai and Absinthe—are also popular vaping flavors. It’s no secret that the e-cigarette industry—and more specifically, nicotine juice producers—have taken a page from the world of wine and spirits, creating flavors that might resonate with drinkers. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that, within this multi-billion-dollar industry, there exists a subculture interested in taking this influence to the next level: bloggers devoted to pairing vape flavors with wine, and juice producers aging e-liquids as if they were bourbons or single malts, some even creating on-site experiences that mimic a trip to the vineyard tasting room.

For those not yet acquainted, nicotine juice—or e-juice or e-liquid, as it’s colloquially known—is a blend of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, liquid nicotine and flavor concentrate that your electronic cigarette turns into vapor via science. To be clear, there is no actual alcohol used in the making of these alcohol-inspired flavors. Each base flavor—vanilla, banana, mint, etc.—is created in a lab, either artificially or by extracting it from the natural food source. The nicotine juice producers purchase these base flavor concentrates, then mix their own proprietary flavors.

Dan Clayton-Luce, founder of the blog Vine+Vapor, got into vaping for the same reason that most do: He quit smoking. One night last year he found himself at home in upstate New York, sipping on a glass of riesling and vaping apple rings—a flavor based on those gummy green candies—and found that the pairing really worked. A graduate of CIA, Clayton-Luce already had an interest in wine from his culinary school background, so he set out to do more research. He found plenty of popular blogs devoted to pairing vape flavors with food, but nothing that focused on wine. So, earlier this year he launched Vine+Vapor so e-cigarette smokers could find wines to complement their favorite vape flavor, or vice versa.

“The idea of tasting parties is my romantic vision of what Vine+Vapor is all about,” says Dan Clayton-Luce, founder of the blog Vine+Vapor. “Mix a wine tasting party with a vape meet…people sharing their favorite wines and juices, connecting with each other in a more personal way than an online forum, and discovering new flavor combinations to take their vaping experience up another level.”

In terms of pairing preferences, he tends to favor small-batch, American-made flavors that are either fruit heavy or borrowed from bakery shelves. Right now, he’s really into a blueberry muffin flavor from Mt. Baker Vapor called Blue Moo that he suggests alongside gewurztraminer. He’s always looking for wine with good acidity, which tends to play well with vapor. The site’s latest pairing is the tropical, stainless steel fermented 2012 Guenoc Lake County Sauvignon Blanc from North Coast, California with Bloodbath, another release from Mt. Baker Vapor advertised as “a powerful tropical fruit blend designed to satisfy the bloodlust of every scumdog in the universe.”

Clayton-Luce is not alone. Pairing threads such as Drunk Vapes on Reddit are showing up more and more on the very active e-cigarette discussion forums, and Ruby Roo—the closest thing the internet has to a video vape celebrity—posts weekly installments, reviewing various devices and juices. These videos get several thousand views on the regular, and she punctuates each one with a segment she calls “Vape Pairing Time,” in which she pairs a variety of e-juices with everything from a crisp lager to a homemade wine cooler.

The online pairing community is growing, but Clayton-Luce dreams of a time when he can help bring that vibrancy to the streets: “The idea of tasting parties is my romantic vision of what Vine+Vapor is all about,” he explains. “Mix a wine tasting party with a vape meet…people sharing their favorite wines and juices, connecting with each other in a more personal way than an online forum, and discovering new flavor combinations to take their vaping experience up another level.”

With the help of companies like Five Pawns, an artisanal juice producer in Irvine, CA, this dream could be a forthcoming reality. Five Pawns put themselves on the vape map when they released Castle Long Reserve, a limited edition e-liquid steeped in oak barrels for three weeks to mimic the flavors of a single malt or bourbon. In December, they’ll release Black Flag Fallen, a blend of double espresso, black truffle cream and several other secret ingredients currently maturing at 43 degrees in custom-made stainless steel barrels. Five Pawns isn’t the only American juice producer aging their liquids, but they were certainly the first, and the direction they’re taking from the wine business seems to line up with Vine+Vapor’s goals to create a community.

Five Pawns recently opened a tasting room that’s more vineyard than vape shop. Visitors can sit down with a trained staff member to taste through all ten of their flavors, or book private parties in the even newer back door lounge reminiscent of a speakeasy. There’s talk of acquiring a beer and wine license in the near future. Because, while it’s amusing to inhale your favorite cocktail, you can’t deny that the real thing can never be replaced with e-anything.

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