It goes without saying that vapes and electronic cigarettes are more than just a trend. Today, e-cig tech is a huge start-up scene that brings in around $2 billion a year. If it keeps going this way, you'll have to buy your analog cigarettes at Urban Outfitters next to a row of victrolas with USB drives. Like any rapidly-expanding market, there are companies racing to come up with new innovations that set them apart from the industry sheeple, all vying for a puff of that sweet vapor money. In the case of e-cigs, that can mean crafting bizarre and sometimes heinous vape flavors.
Our poor parents used to actually sprinkle some lavender into their spliffs when they wanted a tasty smoke. Now, vape manufacturers can create any flavor imaginable using propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, artificial flavoring, and nicotine. "The various natural and artificial flavors are no different than that what's used in candy or baking," said Chris McOwen, founder of vape and e-liquid wholesaler Vapor Talk. "We've gotten so good at recreating flavors for use in electronic cigarettes, sometimes we just like to step outside the box and challenge ourselves."
The experimental e-cig flavors range from junk food to fancy, aromatic flavors with names that sound like bougie perfumes. You can smoke chamomile, candy canes, cookie dough, and cola—a company called Apollo E-Cigs even dropped a nacho cheese flavor they called "Fauxritos" in time for the 2014 Superbowl.
"Within the die-hard vaping community, the most respected e-liquid brands are ones trying to create unique aesthetic experiences," explained Jon Meyer, a former chef-turned-e-cigarette consultant. "They describe their products like cocktails, with notes of this fruit and hints of that herb."
OK, sure. But what about people who don't align themselves with the "die-hard vaping community"? Could virgin vape palates discern the flavor subtleties of e-liquid? We grabbed three loyal VICE writers— River, a non-smoker; Zach, a paper cigarette smoker; and Allie, who dabbles in tobacco and weed—to blind taste-test some weird e-flavors and find out.
TEST 1 - RED BULL FLAVOR
River: It tastes like the beverage Surge. It's probably the Mountain Dew one [ Editor's note: there was no Mountain Dew one]. Or a Gatorade flavor. The liquid is also clear—high quality product.
Zach: This is definitely Red Bull. River was talking about the Glacier Freeze Gatorade—it does have that energy drink vibe to it. My heart's beating faster. I would smoke this if I had to be up really late. It must be taurine or Red Bull.
Allie: I can feel the veins in my biceps popping, which is a sensation I've never felt before. I could pick up a car right now. This is kind of amazing. It tastes like absolutely nothing—like air, which I can't complain about. I like this.
TEST 2 - COLA FLAVOR
River: I'm allergic to peaches and acidic fruits. When I eat them it makes my face tingle. This makes my face feel weird, so it must be a fruit flavor.
Zach: Smooth. It tastes a little like bourbon.
Allie: It kind of tastes like how Windex smells. Wait, nevermind. It went from tasting like cleaner to tasting like gingerbread. I have absolutely no idea of what this could be. Is it supposed to change flavor as you smoke it? I'll guess gingerbread.
River: This is obviously the worst one. It taste like burning. I really have no idea what flavor this is—but it's a heinous, heinous flavor. I'm at a loss. Vegetable?
Zach: You know those Dum Dum lollipops that taste like buttered popcorn? It's like that, but worse. Very food-y. I could miss a meal, but it would be OK because at least I have my vape on me. It's kind of like if Cool Ranch Doritos and Menthol had a baby.
Allie: This one tastes like vomit. I don't want to say that because it will make me think of vomit, and that might make me vomit. But it tastes like your mouth does right after you throw up. It tastes really acidic and like old food. This is atrocious. This is not something that humans should consume.
TEST 4 - BIRTHDAY CAKE FLAVOR
River: This one is sweeter. It's got some sort of candy hint. Maybe this is the cake flavor? It tastes like some sort of frosting.
Zach: Sweet but not very sweet. Sprinkle-y. It's probably one of the dessert ones. It would be perfect after a meal, before bed time. I wouldn't say it's good, but rather interesting. It's as if someone made frosting with water instead of the right ingredients.
Allie: Are you fucking kidding me? This has like no known analog on Earth. This is like no flavor I've tasted before. I don't even want to know what this is afterwards.
TEST 5 - ESPRESSO FLAVOR
River: This time the vape's spitting liquid into my mouth, which might be affecting the flavor. It's got a really meaty after taste. Kind of game-y. I've never eaten deer, but this is what I imagine deer tastes like.
Zach: Wait, I know immediately this is espresso. It tastes like grounds, but I wouldn't say fresh grounds. I think it does come the closest to tasting like the real thing, compared to the other flavors. It's not bad, but do you want to be vaping fake espresso as you're drinking real espresso at the same time?
Allie: Nope. This tastes like smoked salmon or smoked whitefish—something you'd get at a deli. I wouldn't describe it as "good." I would describe it as "of the sea." It's definitely the meatiest flavor. It's very hearty.
TEST 6 - PUMPKIN PIE FLAVOR
River: We have a really viscous e-liquid now—golden-brown colored. The others were sort of clear. This one tastes like Teddy Grahams. This is definitely some sort of cracker flavor.
Zach: This one is the blandest. It doesn't offend me, but I don't know why I'd pay for this.
Allie: This is totally pointless. I've lost the ability to taste anything. There's no point in even participating in this. This is putting my whole life into question—do I not have a normal sense of taste? Is this a prank? I just feel super fucked up. I don't know.