Posted on April 10 2018
In the first of what we hope is going to be a regular feature here at SuperiorVapour we speak to Dakoda Collins of Cali Vape. We want to know how he got into vaping, specifically got into making juices and where he gets his inspiration from for all the great flavours. Take it away Dakoda Collins...
Q: Let’s start off with an obvious one, when did you quit smoking and why?
A: My father and I used to smoke together. I was 24 years old and had lost two grandparents from lung cancer. In hindsight, it’s a terrible feeling to have had these bonding moments with my Dad while we were both slowly killing ourselves with the cigs. My Dad quit smoking with an ego twist and 18mg in a matter of weeks. I started trying to make e-liquid in my apartment kitchen almost immediately after I quit smoking cigarettes. My original intention when I bought my first vape was to inhale nicotine inside at night without smelling. I wanted to quit eventually, however it was not my intention at the time.
Q: How and why did you start making e-juices?
A: I started making e-liquid because I had made hard cider and beer in the past. Upon just a touch of online research, I realised I could most likely apply a lot of my beer making technique in making e-liquid. I was now filling two voids because I had also quit drinking alcohol at the age of 24 so I no longer made beer. Making beer is super fun though so I started to make e-liquid instead. My Dad and I were so geeked out over vaping that we decided to attend the first ever Electronic Cigarette Convention (ECC) in Anaheim, California in 2012. We left that trade show with the intention of opening a local vape shop in San Diego and making e-liquid in the back, a business model that is now illegal.
Q: In your brand story on your website, the passion you have for making e-juices comes across really clearly. Was becoming a manufacturer always something you had in mind?
A: Our original intention was to open a local retail vape shop and have the e-liquids as a side focus. However, it seemed like I was spending every spare second trying to make a good tasting e-liquid (I had become a bit obsessed but kept failing). I didn’t make anything worth vaping for the first seven months of trying. There were some very supportive people I had around me at that time including my Dad, Mom and a girl named Kendra. It wasn’t until I met Brett and Cori from Mojo Vapor that we would switch our business plan to manufacturing e-liquid and abandon our retail ambitions.
Q: And how did you get the business off the ground?
A: My Dad, David and I went into a local store named Mojo to see what they had done in their store that we could learn from when we open our store across town. By the end of our visit, we had purchased a grip of atomizers and e-liquid to refill our now archaic devices. We also left them with my best mixes at the time with handwritten labels. We left them with White Mango, Cinnamon Crush, Refresh, Clove Tobacco and Tropical Breeze. Many of which have been discontinued to make room for our newer flavors. Well, they called and said they would try selling it if we got labels. They sold out of White Mango in the first weekend we were on the shelf and things have just moved really quickly ever since that weekend. That was over five years ago now.
Q: What’s your favourite part of manufacturing e-juices?
A: Innovating is by far my favorite part. We started the lab in 2012. In 2013 we started making flavors on hot plates with temp control and that technique made flavors like Bandit, Vanilla Cloud and many others possible. In 2015 I bought a very expensive distillation machine after studying molecular gastronomy, mostly online. In late 2016 I had finally figured out how to use this new equipment properly. The new techniques allowed us to make flavors like Waffle Batter Ice Cream, Crunch Time line and all our upcoming stuff possible. I like studying flavoring and eventually want to make our own natural flavor extracts from scratch. We are now really close to this being possible.
Q: We personally love Waffle Batter Ice Cream, but what’s your favourite e-juice flavour to vape with?
A: This question is very hard for me to answer. The truth is I almost become a flavor before we release it. I vape our liquids for weeks on end before we release them just to make sure I have made all the tweaks I feel necessary to get it as good as it can be. When I am in San Diego I am typically vaping unreleased test flavors I am working on. Right now that’s a lot of candy and fruit blends. When I am out of town I always bring with me 6mg Bandit, Waffle Batter Ice Cream, Catalina and Cut Strawberry. Blueberry Crunch Time just got added to this arsenal. I also bring 12mg Bandit and Cut Strawberry as well, just in case I want a little more nicotine in my tank.
Q: What gear do you vape with?
A: I test on three devices. An AV Dimple or Apollo mech Mod with a Goon or Rebel Atty. Then I have a SMOK tfv8 on a voopoo DRAG box mod and a tfv12 on an identical box mod. I like the DRAG box mod because I don’t accidentally put it at 200watts that often.
Q: What’s the most important thing to you in the process of creating an e-juice?
A: I am always going for balance with a strong top note and plenty of supporting undertones. Flavors often fight one another in a mix and I try to get them to a peaceful balance using ratios, heat, time and air. Along with chemical considerations like alcohol and the water content of flavor extracts. It is this consideration of alcohol and water content that sparked the idea of distilling our raw ingredients before mixing with them.
Q: How important is the distillation process to getting the flavours tasting so pure?
A: The distillation process is a very delicate one. In the first year and a half of owning the equipment, we realised that it’s easy to overdo it. However, once you get that perfect set of settings it’s pure magic. Waffle Batter is a great example of how distillation makes it possible to get a huge flavor and maintain a VG level of 70% or higher. The concept is fairly logical. Most flavor extracts are slightly diluted. Sometimes the alcohol helps to make them stable and homogenous. Sometimes it’s just distilled water. Many times we have found that this information is not on the gallons label. Other times it does say contains water and Ethanol. By distilling the flavor extracts and making them unstable under vacuum we are able to remove the dilutions and re-stabilise the extracts into VG or PG for a very pure, very realistic taste.
Q: The process you use to make your e-juices seems to be really bespoke and places a real importance on quality rather than quantity. How long did it take you to develop these processes, or are they still very much trial and error?
A: In many ways, our process is our entire brand. I am very grateful that people have come to appreciate our efforts. The truth is we have a lot of the industry paying attention to what we do and consistently trying to replicate one of our hits. I kind of like the idea that it drives them a bit mad how simple our labels are. It’s all on purpose, you see. It’s all about making quality juice for the end user. I only make e-liquid that I would feel good about paying full retail for myself. That standard will morph and develop over time and I do believe it may occupy my mind for many years to come. We started the company in 2012 and our current process has taken the better part of five years to develop. Not all of our flavors are made using the same process. For example, we have been making White Mango in the same way since 2012 while we switched Cut Strawberry from a hot plate mix to a 100% distilled mix in 2017. Every flavor is mixed using the most appropriate method we have. Right now there are about three unique approaches we use. The most recent being distilling.
Q: Your e-juices always have really interesting flavour mixes. What’s your process in coming up with the flavour ideas?
I am always eager to try something new. For example, I recently had a delicious Guava Pastry thing at a coffee shop that I just may have to try and whip up into e-liquid. I get a lot of inspiration for cold-pressed juice and from emerging all-natural beverage companies. Refresh tastes like a light green Gatorade flavor we have over here in the States. While Cut Strawberry was inspired by GT Synergy’s Strawberry Kombucha. Waffle Batter Ice Cream was inspired by these mini Waffles I had at a local brunch spot. Most of the flavors are inspired by real food or beverages, or at least that’s how they start.
Q: On your social media, you post up videos of the lab and your processes. How important do you think transparency should be to vape companies?
A: Extremely important. I wish that more companies would drop their marketing mask a bit and let the consumer see what’s really happening when making their e-liquids. Unfortunately, I know that most companies use a co-packer and have their products made by an outside lab using a very basic process that’s similar to how they mix paint at your local hardware store. Most of my “competitors” or peers are more of a marketing and sales company than a manufacturer. Whilst I am more than polite and actually friends with some of the individuals who own these other brands, I do find this business model to be backwards, despite strong sales. It doesn’t bother me that the mass-marketed juice sells well. Our following knows what’s up. Try to find a single lab picture never mind a video from your favorite five e-juice companies. You’re gonna struggle.
Q: The TPD is heavily centred around the manufacturing of e-juices. Did it affect your business at all as you’re based in the US?
A: Honestly, fuck the TPD! I learned a great lesson. We went through the entire process to find out that the market would actually prefer short fills. We prefer to make short fills as well. It was a good experience because although I spent a lot of money I didn’t need to. It got me prepared for the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] in the US. We had a random FDA inspection at our lab three months ago and we passed with flying colors. The FDA rep must have taken 100 pictures in our lab and was saying how they may use what we are doing to help finish writing the standards here in the States. I would like to continue to work with the FDA to try and form reasonable regulations. TPD was a good warm-up lap for FDA. We did not end up seeing the 10ml market emerge as much as we had anticipated.
Q: One thing we’ve noticed is that the vape scene differs massively from country to country. Given California is a pretty smoke and vape friendly state, what is the vaping scene like there?
A: It is pretty cloudy. I have multiple Vape and Smoke shops I can walk to from where I live and the culture seems to have switched from smoking cigs to vaping mods and nic salts. I am working on a salt line. Not sure how to get it to the UK yet but I am sure we will figure that legal part out soon.
Q: The vaping industry is still relatively new, and seems to be changing all the time; whether that’s just with the progression of vaping technology or to meet new legislation. Where do you think the vaping industry will be five years from now?
A: Agreed. In the last five years, I have noticed circular flavor trends in market profile preference. I think that will continue to happen; from fruits to desserts, tobaccos to cold drink flavors, candy to cereal. These profiles will most likely keep rotating in a trendy manner. The hardware honestly blows me away. It changes so fast and sometimes can impact our efforts as far as packaging and formulations. I will always keep an open mind when it comes to meeting market demand. In five years a lot of things will undoubtedly change but a lot of things won’t. We will always keep an open mind and manufacture products based on what our consumer base wants.