Five Pawns sent me an impressive package of eight liquids: the five juices that comprise their Insignia Series, plus three of their newest additions. All of FivePawns’ liquids are offered in a single size — 30ml glass bottles with glass droppers housed inside cardboard tubes — and are mixed at a 50/50 PG/VG ratio. That’s somewhat old school, given the move in vaping toward higher VG, but 5P juices are flavor bombs rather than cloud machines. The liquids themselves vary in color from almost clear through golden to a pale but rich amber. Each liquid has a recognizable and pleasing scent.
So, are 5P eliquids as amazing as their legions of hard-core fans claim, or is their premium price tag unjustified? Below are my capsule reviews of the eight bottles I was sent, which include my best attempts at objective description, as well as my more personal, subjective reactions:
Five Pawns, based in the heart of the Southern California vaping scene, represented the pinnacle of the first wave of super-premium, artisan-boutique retail juicemakers, offering eliquids using proprietary flavorings (or so I hear). Five Pawns is both famous and notorious on the many online vaping forums — famous for its extraordinarily rich but refined eliquid flavor blends, and notorious for its prices: $27.50 for 30mls, with one juice (Castle Long Reserve) weighing in at a hefty $37.50. With free shipping and 10% off coupons, however, Five Pawns’ prices aren’t as astronomically high as some of its critics assert. Still, 5P eliquids at almost $1/ml are certainly not bargain-basement juices, nor are they intended to be. This is the high end of the retail eliquid market, and the owners of FivePawns very consciously chose that niche.
Every aspect of Five Pawns’ business strategy resonates with high-class intent, from the liquids themselves through their descriptions (which are both accurate and extremely well-written) to the presentation packaging, which is thorough, informative, and darn near corporate in tone. This is no Mom&Pop or fly-by-night operation. These folks are serious about their business.
[Note: I’d recommend lower wattage for the entire 5P lineup. They taste equally good in a tank or RDA, but these aren’t 80-watt liquids. While the flavors are rich, the mixes are too subtle and nuanced to hold up under the onslaught of massive power and high heat. So turn it down.]
“The classic, mellow apple pie makes a sweet and savory impression with flaky crust and decadent caramel, lightened by a dollop of French vanilla ice cream and unsweetened whipped cream.”
OK, so Gambit doesn’t really taste like apple pie. That’s OK. No eliquid tastes like apple pie. What Gambit tastes like is reminiscent of apple pie, which is the same effect all pastry/dessert eliquids offer, to remind us of foods we love. And that’s fine, because we can’t eat pie all day long, but we can vape pie-flavored ejuice as long as we want, hour after hour, day-in and day-out.
I would love to write that Gambit is an amazing apple pie liquid. It’s not. It’s a middle-of-the-road, mildly acceptable facsimile, but a mere shadow of the real thing. This doesn’t imply that it’s bad, just that it doesn’t rise above the pack of other retail and DIY apple pie wanna-be juices. Yes, Gambit’s flavor is rich and delicious, well-blended, and never harsh or chemical-tasting (same as most 5P liquids), but apple pie? Nope. So buy some Gambit, vape it, and enjoy. Just don’t call it apple pie.
Keep in mind, however, that thousands of vapers who’ve left reviews of Gambit online disagree vehemently with my opinion. They all judge Gambit as the best apple pie eliquid ever. Who knows? Maybe they’re right.
“Our non-barrel aged version is a combination of the dark, refined spirit of Kentucky Bourbon, accented with toasted coconut, roasted almond, Madagascar vanilla bean, and laced with a caramelized brown sugar.”
Along with Gambit, Castle Long (and its high-class cousin, Castle Long Reserve, which is aged in oak barrels) are Five Pawns’ most well-known offerings. When I vape Castle Long, I can taste every flavor listed in the description. The various flavors don’t stand out as individual elements, however, since the recipe is extraordinarily well-blended. That’s the artful genius of Five Pawns’ juicemaster, to mix eliquids whose constituent flavor elements blend harmoniously into a sophisticated but singular overall flavor profile. Castle Long doesn’t “taste like” Kentucky Bourbon, but the essence of the bourbon comes through beautifully in the blend, along with coconut, almond, vanilla, and brown sugar. The overall flavor is ample, rich, and deep, but it speaks to the vaper’s palate with civility and refinement. This is, quite simply, an extraordinary eliquid; its stellar reputation is well-deserved.
“This well-balanced taste of smooth, creamy, rich peanut butter and banana cream is drizzled with velvety caramel, creating a multi-layered and savory symmetry.”
Peanut butter and banana is a genre flavor combination in eliquid that runs the gamut — from in-your-face to nonexistent flavor, from natural-tasting to totally artificial, and from yummy to awful. 5P’s version emphasizes the creaminess factor (which is true of the entire 5P lineup), with depth of flavors mixed with skill and subtlety, and not a hint of artificiality at all. Grandmaster doesn’t scream either peanut butter or banana. In fact, it doesn’t scream at all. As usual, none of the flavors stands out. I can pick out the peanut butter and the banana cream, but the velvety caramel eludes me. I know it’s in there, however, making its contribution. The overall flavor experience is, for lack of a better term, soothing, like listening to a lullaby sung by someone who loves you. If you think you wouldn’t like a peanut butter and banana blend, think again. Grandmaster might just change your mind.
“Delicate blood orange intensifies this citrus based flavor. Harmoniously blended with creamy French vanilla for a gentle and exquisite balance that will carry from one flavor to the next.”
Queenside represents a slight departure from the consistency of the rest of the 5P lineup — not in quality, mind you. The quality is every bit as high as in every other Five Pawns offering. No, the difference is in blood orange as the lead singer in the flavor combo. This blood orange flavor is very authentic and fairly bold. I wouldn’t go so far as to use the term “in your face,” but it has more impact than other 5P lead flavors. The French Vanilla adds the harmony of 5P’s characteristic creaminess, but doesn’t turn down the volume of the blood orange singing melody in the center-stage spotlight. As an orange-flavored eliquid blend, Queenside is very, very good, assuming you like that sort of orangey thing. I don’t, really, so it’s not for me personally.
“Inspired by the after-dinner mint, this flavorful chocolate is sharpened by crisp mint, ending with a touch of French Vanilla. Seductive yet soft, with a refreshing effervescent note.”
I haven’t had a gooey after-dinner Thin Mint for decades, much less a more substantial York Peppermint Pattie or Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie. I have, however, tried numerous facsimiles of those treats in the form of vaping eliquids. Since I’m not partial to mint or menthol, these juice have had only limited success in delighting my particular palate. Also, chocolate is a very difficult flavor to get right in eliquids. Opening the bottle, Bowden’s Mate smells exactly like a thin mint. That’s a good sign. The first couple draws confirm what I imagined, however. To my palate, the mint is soft but strong. I don’t taste any menthol, but mint is definitely the primary flavor, with chocolate remaining in the background while the French Vanilla merely nips at the edges. One thing’s for sure — it certainly is refreshing. Once my taste buds adjusted after the initial rush of mint, vaping Bowden’s Mate over a couple of hours became a very pleasant experience. If you love mint, you’ll adore Bowden’s Mate.
“Sugared rhubarb and strawberries come together to be the shining stars in this complex and well balanced blend. Combining an oat grain and graham crumble with vanilla cream, this fruity yet savory blend is sure to satisfy both fruit and dessert lovers alike.”
Ah yes, Five Pawns’ offering from the very popular fruit-and-cereal genre. Symmetry Six is so complex and completely blended that I can’t pick out any of the individual flavors. I “sense” their presence in the flavor profile, but I can’t actually “find” any of them. All the individual elements are hints rather than bold statements. I find this to be the one 5P liquid where the complexity of flavors may work against the overall enjoyment. Symmetry Six is a nice, very vapeable juice, but nothing special, at least for me. Were I to alter the balance to better suit my personal preference, I’d kick up the fruit and turn down the cereal — more strawberry/rhubarb and less oat grain/graham/vanilla. Symmetry Six definitely benefits from lower wattage to protect the fruit flavors.
“Decaffeinated cappuccino infused with a light truffle cream, accentuated with mocha dusted black walnut.”
Coffee, cream, and chocolately nuts. Yum! All the flavors here are mild. The decaf cappuccino has no harshness at all, the truffle cream is refined, and the mocha dusted black walnut is delicious, but, as 5P states, only an accent. This is definitely no ordinary coffee with cream eliquid.
“Decaffeinated cappuccino infused with a light truffle cream, accentuated with mocha dusted black walnut and just a hint of flue cured sweet Virginia tobacco leaf.”
This is 5P’s first foray into a tobacco blend, achieved by adding tobacco flavoring to Black Flag Original. I don’t know whether the tobacco element is a synthetic flavoring or natural tobacco extract, but it hardly matters. This juice would be ideal for a vaper who has recently quit smoking or is trying to quit by vaping. As someone who vaped a lot of tobacco and coffee juices over the first half of my five years of vaping, this juice takes me back, in a good way. I actually like the Enriched version more than Black Flag Risen Original, since the tobacco has a very clean Virginia taste and improves the flavor profile significantly. I probably wouldn’t vape a lot of either juice these days, but newer vapers might find this one indispensable. And very tasty.
For me, the big winners in the Five Pawns lineup are Castle Long, Gambit, Grandmaster, which are all terrific, plus the two Black Flag Risen variations, which are both equally nice. Queenside, Bowden’s Mate, and Symmetry Six, however, are not my particular cups of tea.
Personal preference aside, all Five Pawns liquids are high quality, deeply flavorful, and mostly very creamy. They were created by people who clearly know a thing or two about how to artfully mix flavorings. I daresay that DIY cloners would have a very hard time duplicating such unique blends.
As to whether Five Pawns eliquids are worth their somewhat elevated price tags, I’ll leave that up to each individual vaper to decide. Although the retail juice market is changing as new and more powerful hardware makes inroads, and the health concerns about Diketones gain traction, along with looming FDA regulations, I think it’s clear that the people behind Five Pawns are savvy at business. If anyone can succeed, they can.