I picked the coldest day probably ever to hoof it out to the Red Light District, a DIY venue slash suburban home in the farthest reaches of Far Rockaway. I’d been here once for a noise show, though my memories of that night are admittedly a little bit hazy, so I had some trouble recognizing the squat brick ranch. But when I rang the doorbell and heard the barks coming from what I could only assume was Slippy the Pomeranian, the mascot for artisanal E-Juice brand Slippy Syrup, I wiped away my frozen tears.
Brian Blomerth and his partner Kate Levitt welcomed me inside the living room of the Red Light District, where they live but do not manufacture their own line of exotically flavored, nicotine-filled liquids that go into vaporizers–that process happens in what Levitt dubbed a “top secret location.” The pair has lived at the DIY space for the past year and a half, having previously called the Silent Barn home. They’re both heavy into the noise scene–Levitt as part of Teeth Mountain and Blomerth as Narwhalz of Sound–but they both agreed that Slippy Syrup (of which Levitt explained Slippy the Pomeranian is the “CEO”) is their new “band.”
“Slippy Syrup is our band,” Levitt said.
“That’s the only way we can think about it economically,” Blomerth said. “When you start a band and you want to make a record, you start a fund.”
I kind of assumed that vaping was a relatively new hobby for Blomerth, as it’s only reached status of phenomenon in the past few years. But I was surprised to hear that he has a rather long and twisted relationship with nicotine.
Back when Blomerth was living in Baltimore, he signed up to be a guinea pig for medical studies at Johns Hopkins. “A long time ago I was a lab rat, a medical study subject at NIDA [National Institute of Drug Abuse],” he recalled. “I was their main nicotine guy, like forever.”
One day, Blomerth was given an intravenous injection of nicotine.”They started putting the injection in and it just made my whole body seize up,” he said. “I felt like I was going into a rocket ship and my face felt like it was melting and I was just screaming like ‘ahhhhhhhhh!’ and just feeling so insane.”
Blomerth quit smoking two years ago; “It was a miracle,” said Levitt, who herself has never smoked, though she vapes occasionally. Blomerth, however, said that even after quitting, “I wanted to keep up my nicotine habit.”
Blomerth has written a comic detailing alternative methods of nicotine intake, Understanding Nicotine, complete with his signature dog-centric drawings. One of the means of ingestion discussed in the book is snuff. I admitted I’d tried the stuff before–well, what I imagine to be gas station snuff, somewhere in or around 2005, with a couple of guys in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They took a break from talking about the joys of snorting vodka to tell me all about snuff, which up until that moment I’d assumed to have been out of fashion since the War of 1812.
“Check it out,” Blomerth said. “There is actual good shit.”
He held out a tiny plastic box of snuff all the way from Germany. “I’ll do it on the train,” he said, and then offered me a bump. What the hell? I figured. Blomerth held out his hand to demonstrated, dabbing a little of the snuff, which looks a bit like flakey coffee grounds, before moving his face over the tiny pile and breathing in gently. I followed suit.
“Isn’t that nice? It’s really nice!” he exclaimed. This confirmed that Blomerth wasn’t trolling, he’s not just a nicotine enthusiast, he’s legitimately excited about the stuff.
Levitt and Blomerth began pumping out tiny purple glass vials of E-juice about 6 months ago, and started selling it on the internet a month ago. Their initial lot of 666 bottles have been filled, and either shipped out or handed out as samples. One thousand more empty bottles are on the way.
“It’s surprisingly simple to make,” Levitt said. “Everyone thinks it’s like Breaking Bad or something.”
“The hardest thing is getting it to taste good,” Blomerth explained. “The first batches we made really sucked.”
But they stuck to it, and the pair seem pretty serious about it. Blomerth pulled out two bottles of pure nicotine liquid, tightly wrapped in plastic and covered in warning labels. “This is a 100 mg strength, so we’re using just a dash,” he said. “It can seep through your skin and shit, and it will like immediately go into your blood stream. If you dumped this on your head, you’d go to the hospital. ”
“It would be a bad day for you,” Levitt agreed.
And though it’s a very DIY operation, Levitt and Blomerth are committed to having things like warning labels, childproof caps, and a born-on date. They’ve even taken some feedback to heart about their current labels looking a little too child-friendly. Though they don’t agree—Levitt laughed: “Some of the dogs are pretty sexy, they’re clearly not marketed to children”—Slippy Syrup will be switching up their labels soon.
The couple are committed to using natural ingredients and staying away from preservatives and scary chemicals like Diacetyl, a substance found in artificial buttered popcorn, but that is harmful when inhaled. Diacetyl has been found in some vape liquids and can lead to a serious lung condition known as “popcorn lung,” an illness contracted by popcorn factory workers. Blomerth also emphasized the importance of storing the E-Juice in glass jars as opposed to plastic, which can break down and secrete other gnarly chemicals into your vape stream.
Slippy Syrups are generally made without any artificial flavors, and have a much more subtle and less obnoxiously sweet flavor than a lot of other E-Juices out there. “So many of these, they end up tasting kind of chemical-y, if you have way too much artificial flavor in there,” Blomerth explained. “But we use real lemon and real lime and we make some flavors in house with the pressure cooker, like coffee and tobacco.”
“It’s weird that it’s called flavor, because you don’t interact with it in the same way as food,” Levitt explained. “It’s psychic taste.”
And Slippy Syrup juices in a way do have a psychic sort of taste; Hound’s Cake, which Blomerth says they are most proud of, has a delicate custard flavor. Though some flavors are more subtle, Slippy does stay true to Blomerth’s form and go all-out weird at times. For example, they’ve put out the first ever E-Juice sponsored by a rapper, Lil Ugly Mane: Courtroom, which has hints of coffee and tobacco, “a medley of things you might want while waiting for the jury to convict.”
“Gwar has an E-Juice actually,” Levitt explained. “But they’re not rappers.”
Though Blomerth wouldn’t say much about the collaboration, he confirmed the underground rapper and producer is “an old buddy of mine.” But according to Ad Hoc, Lil Ugly Mane did have a hand in writing the score for Slippy Syrup’s commercial. The video is nothing short of amazing and should be watched on repeat. It stars one Dr. Isip Osnotkitchi, a shadowy figure who praises the virtues of vape and recommends Slippy Syrup as the way to treat your body right. Blomerth described him as an “extreme nicotine scientist,”and Levitt confirmed he is “our mentor.”
With the success of the past month, Slippy Syrup has been working to expand their market into wholesale. They already have two prospective buyers in Brooklyn and one in Long Island, but will continue to sell individual bottles online. “We both work annoying day jobs, and our hope is to quit them,” Levitt said.
Blomerth chimed in: “Yeah that’s the dream, to quit our jobs and just focus on the flavors.”