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Taste This: Energy Drinks

By Mike Breen · June 2nd, 2010 · Lost in the Supermarket
Everyone wants to be skinnier, smarter, happier. But the best/least most of us hope for is to just stay awake, which probably explains the popularity of energy drinks — and coffee, cocaine and meth, for that matter.

After marveling at the over-saturation of energy drinks on the market for years, I finally decided to taste a few and see how they might enhance my day. Energy drinks might be the product with the biggest supermarket shelf growth of the past 20 years (besides maybe condoms). With so many different options, I assumed each one had a different effect and taste.

They couldn’t all just make you feel like you drank a large cup of coffee, right? And they couldn’t all just be variations on the Red Bull, right?

After sampling over a dozen different drinks — all in cans with bright colors and “pumped up” names — it became pretty clear that differences in taste and effect are minimal at best. Almost every one had Red Bull’s medicinal, Sweet Tarts taste, and the effect of the caffeine and sugar (plus a variety of “natural” additives) was equivalent to one big cup of coffee with six or seven sugar packs. They also all have tons of citric acid, making my heartburn go into overdrive.

The brash color schemes and “extreme” names show the target market for energy drinks: young people who want stay up and be more aware while studying, skateboarding or (perhaps most accurately) play World of Warcraft for days on end.

They’re tired of Mountain Dew and think coffee is for old people. Supermarket selections are largely limited to the bigger brands — Monster, Rock Star, Amp, Full Throttle — though if you check gas stations and dollar stores you’ll find such unusual selections as Steven Seagal’s Lighting Bolt and rapper Nelly’s Pimpjuice.

Most of the drink cans list the ingredients around the lip of the can. Well, you'll find the more enticing ingredients like taurine (an organic acid/antioxidant that, according to Wikipedia, is a “major constituent of bile”), B vitamins, ginseng and gaurana (a plant-derived energy booster some believe is an aphrodisiac). Not listed on the lip are less “extreme” additives like high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin and chemicals that “protect flavor,” like calcium disodium EDTA. Yum?

Among my samplings were Grape Nos (whose logo looks eerily like NoDoz’s and whose taste is akin to Red Bull with a splash of grape soda), Amp Energy (Red Bull and Mountain Dew), Rockstar Recovery (one of many that promises “hydration” powers, meaning its meant as some sort of hangover cure) and Monster M-80, which is alleged to be inspired by pro surf tournaments in Hawaii but tastes like overly citric (say it with me now) Red Bull.

After debating how best to experience the drinks (sip or chug?), I decided downing them quickly would produce the best (or at least most noticeable) effect. Each time, there was a quick, almost instantaneous buzz that dropped off quickly. Within the hour, I’d inevitably crash. I imagine it’s similar to snorting an entire package of Pixie Stix.

No Fear’s Bloodshot Super Energy Supplement had a nice peach flavor. I could have just been excited to taste a flavor you’d actually find in the natural world, or maybe it just reminded me of my Peach Schnapps experimentation in high school. My favorite packaging was Monster Energy’s Nitrous, which looks like a huff-ready spray paint can. Legal whip-its!

For an excellent energy drink rating Web site, check out www.screamingenergy.com.

For me, despite all of the “natural” declarations and promises, I can’t imagine drinking these things steadily is remotely healthy. I’ll stick to water and coffee and just watch X Games reruns with the volume cranked up when I feel the need to wake up … to the extreme!

CONTACT MIKE BREEN: mbreen@citybeat.com



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