This article was originally published in the Reno News and Review. It appears here in slightly updated form.
College means five years—four, if you’re lucky— of burn out, poverty and scary neighbors. Intelligence means less than endurance, ingenuity means less than perseverance, and noble purposes mean so much less than chemical stimulants that it’s kind of depressing.
Hyper-caffeinated energy drinks with mega doses of vitamins aren’t what I’d call healthy, but on the bright side they promise heart palpitations and the ability to devote yourself to 72 hours of “Accounting, Theory and Practice.” When you do crash, you’ll feel like road kill, but what is college if not accepting pain and pissing copper?
To evaluate the virtues and demerits of five popular energy drinks, I formed a taste-testing panel of two friends and, well, me. Mike Chunat works a vaguely defined job in boxing promotion and makes shifty faces whenever exposed to direct sunlight. Justin McCargar locates utilities, rages against the machine and heads a household unhealthily devoted to the intricacies of cacti. With the experts thus assembled, it was time to commence with the self destruction.
The energy drinks, all bought from my local mini-mart, were Rockstar, sugar-free Red Bull, Monster, Blue Agave-Blue Demon Full Throttle and BooKoo Wildberry Shot.
First and worst to my taste, Rockstar divided the panel. Fecal metaphors rose from the crowd only to mingle with confessions of true love. Sold in a 16-ounce can for about $2-$3 and decorated by the same advertising company responsible for all the pornographic magazine covers in history, Rockstar has a wide following among drunken dance-clubbers. It is indeed rare to go without Rockstar when viewing the jiggly butt dancers and metallic shirt enthusiasts of the world,
McCargar thought Rockstar took a highly cultured palate to enjoy.
“It has a sour, bitter, sweet taste,” he said. “I love it, not that someone of your low social status would know.”
Lowly scribe that I am, I thought it tasted like a sugary penny. Yes, I tasted a penny to make sure. Chunat described it as dung lightly sprinkled with generic-berries.
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the worst:
Next on our list was the grizzled old veteran of energy drinks, Red Bull. Just to make sure everything looked unfair and biased, I bought a sugar-free version (8.3 ounces for about $2-$3).
Maybe the missing calories are why it got comparatively sedate reviews. I thought it had a generic mixture of bitter, sour and sweet, while Chunat also labeled it as average. McCargar said it reminded him of Rockstar but without the bitterness.
Divisive, popular Monster is perhaps the ultimate college caffeine bomb. It cost roughly $2.50 for 16 ounces and makes you feel like Ken Block whenever you get in your 32 year old Fiesta.
“It’s like fruit punch Kool-Aid without enough water added in,” said Chunat.
McCargar didn’t like it as much, calling it carbonated baby medicine. I thought it tasted like blackberries, but that’s because my tastebuds were melting off at the time.
Full Throttle Blue Agave-Blue Demon comes in a racy-looking blue can, complete with flames and gothic script, which means everyone will gasp and say “wow, (s)he’s so edgy” whenever you enter a room. It’s huge, 16 ounces, and yours for about 2 bucks.
“It tastes like rotten blueberries,” said Chunat.
McCargar had kinder words for it.
“It’s smooth and has a lot of berry taste,” he said.
The blueberry taste is so faithful, it even captures that slightly bitter powdery taste of real blueberry skin, which is weird since it’s supposed to taste like agave. It’s better with the carbonation shaken out.
Take a Shot
Next up is BooKoo Wildberry Shot. This small can of death, only 5.75 ounces for $1.25-$2, proved one of the most popular energy drinks on our panel.
“That’s pretty good,” McCargar said. “It tastes like carbonated Gatorade or maybe a bit like sparkling cider.”
Chunat reserved one of his least scathing reports for BooKoo.
“It tastes like bitter, crappy Red Bull,” he said.
BooKoo was deemed the victor in this contest of super stimulants, mostly because I’m the writer, I like it best and I’ll cheat if I damn well want to.
Buzzability: 3.0 (likely due to its small serving size)
As for these drinks’ effects on us, Chunat was visibly shaking after five minutes, McCargar drummed the entire discography of the Beegees and I stayed up until 6 a.m. reading a trivia book. Just hope it works that well for Accounting 101.
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