Up All Night: The Energy Drink Taste Test
My cat got in on the taste test, too.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
It's not that I have a death wish or am a glutton for punishment. I'd been intending to taste test energy drinks for nearly a month now, but I kept putting it off because, quite frankly, I didn't want to do it.
Then this past weekend, two people on two separate occasions asked me my thoughts on energy drink flavors. "She knows about food and wine and stuff," each person seemed to be thinking. "Perhaps she can break down the subtle nuances in Red Bull for me."
To be honest, I have no idea what they put in Red Bull to make it taste so
crappy unique, but as a non-coffee drinker (I prefer tea) I understand the need for a pick-me-up beverage sans beans every now and then.
So I'm doing this. I've been to three gas station convenience stores and a Walgreens looking for different varieties of energy drinks, and while I found most shelves oddly empty, I was able to procure an assortment for my tasting pleasure.
I divided the cans and bottles I gathered into three groups: Classic, Silver Edition and Random. Very scientific. Classic constitutes the first wave of energy drinks to get popular in the early- to mid- 2000s. Silver Edition are the frequently zero-calorie, zero-sugar drinks that are offshoots of the classic drinks. Random is exactly what it sounds like.
Here goes. If you don't hear from me tomorrow, it's because my heart exploded.
5-hour Energy Pomegranate 4 calories per 1.94 ounces Thoughts: This much concentrated energy scares me. Observations: Smells like cherry chapstick (wax and everything); not carbonated; tastes like highly concentrated, super sweet strawberry juice mixed with nail polish remover Bottom Line: Would not drink, ever, unless my life depended on it, and even then maybe not.
Red Bull Original 110 calories per 8.4 ounces Thoughts: Do people actually drink this without hard liquor? Observations: Doesn't smell like much; slightly carbonated; tastes like baby powder mixed with watered down cranberry juice Bottom Line: Would only drink if it was mixed with vodka and I was already drunk.
Monster Energy Original 110 calories per 8 ounces Thoughts: I used to drink these in high school, and I even thought they were bad back then. Observations: Smells like chemicals; slightly carbonated; tastes like Mt. Dew mixed with grape cough medicine Bottom Line: Would not drink unless I magically got transported back to high school.
Amp Energy Original 110 calories per 8 ounces Thoughts: I know not a single person who drinks Amp. Observations: Smells like cheap lemon-lime soda; very slightly carbonated; tastes exactly like it smells--cheap lemon-lime soda, emphasis on the artificial lime flavor that coats your teeth Bottom Line: Would not drink except to keep from getting scurvy on a 15th century sail to the New World.
Nos High Performance Energy Drink 160 calories per 12 ounces Thoughts: NOS comes from "Nitrous Oxide Systems," which is not something I want to ingest. Observations: Smells good and nostalgic, like Sunny D; carbonated; tastes like citrus or Tang mixed with Sprite Bottom Line: Would drink. This story continues on the next page.
Red Bull the Silver Edition 110 per 8.4 ounces Thoughts: Aren't all silver drinks supposed to be calorie free? Observations: Doesn't smell like anything; carbonated; tastes like poison with an aftertaste of even worse poison (in terms of actual flavors, I'm gonna go with rancid tonic water mixed with spearmint and rosemary with a hint of artificial citrus) Bottom Line: Would rather sleep forever than drink this.
Rockstar Pure Zero Silver Ice Zero calories Thoughts: No one ever has original Rockstar anymore (insert Elvis joke?), only this crap. Observations: Smells like Sprite; carbonated; tastes like orange juice from concentrate mixed with Sprite and Squirt Bottom Line: Would drink only if I was really craving something sweet and wanted to drink it instead of eat it.
Monster Energy Zero Ultra Zero calories Thoughts: I like the slightly textured can Observations: Smells like Squirt soda; carbonated; tastes like anything that's blue raspberry flavored, which is not the worst thing in the world Bottom Line: Would drink and (I'm ashamed to admit) have done so when I didn't have time to stop at a coffee shop for tea.
Mountain Dew Kickstart Orange 80 calories per 16 ounces Thoughts: Isn't Mountain Dew caffeineated enough? Observations: Smells like fake orange juice; very slightly carbonated, as if the carbonation will mask the bad flavor; tastes like watered down, too-sweet Sunny D Bottom Line: Would drink after I squeeze some actual citrus juice into it.
U Force Cherry Limeade 10 calories per 8 ounces Thoughts: This is super cheap because it's the Valero brand, and that appeals to the spendthrift in me. Observations: Smells like cherry cough syrup; carbonated; tastes like cherry cough syrup at first but then mellows into an almost Sonic Cherry Limeade flavor, if Sonic made their drinks with way too much syrup Bottom Line: Would rather drink Sonic Cherry Limeade and be tired.
Vitamin Water Energy Berry Punch 50 calories per 11.5 ounces Thoughts: Doesn't Vitamin Water already make an energy water? What is this? Observations: Smells like blackberries...like the actual fruit; barely carbonated; tastes like cloyingly sweet fruit punch Bottom Line: Would maybe drink if I had no other option and wanted a fruit punch mustache.
Starbucks Refreshers Raspberry Pomegranate 90 calories per 12 ounces Thoughts: If you can't handle drinking Starbucks coffee or tea for energy, go back to bed Observations: Smells like fake raspberries; barely carbonated; tastes like those raspberry hard candies you get at fancy Italian restaurants Bottom Line: Would drink, but only if Starbucks was out of other forms of caffeine.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.