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The squad loading up on energy right before a busy Friday night. (Not shown: Sam had to make a pizza.)
The squad loading up on energy right before a busy Friday night. (Not shown: Sam had to make a pizza.)
Photo by Kate McLean

A Houston Bar Staff Tests an Assortment of Energy Drinks on One Night's Shift. Zoom, Zoom, Zoom.

Friday 4:15 p.m.

“Brian, can I use the staff as guinea pigs in an energy drink article I need to bang out.”

Brian Brossa, GM/Owner of this particular establishment, was in the middle of doing three things: scribbling down an addendum to the evening’s food features, nodding his head as a cook asked him for ticket printer tinta, and pulling out of his pocket a Home Depot baggie containing two screws, handing them to the dishwasher, Jonathan.  He paused. I waited.

“Sounds like fun, let’s do it.”

Though the restaurant industry is filled with hyperactive characters, energy drinks serve as slingshots into busy breakfast, lunch and dinner services.  For this experiment, as oppose to a side by side tasting, each participant would consume one energy drink and note the effects throughout the shift. Server Joseph Costin, who usually crushes Dr. Pepper, would be the constant and only consume water— and then I would drink a little bit of all of them, as well as an iced espresso beforehand.

A few variables include: some people hadn’t eaten all day and some were already on Adderall.

Server and business school student Zarina Kossakova, who had quickly studied the sugar content of each, polished stemware while saying, “I think Ashlyn is going to feel it the most, the Monster Maxx has the most sugar. Kylie won’t feel anything, hers (BANG) is only flavor and it’s low carb with creatine—the sugar is where the energy comes from.”

At approximately 5:15 p.m. eight energy drinks popped open and ten minutes later it was as if someone stepped on a fire ant hill.

Red Bull:

Ah, the Frank Sinatra of energy drinks. A classic. This Austrian upper set a high bar for the category in terms of flavor and intensity and has been doing so for more than 30 years. Red Bull vodka is pure rocket fuel when arriving late to the party dead sober after a work shift. Kossakova paired up with Red Bull and it was can-smash finished in less than five minutes. After the shift she remarked, "I felt like I had enough energy tonight, and I also felt dehydrated, I had to drink a lot of water because it was too sweet. It was helpful but I would rather not drink beverages with a lot of sugar."

An 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull contains 27 grams of sugar, 80 milligrams of caffeine, and 110 calories.

Red Bull The Orange Edition:

Red Bull’s new flavor scheme is a welcome twist to the acquired taste of the original bougie energy drink. Apart from the, gag, sugar free editions and not-even-going-to-try-it ORGANICS line, these tangy members are done well and go down easy. Tangerine, Coconut, Kiwi Apple—11 different flavors to choose from served up in a larger, 12-ounce serving. Dishwasher Jonathan Williams, who holds the most important job in the restaurant, chose this and finished it in a few long gulps before smashing the can and getting back to work. "It worked pretty good for four hours— energy all the way through— and then it wound down."

A 12 ounce can of Red Bull The Orange Edition contains 38 grams of sugar, 114 milligrams of caffeine, and 160 calories.

Monster:

Monster is the closest energy drink comparable to Red Bull. The bubbles are a little frumpier, it’s a little sweeter and lacks that tangy punch. Monster, however, is an industry favorite not only because of the wattage hours it provides, but because it’s A. cheaper and B. double the amount.  New hire Courtney Garbo liked the flavor, and is a Monster fan in general.  "I did feel energized, it made me feel a little bit bloated but overall not bad, I also did not completely finish it." She's going to be a good addition to the squad.

A 16 ounce can of Monster contains 54 grams of sugar, 160 milligrams of caffeine, and 210 calories.

Monster Maxx:

Monster Maxx is a smaller bullet than Monster, and tastes the same with the flavor addition of lemon-lime powder. Billed as “super dry,” I guess this makes it the brut nature of energy drinks—not really. Though the sugar content is on par with Red Bull, the caffeine content is much higher. Teenager and host Ashlyn Holly, who is high energy to begin with, remarked: "I'd say I had a little bit more energy, I didn't get as tired as I usually do, I spilled water on someone for the first time tonight, I don't know if it was because of that but..." Her dad sitting next to her added, "I live with Ashlyn everyday and she is usually chatty, but I would say she is more chatty now."

A 12 ounce can of Monster Maxx contains 38 grams of sugar, 180 milligrams of caffeine, and 160 calories.

Hiball:

Ding, ding, ding, in comes swishing a competitor for Red Bull. Hiball comes in different flavors like blood orange or lime, and with zero sugar, it actually tastes like a vodka soda. Loads of caffeine, no weird flavors, and tight bubbles, this personal favorite has the finesse and horsepower of a Ferrari 488 Pista in Nero Daytona. I want you. Brossa chose this one: "It made me feel like I was two servers short (he was two servers short.) I felt like I had a little bit of energy, it was clean, it was real clean. This is an energy drink that didn't make me feel dirty or sticky anywhere on my body."

A 16 ounce can of Hiball contains zero sugar, 160 milligrams of caffeine, and zero calories.

Rockstar:

The aptly named Rockstar is a festival favorite gunning for the rich, social-status obsessed millennial market—and it’s totally working. Rockstar has fleeting bubbles that burst into foam with notes of red fruit and butterscotch sweetness. College student and server Kwon Teimchaiyapoom remarked: "So after not eating at all today, and being up since eight in the morning, I feel great.  Usually after an energy drink I'm sleepy, but after this one, I pushed through the day and felt great."

A 16 ounce can of Rockstar contains 31 grams of sugar, 160 milligrams of caffeine, and 130 calories.

MTN DEW AMP GAME FUEL:

This Mountain Dew product goes hand in hand with an Ed Hardy long sleeve shirt and Nickelback CD. The fact that the product name is in ALL CAPS says everything: blow hole bubbles, synthetic sweetness; it’s as if they entered quarters at the gas station to use the bike pump air to carbonate. Sam Nichols, musician and prolific pizza master gave it one sip and then, per usual, bought a Coke instead. "This is a one star drink, I took one swallow and I knew the commercial lied. It tasted like Mountain-don't."

A 16 ounce can of MTN DEW AMP GAME FUEL contains 23 grams of sugar, 90 milligrams of caffeine, and 90 calories.

BANG:

Kylie Spence drew the short straw (my bad) and selected BANG. Clumsy bubbles with a mouth exploding in fabricated sweetness, “It’s sickingly sweet and does not taste good. Do I feel the BANG? Maybe,” she remarked at 6 p.m. At the end of the night she stated, "I'm going to give it a 6.5 out of ten, it tasted awful, it was way too sweet I like the fact that it was zero carb, zero calorie.  Energy: it was clean, I didn't feel jittery, I did have a coffee beforehand I don't know if that affected it."

A 16 ounce can of BANG contains zero sugar, 300 milligrams of caffeine, and zero calories.

WATER:

Joseph Costin, our constant, remarked on his experience with water: "I found it to be hydrating and a nice change to my normal poisoning of my body drinking Dr. Pepper's in copious amounts. I felt lighter, my energy level was nice and calm all the way through."

Water has zero sugar, zero caffeine, and zero calories.

By the time the open sign was yanked off at 10 p.m. the bar was already spotless, checkouts completed as Brossa played sitar music on the loudspeaker in an effort to relax the squad.

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