Vodka and Red Bull has been the choice of concert and club goers almost since it was launched in the U.S. back in 1997. With more than one billion cans sold worldwide every year, and a significant percentage of those mixed with booze, it was only a matter of time before enterprising liquor companies decided to spare us all the effort of mixing the two - bottling their own premixed energy drinks with varying amounts of alcohol.
For those who've never partaken of Red Bull and vodka or a “Liquid Viagra” - which consists of Red Bull and Jagermeister - the primary appeal of the drink is that while it delivers a buzz from its boozy 80-proof vodka cargo, it also provides an energetic kick from the healthy doses of guarana, taurine and caffeine, not to mention sugar, in the Red Bull. The combination is supposed to provide a pick me up in the wee hours of the morning, and keep anyone from sorority girls to B-list celebs on the dance floor until last call, or at least until they find a ride home.
But the new breed of premixed drinks has proven to be controversial, packaged in cans often easily mistaken for normal energy drinks that have no alcohol, meaning kids have been able to purchase them in several documented cases. This has lead to several suits brought by state attorneys-general and a number of major beverage companies discontinuing their product lines - including MillerCoors, which was forced to remove the caffeine and taurine from its Sparks energy drink, making it a much less electric drink.
Despite these issues, the category is going strong, with energy-infused alcohol coming in a huge array of forms - from malt liqueur spiked with guarana and caffeine to “fine cognac” or “premium vodka.” The bizarre names and flavors promise anything from the standard all-night rock star lifestyle to sexual prowess. As for whether they deliver on those promises, let alone taste good enough to down one or two post midnight, that's another question altogether - one our tasting panel set out to answer.
A:M White Citrus - Poured from a sophisticated curvy bottle with a stark white label that reads “Carpe Noctem” – Latin for ‘seize the night’ - and promising “floral and vanilla” notes with “a clean, smooth finish,” one might expect a sophisticated flavor to match. Instead, the golden liquor offers a chemical smell similar to Red Bull, but with a sugary flavor that seems more like Skittles, plus an extremely bitter aftertaste. Tasting the rainbow does have some benefits, however. The hefty dose of caffeine and taurine provide a good hour of hyperactivity before the high wears off. But at only 375mL, 10 percent alcohol by volume and the most expensive brand in the tasting at $5 a bottle, it's not a particularly good value compared to the competition when it comes to bang for the buck.
Four Loko Watermelon - By consensus the worst flavor, but most energy and alcohol than the other brands in the tasting, Four Loko offers up enough caffeine, sugar and taurine to keep even the laziest barfly bouncing around the club till dawn. The cans weigh in at a full pint and 12 percent alcohol by volume, so they have a significantly boozy punch - worth remembering when wobbling out the door after last call. Unfortunately, it tastes like melted watermelon Jolly Ranchers mixed with coffee, and smell like Bazooka gum – tough to stomach at more sober moments.
Joose Dragon Joose – By far the tastiest, it looks, smells and tastes just like someone spilled malt liquor in Welch's Grape Soda. While no one was really sure what this might have to do with dragons, it was fairly appealing nonetheless. Sweet, but with enough tang from the alcohol to balance the whole mess out, it seems better suited to a geeky night spent in a marathon Xbox session than a club or bar, but a pint of this at 9.9 percent alcohol by volume mixed with a strong serving of caffeine, sugar and guarana could negatively impact optimum Halo performance.
808 Fruit Blast – If anyone ever thought the bug juice served at summer camps would be so much better if it just had French cognac, vodka, and some bizarre creation called “fruit punch liqueur,” this is the stuff for them. Sure, it's a niche product, but targeting those with fond dreams of plastic cups filled with watery red liquid could be a way to stand out in the market. With slightly less chemical aftertaste and lower sugar content than many others, it's a decent concoction that delivers a lower hyperactive energy burst than Red Bull, but it makes up for it with an almost radioactive glow that it gives off in the glass from its unholy red tinge.