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There are dry spells: a week, maybe two, when no cases of energy drinks arrive at his door. But Dan Mayer doesn't sweat it. He knows that another energy-drink manufacturer will soon get in touch with him, ask for his address in Uptown, and then send a crate of its latest or newest or most extreme product in hopes that Mayer will review it. When you are the man behind the most popular energy-drink website in the world, the companies hawking the product make sure to stay in touch with you.
Today's drink is XYIENCE, "the official energy drink of the Ultimate Fighting Championship." In addition to samples of both the "xenergy clear" and "xenergy cran/razz" versions, XYIENCE has sent Mayer a T-shirt as well as an ultimate-fighting magazine. He throws these items in the kitchen closet where he keeps all of the shwag: hats, T-shirts, magazines, fliers. Decorative cans are displayed around the kitchen, and his fridge is already full of energy drinks he has yet to taste, with names like "Red Line" and "Blackhole."
Mayer cracks open a can of xenergy clear and sips, then sits on the couch as the taste settles over his palate. Generally, he likes to sample the energy drinks with a couple of friends so that he can gather several opinions, but there are times when he imbibes alone, occasionally chasing the test drink with a beer or two to bring him down from an energy high.
"This tastes like Sprite that uses a fake sugar substitute," he says immediately. "I guess more like Diet Sprite than anything. I'm sure that's the taste they're going for. If you like Sprite but want more of a kick, then you'll probably enjoy this. My review will go something like that."
Mayer then samples the xenergy cran/razz and cringes in disgust.
"I've never liked the taste of cranberry," he explains. "In my reviews, if there is any drink that has cranberry in it, I make sure to write the disclaimer that I can't stand the taste of cranberry and so I cannot give the best review of the drink. Then I'll write something like, 'But if you like cranberry and blah, blah, blah.' Me, personally, I hate it."
Now Mayer waits. To assess any energy drink accurately, you must allow time for the drink's effect to creep over you, to feel the tingly sensation of the caffeine reacting with your body.
"I've always been really sensitive to caffeine," Mayer says, "which I suppose is ideal for reviewing energy drinks."
He checks the inbox of www.bandddesigns.com/energy/, which has become so prominent that when you Google "energy drinks," this is the first web address that appears. He notes with satisfaction that four more companies will be sending him cases of product this week alone.
In the three short years since he created the site, the 24-year-old Mayer has become one of the world's foremost energy-drink experts -- so much so that when he writes a bad review of a drink, companies will send more cases urging him to reconsider, suggesting that he just received a bad batch. And there are always more companies sending cases of new energy drinks to his apartment, eager for his opinion. But with a Los Angeles entrepreneur poised to produce an energy drink completely of Mayer's creation, his hobby of sucking down drinks with buddies and blogging about it is poised to get a lot more serious.
"I remember a time growing up when a good night meant a sleepover, a twelve-pack of Mountain Dew and renting a video game," says Mayer, recalling those nostalgic days of late-'80s/early-'90s Americana, when technology and caffeine melded so seamlessly in basements across the country. But while Mayer would partake in the occasional soft-drink binge, it would leave him bouncing off the walls.
"I get it from my mom," he explains. "She can't drink caffeine any time after noon or she'll be up all night. I'm kind of the same way. Outside of sleepovers and stuff, I never drank soda. I wasn't one of those kids who drank two or three a day."
Besides, he didn't need the extra boost. A self-described "hyper kid," Mayer was always playing outside with his friends, kicking a soccer ball around or goofing off on Lake Springfield near his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Pretty much the only time he sat still was when he was looking at a computer screen.
"I started getting into computers young," he remembers. "Playing video games on the computer -- Carmen Sandiego and war games and stuff. Pretty soon I was fixing the family computer when it broke."
And then came the Internet.
"When I first heard about the Internet, I was probably around thirteen," Mayer says excitedly. "And I remember thinking, 'Anyone in the world can read my thoughts? That's the coolest thing I've ever heard!'"
He immediately set up his first website, a one-page drawing of Calvin and Hobbes with a caption bubble that read, "This is so cool, you know who I am!"