Longform

Pour It On

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"Red Bull was fortunate, because they came onto the scene at a time when consumers were starting to attach themselves to products that allowed them to feel a sense of discovery," Foote explains. "It was a move away from the bigger, corporate brands that you saw everywhere you looked."

Then energy drinks moved into bars. "In the U.S., energy drinks have mostly been promoted in take-home channels, at 7-Eleven, the supermarket," Foote continues. "But things really got crazy when they got into the on-premise market, the bars. In the past five years or so, that's when you saw this crazy increase in consumption."

From 2000 to 2005, the energy-drink industry grew more than 700 percent. New brands of energy drinks popped up every day. And Dan Mayer was ready to taste them all, from Full Throttle Fury to Atomic Lime Wrecker Fuel.


Even after he moved to Denver and got a job with a hardware, software and systems engineering firm here, Mayer wasn't about to abandon his college hobby.

"I never considered quitting," he says. "I was making money at that point, as well as doing a bunch of other sites. When I graduated, I kind of decided that I would only work somewhere if they were comfortable with me doing outside projects."

And there was still plenty of drinking to be done. Mayer added reviewers on both coasts, so that his site could immediately rate the new energy drinks that debut in New York or Los Angeles and take their time trickling down to Colorado. One of his reviewers eventually quit and started his own energy-drink site, but Mayer didn't mind. His traffic was still heavy.

By now, the energy-drink naysayers were coming out in force. Some merely disagreed with Mayer's opinions, as they told him in numerous comments posted under the reviews. But for many, the main point of contention was Mayer's recognition that people mix energy drinks with alcohol. And not only did Mayer recognize this, but he offered suggested mixes.

"The vodka Red Bull combination can be lethal," commented a Dr. Seth Jackson after Mayer's review of Red Bull. "Alcohol is a depressant, and the stimulants included in Red Bull (caffeine, etc., not to mention the addition of unstudied amino acids) can cause abnormal brain function. This is a very bad combination, and its use can only be attributed to those who seek this type of abnormal 'high.' Not a good deal. Don't do it. Red Bull by itself is bad enough, but the vodka addition should not be recommended for use."

"Red Bull killed my son Michael," a poster named Louise wrote. "He was 26 years old, very healthy, but he drank Red Bull and vodka and died a few hours later. Don't drink the stuff, it will kill you too."

"Those comments on the site made me realize that I needed to be aware of the effects this stuff can have on your body," Mayer says. "So I researched it and made sure it's okay. And the only incident I found that seemed to have any sort of legitimacy was this one kid who regularly had seizures, and he had a seizure that was triggered by drinking energy drinks. But that could have come from him staying up because of the energy drinks, from sleep deprivation. People need to treat these things like caffeine. It's like drinking a bunch of coffee: It's not necessarily the best thing for you."

One gray area involves taurine, a popular energy-drink ingredient. The subject of much urban myth -- for a while, the rumor was floating around that taurine was found only in bull's testicles -- taurine is an acidic chemical substance found in the tissues of many animals, including humans. It is considered an "amine," but not an amino acid in the biological sense. No extensive testing has been done on taurine, and because of that some drinks containing it have been banned in France, Sweden and Iceland.

"There really haven't been enough tests on it," Mayer says. "It clearly gives an energy boost, it increases your metabolism as well as your heart rate, but there is no research that talks about what this stuff does to your body in mass quantities. I'd be the ideal test candidate for that in twenty years. I just hope in a decade they're not like, 'Taurine is the new NutraSweet and causes cancer,' because I'd be screwed."

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Adam Cayton-Holland