The Energy Drink Hoedown

ubjected myself to a grueling energy-drink marathon last week and am still only at 60% of my usual typing accuracy thanks to my shaking hands and this evidently-not-going-away-anytime-soon throb within the vitreous of my eyes — I mean just look at an excerpt of an entry I wrote while in the midst of the taste-tests: “99999999999999 33333 9999999999 33 99999 393” — then here come the hallucinated insects, the tunnel-vision, the blood trickling from every orifice including ones you might not even think of at first, like pores, and — sorry but I’ll just come right out and say it — pee-holes.

I’m tempted to blame the horrific taste of Red Bull on the fact that it’d been sitting in my refrigerator for almost two years because ’round about Labor Day Weekend ’01 I bought two cans to mix with some aqua vitae since that’s what all the rock stars were doing back then but if memory serves, which I bet it totally can’t in this instance, I made it through maybe half a can — these are petite cans, you know, which is a psychological marketing effect to trick you into thinking that you’re bigger and burlier than usual, i.e., the energy drink is already working its magic before you even crack it open — maybe half a can before saying: Look, I don’t care how energetic and drunk this makes me because drinking this filth is like sucking on dirty sweatsocks that’ve been soaked in hate and dead squirrel.

But following it up with Mountain Dew-branded Amp is what really jumpstarted my own private gotterdammerung with its flavor that at first made me think, distantly, of the Shirley Temples I enjoyed as a lad (a maybe ironic aside is that I was not allowed to have Roy Rogerses, which was the Coca-Cola-laced alternative to the Temple, because it would make me too hyper), said nostalgia being the last fleeting moment of happiness before Amp went to work on my guts and my brain, not energizing at all but enervating the shit out me, sucking my soul dry and spitting out the dry husk of my wracked and thrashed body, making me totally unable to be a team-player and on-message in a spectacularly mediocre meeting at work, my consciousness ghostly and effete until a co-worker handed me some kind of bacon-cheese-egg breakfast thing that made my heart seize up but at least brought me back from the abyss of madness and psycho-social paralysis.

SoBe’s Adrenaline Rush tasted sort of like Orangina and had no discernible effect aside from maybe making me even thirstier than I was before I drank it.

Johnny’s Roadside Extreme Flavor Lemon Iced Tea

I am all over any drink that boldly declares “Extreme Flavor”, “Product of Canada” and “Contains 0% Juice.” Always and forever. See my stomach frown and nod as if to indicate “It’s true. He does, and it makes me oh so sad.” as I reach eagerly for a bottle of Johnny’s Roadside Extreme Flavor Lemon Iced Tea.

(For some reason I want to refer to it as Johnny Roadside’s, not Johnny’s Roadside. Johnny’s by the roadside, fixing up the medicine.)

The “Extreme” is that this is a thick, heavily-brewed tea. It’s really angrily robust and tastes as though it’s been sitting out, steeping all day long in your grandma’s dusty parlor, where you sit eyeing the candy in the sucker dish, wondering how old it is. The “Lemon” is actually citric acid; it’s strange that they brand the product “lemon iced tea” because there’s really no lemon flavor to it at all, just the really acrid bitterness caused by the acid.

I would have loved this drink in high school. My friends and I were typical bored suburbanite teenagers, creating games based on dares to pass the evenings. We drank syrup of ipecac and maced each other just to see how it felt. We played Flour Football (you and your opponent stand at opposite ends of the biggest room in the house, simultaneously heaving unopened sacks of flour granny-style, as high and hard as you can, at each other. The object is for you to each catch the flours so that they don’t explode all over the floor, but it’s difficult to throw and catch accurately after a few beers.) We spent hours sitting around the kitchen table, daring each other to eat or drink the grossest things in the pantry. (“I’ll eat a table spoon of dog food if you eat half a stick of butter and a big glass of Clamato.”)

The way that Johnny’s Roadside Lemon Iced Tea felt like it was melting through my stomach makes me think that it could definitely have played some small role in our sport.

But now, I’m older, and I have an inkling that it would best be used as a really thorough enema. I confess that I don’t know what liquids the best enemas are generally comprised of, but surely, Johnny’s Roadside would be near the top? I will leave it you to test out my hypothesis. I’m told you know a lot about enemas.

Snapple-A-Day Meal Replacement

Yesterday, instead of my normal lunch (whatever twigs and nuts I can scavenge from the bird feeder outside my cubicle window) I had one of them Snapple-a-Day Meal Strawberry Banana Meal Replacement beverages.

The question that I’m sure you’re asking right now is: Well, did it actually replace a meal?

The answer is: What am I, a scientist?

The problem, I realized afterwards, was that I never really committed to it.

One time at Speaker’s Corner in London I listened to this guy who was screaming at the top of his lungs about how if every single person on Earth simultaneously turned their faces away from the sky, the Universe would cease to exist. Drinking a meal replacement beverage is exactly like that.

If you’re going to drink a meal replacement beverage, you have to really believe that the beverage will be replacing a meal. Because after all, it’s just a smoothie with some extra carbs and vitamins in it, and smoothies have long been considered a lunch add-on, not a substitute-for. The large Coffee Mocha shake at Steak & Shake, now there is a fucking meal-replacement. That bitch will put you down for the count. It pummels your stomach into a broken mess and they leans over and yells: “….And stay down!”

11 ounces of strawberry-banana Snapple: not so much.

And so in hindsight what I should not have done is I should not have packed such a tasty-looking sandwich that morning. I should have just packed my bottle of Snapple-a-Day, and then spent the rest of the morning glaring at myself in the mirror, psyching myself up by shouting “You are going to drink the shit out of that juice and be totally sated!” while “Mama Said Knock You Out” blared in the background.

But I was all “just in case.”

All morning I was thinking: “Man I bet that sandwich is going to be good. Of course, I will most likely be so full from my meal-replacement beverage that I will have no use for the aforementioned mouth-watering sandwich of wonderfulness, and in fact probably even thinking about it will cause my stomach to convulse in terror. “No puedo mas!” my poor little spanish-speaking stomach will cry.
I felt that sandwich calling out to me in desparation from the refrigerator all morning. “Please avail yourself of me!” it cried (in English).

In the interest of plugging my stomach’s ear-holes to the cries of the sandwich, I busted out the Snapple-a-Day at 11:30 am. It tasted almost exactly like the Banana-Strawberry smoothie from Fresh Samantha. It had that chalky graininess. It was pretty good. It was pretty filling.

I ate my sandwich 20 minutes later, with little fuss or drama.

Fuze Mixed Berry Refresh

OK, Mister Fuze Shill, I picked up two bottles of this alleged fairy-nectar, allowing a tiny ray of hope to penetrate my blackened heart. I popped open the Agave Cactus Replenish (and after weeks of Snapple, it was sort of disconcerting to open a bottle without a plastic seal around the lid — I felt that Fuze did not have my safety as its top priority) early in the day, before life’s various and complex flavors tumbled into my soul, cluttering the purity of the experience.

My reaction was: slow nodding at the subtle, refreshing, unique flavor. Then: stroking my chin as I idly wonder if I’m maybe drinking some kind of all-natural hair gel. Finally: wishing I had some fresh spring water to wash away the subtle, unique aftertaste. In sum: serviceable, but isn’t life too short for “serviceable”? That is not a rhetorical question; my whole life has been spent consuming merely serviceable products — it’s part of my God-given right as an American — but maybe there’s more out there?

Or maybe the problem, as reader TC has repeatedly pointed out, is my alarming dependence on High Fructose Corn Syrup, which the Agave Cactus does not contain, instead opting for the dubious “Crystalline Fructose,” which I think is a) responsible for the aftertaste, and b) probably not even FDA-approved.

As for the second bottle, the Mixed Berry Refresh, I couldn’t get past the first sip. This was a “milk-based smoothie” which came as an unpleasant surprise since I was expecting something light and translucent, like the cactus. But Fuze’s dramatic, show-offy wrap-around label prevented me from seeing the cloudiness of the liquid within. I’ve got no problem with milk-based smoothies, certainly, but I reserve the term “smoothie” for something with at least a little ice involved somewhere. This stuff tasted exactly like Mixed Berry Yoplait, so the experience was like knocking back big healthy chugs of runny yogurt. I may or may not have been near tears by that point.

Still, I’m not writing off Fuze just yet. I’m intrigued by the Peach Mango “smoothie,” now that I’m ready for it, and maybe one of the teas, or that Orange-Carrot (which promises to improve my “focus”). I’ve yet to come across an Orange-Carrot that’s failed to deliver. Something.

Pibb Xtra

I am right now drinking a Pibb Xtra. I am doing this 100% for YOU, because I already had that Ovaltine this morning, and frankly I’ve been overdoing it on sugar lately and a soda is probably the last thing on Earth I need right now. But in group we’ve been talking about how sometimes there’s My Needs and then there’s The World’s Needs. Marco (he’s the facilitator) explained it all to me using the metaphor of a glass of water—like the Glass of My Needs is right in front of me and I’d barely even have to get out of my chair to take a sip, whereas the Glass of The World’s Needs is way over on the other side of the table, but that glass is cleaner and maybe the water has a slice of lemon in it, so if I actually got up out of my chair and walked around to take a sip of The World’s Needs I would find myself way more refreshed.

But like I explained to Marco, The Glass of My Needs contains my desire to take my neighbor’s yappy little poodle and put it up on the roof of the high school, and he was saying that the Glass of The World’s Needs is full of many things, such as dogs not liking to be on high school roofs, and high schools not wanting dogs on their roofs, and poodle-owners wanting their dogs to be on the ground at all times. And I was like But Marco, my glass is right in front of me and I really want to put the poodle on the roof of the high school and he said that maybe if I look again the Glass of My Needs is actually full of Peaceful and Legal Conflict Resolution Resulting from Open Conversation with my Neighbor about his Annoying Dog. And I just remember staring into the glass for a really long time as the room began to spin around me—the meds were really kicking in—but I think I managed to find a drop of Punching Marco in the Face deep down in my glass before they grabbed me from behind and dragged me back to my room.

So: about the Pibb Xtra that I’m drinking and which I want less than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life, ever. Here’s why I’m enjoying drinking it, and it’s the only reason: because I get to write a review that will smash your girly little hopes and dreams into oblivion.

Pibb Xtra is a scam. It’s not some Vin Diesel’d recharge of Mr Pibb, it’s just a rebranding ploy. If you have read claims that Pibb Xtra is an all new flavor, then hear this: they are confusing the issue with half-truths and gorilla dust.

What I think happened is Coca-Cola (purveyors of Mr Pibb) saw that Dr Pepper was releasing Red Fusion and they totally freaked like “Oh man how are we going to counter?” And the marketing guys were like “Dude I got nothing.” But then Tommy from Accounting was like “My son’s a fucking idiot, and he’ll buy any piece of shit that has the words “Xtreme Blastin'” in front of it. And the VPs were all “Dear Marketing Department: Please clean out your desks, there’s a new sheriff in town.”

I was never a huge fan of Pibb or of Dr Pepper, though. I think it all goes back to the time I was in London, and I noticed that while the Dr Peppers in the USA all say “natural flavors” on the side, in England they say “contains prune juice.” Which is just like, I’m sorry, what??? You’re making soda out of prune juice and not telling the American people? Don’t you think they’d want to know that?
So to sum up, Pibb Xtra Suxx, and Red Fusion retains its title as the best soda in the Dr/Mr genre.

Okay. Now I’m going to go back to crying about the new Liz Phair album. I’m so upset about it that a certain neighbor’s yappy dog will very likely end up on the roof of the high school tonight.

Coke/Pepsi Variants

I’m at the pet store this weekend picking up as many cans of cat food as I can carry, which you know is a lot, so I’ve got two teetering towers in each hand — wait, let me put it in Lord of the Rings terminology since that’s all you seem to understand these days: You know in Two Towers where there’s the evil tower Friskatus that stabs toward the sky like a charred skeletal finger and the good tower Fancifeastus that gleams like a +4 two-handed broadsword? And they totally fight each other until Fredo shows up and says, “STOP IT STOP IT I BEG THEE!!!” And then somebody around here, I’m not saying who but his initials are almost ELF, starts bawling and cheering and singing songs in actual orc-tongue?

Anyway, it’s like that and I notice a little fridge of soda near the checkout counter, and it’s sort of like they’re saying: “Hey! Precious Puss-Boots needs treats but so does her precious owner!!! :-)” So I grab me a Code Red and start chugging.

Mountain Dew Code Red, Dr Pepper Red Fusion, Pepsi Blue, Vanilla Coke, 7-UP’s dnL, Sprite Remix, Pibb Xtra … is there any major soft drink that doesn’t have some kind of variant in rotation right now? And aren’t they all pretty wretched? I mean, I’ve knocked back my fair share of Red Fusion but I think, when you get down to it, I like Dr Pepper so much that I’ll take the variant even though it’s kind of sketchy. That and the crappy deli near my house had a buy-one-get-one-free thing going with those for seriously like a year, which helped.

But my primary reaction to the Code Red was: This was completely assembled in a lab. Pure chemical. I mean, Mountain Dew is already pretty distant from any sort of natural flavor — like it doesn’t even pretend to be lemon-lime or whatever — but the addition of Red just pushed it into total synthetic territory. Which, I’ll admit, was sort of sexy.

Anyhow, here are my capsule reviews:

Code Red: I can feel its nanobots building cities of refreshment in my heart.

Red Fusion: Like Mary-Kate, it makes me wish for Ashley.

Pepsi Blue: My teeth hurt and I feel sad inside.

Vanilla Coke: Remember on Family Ties when Tom Hanks was an alcoholic and drank vanilla extract?

dnL: Lime Life Savers in liquid form, i.e., blecchy.

Sprite Remix: Avoided even though it’s in the office vending machine because you said it’s sort of pineapple-ish, which sounds awful.

Pibb Xtra: Never seen in the flesh but very eager to try. It sounds more like what I’d want out of a Dr Pepper variant: Dr Pepper +4. Dr Pepper raised to the power of Dr Pepper factorial or some shit.

Fuze Mojo Mango

On the day that same-sex marriages are legal in the United States, I’m going to ask the Fuze Corporation to be my husband. I will wear a Vera Wang dress with a princess waist. Entertainment at the reception will be provided by the lovely Miss Vinia Mojica. And on the honeymoon I will let Fuze tie me to the bed and have his tasty, juicy way with me.

This week I tried Mojo Mango. I really just wanted to have another go at the Agave Cactus, but in the interest of science, et cetera, I sallied forth to uncharted territory. Now: unlike you, I’ve had mango juice before. Straight-up it’s very sweet and thick and not really my favorite. I might even say “mucousy.” It’s great as a mixer, but not so great on its lonesome. So I wasn’t sure what I was in for.

But dang, man. Why did I even doubt. The good people at Fuze just get me, on a deep and wonderful emotional level. They make products that say: “Here. Here is the beauty you dream about every night but forget each morning with the rising of the sun. You forget because the dream is too lovely, and life is so painful. Wandering in the harsh light of day, searching for a flavor that only existed in your dreams, your soul would be torn asunder. But here. It is a new day. Come into our arms and let us hold you and rock you and slowly sing you awake.”

And so it was that I held the bottle aloft, tilted my head back, and a stream of beautiful and delicate little fairies flew into my mouth and gently bathed my tongue with their mango tears.

It was not too sweet. It was not too syrupy. I kept thinking: I’m going to wake up any second. No way is this real. Any minute now the alarm will ring, or the sky will turn into Cookie Monster and admonish me for not doing my homework, and I will know that none of this is real.

But nothing like that happened. When I finished drinking, I just stood there, blinking back the wonderment, and the little fairies hovered nearby, patiently awaiting my reaction. “Someone pinch me!” I said. And one of the fairies swooped down and in a little squeaky voice said “Rarrr!” before biting me on the knuckle with her little fairy teeth.

And I examined the teensy little bite mark on my knuckle, and I started laughing, and the fairies starting laughing, and we all just laughed and laughed and laughed.

Cochineal Extract

Had a Snapple Pink Lemonade recently. What’s the phrase I’m looking for. Pedestrian workmanship, maybe? Bursting with adequatulence? Like many Snapple flavors it’s no alarms, no surprises. I guess I like my juices a little more risky. It’s fine enough. Although halfway through drinking it I almost threw up and had to pull the car over.

I remembered that I shouldn’t be drinking pink beverages without reading the label. You’re an omnivore so you probably don’t care about things like this, but veggies like me live in fear of cochineal extract. Cochineal is a bug that is known for its red coloring. It’s commonly used in a juices and lipsticks. They live on cacti and they’re harvested, killed, dried out, pulverized, and then poured into the vats of whatever’s brewing. Ruby Red Grapefruit juice was the big culprit back in the day.

I still remember the first time I learned about this. In college, this girl I was hot for was in the Animal Rights group on campus. One time she came up to me and was like: “Don’t ever drink Ruby Red Grapefruit juice. It has cochineal extract in it.”

I was like: “What’s a cochineal?”

And she was all: “I don’t know, man, but it’s got a fused ganglia.”

That was as intimate as we ever ended up getting, but ever since then I’m on the lookout.

Cochineal is also known as carmine, so be advised. But lately I haven’t seen either used much. Pretty much all of the pink and red juices and sodas, Snapple Pink Grapefruit included, have switched back over to Red 40, which is what you want. Ruby Red doesn’t use cochineal anymore, to the best of my knowledge, but they use something called canthaxanthin. Canthaxanthin is actually still an animal product, common in pinkish animals like shrimp and flamingos. It can be harvested as well as created in a lab. It’s a gray area but I steer clear just to be safe. The idea of drinking a juice that is in any way connected to bugs or flamingos is grody. Have you ever smelled a flamingo? That’s not what I want to be thinking of mid-guzzle.

Jamba Juice

Dang, dude. Now I’m sitting here totally wanting a hardcore smoothie, like posthaste. As you know, I came of age in California, and I think the whole concept of an entire store devoted solely to smoothies really came of age in that state, too (as did the whole “wrap” sandwich shop phenom). And yet the only smoothie place I frequented was Jamba Juice, a franchise that was often found right next to Noah’s, a franchise bagelry — sort of like how Starbucks and the Gap appear in pairs, usually sometime during the night.

And even though I consumed my fair share of their smoothies, sinking so far as to speak aloud their embarrassing names like “Peach Pleasure” and “Boysenberry Bliss” and specifically requesting the Fiber Boost supplement to keep me regular, they really weren’t all that great. Or they would be great once in a while, but you couldn’t depend on it. Sometimes too icy, or too tart. Sometimes the Peach Pleasure was way too orange-y for some reason. Just flat-out B.S. like that.

Oh but one thing that was consistently great was their pumpkin smoothie, which was only available in the fall and was basically like drinking a nice, refreshing cup of Pure Autumn. Cool, atmospheric, tinged with sadness.

Why there aren’t more (or any?) make-your-own-smoothie places I’ll never know. I’m a big proponent of make-your-own-sandwich bars, too. But I mean, you could theoretically get your own high-end blender and make your own smoothies at home, but I don’t want to keep tons of ingredients on hand all the time. I want to walk into a store and see where my bitch-ass whim takes me, is that so hard to understand? Didn’t we just blow up Iraq to make the world safe for make-your-own-smoothie shops?

Fuze Agave Cactus

The convenience store near where I catch the bus in the morning has a really random selection of juices. One the one hand they get things like Sprecher’s, and they have five flavors of Snapple that seem to be chosen by someone wearing a blindfold (they have Go Bananas, but I’m the same about banana-flavored stuff; also grapeade and diet peach tea, but no regular tea, peach or otherwise; kiwi-strawberry, but no lemonade). And then they have Veryfine orange juice and grape juice. So you see my dilemma: I can either go totally pedestrian or totally wacked out; it’s not a real wide cross-section. So this morning I ended up with a Pepsi Blue, which you know I absolutely adore, but granted is maybe not the best thing to be drinking at 7:20 in the A.M. I mean I’ve still got the rest of the day to contend with.

Dream job: working for a major chain of supermarkets, deciding what juices and sodas to stock. I pound the pavement, seeking out the hot new beverages. I’ve got Nantucket Nectars on my speed dial. College girls in swimsuits stop by the office to drop off free samples and cajole me into choosing their product. Can I get a what what.

Last night, though. Oh man. I was at the crunchy granola supermarket and picked up a juice called Fuze Agave Cactus. You know how sometimes you buy a new album and you love it so much that you don’t want to even tell anyone about it? You just want to lock your door and stay in your bedroom all night, lying on the floor, reading the lyrics and liner notes, listening to the album over and over? It was exactly like that.

It didn’t taste like actual cactus much. (When I lived in Somerville there was a great mexican place down the street, and they put cactus in all their salads. It’s actually a really tasty vegetable.) It was non-carbonated, sweet but not thick. The slippery consistency kind of reminded me of Gatorade, but in a good way. It tasted almost lemon-limey with some orange highlights, but really I think we might be dealing with a new flavor phylum here: I don’t have the words for it.

I’m just really jazzed about it. Can’t wait to scoop up some more. I’m Joe Sincerity over here, hands to high heaven.