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February 7, 2005 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Red Bull Gives You Wings! But not if you're a rat. If you're a rat, it makes you suddenly jump in your cage and mutilate yourself. Or at least, the taurine it contains does. The CBC has put together a ridiculously in-depth analysis of Red Bull looking at everything from the ingredients to the approval issues to the cultural impact the "energy drink" has had. The beverage has it's share of supporters and detractors, and the story is nothing new, so is there any legitimate concern about its effects, or is this viral marketing gone mad? Regardless, it looks like they'll soon have some serious competition.
posted by loquax (47 comments total)
Check your canned cat food label. Taurine!
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 12:56 PM on February 7, 2005

The Economist had a nice profile on Red Bull and the fellow behind the brand, Dietrich Mateschitz.
WHEN he launched Red Bull, a sweet and tangy energy drink in a slim silver can 15 years ago, Dietrich Mateschitz wrote a new chapter in marketing history. The Austrian entrepreneur not only created a new beverage category: the global market for energy drinks now doubles every year. His gut feel for branding made Red Bull a global cult drink, with euro1.4 billion ($1.3 billion) of sales last year.
posted by euphorb at 1:10 PM on February 7, 2005

I feel tired, I drink a Red Bull, I don't feel tired. Well, half the time I'm tired because I'm slightly dehydrated or my blood-sugar is low, and drinking a glass of OJ will have the same effect.

Of course, I haven't had more than a few energy drinks at a time, nor have I had them with alcohol, like the kids do nowadays. And Jolt Cola doesn't work on me. But maybe someone else in here has felt effects from energy drinks?
posted by Triplanetary at 1:15 PM on February 7, 2005

Check your canned cat food label. Taurine!

Isn't taurine of those necessary amino acids? I dimly recall reading in the '80s, when plenylalynine was the "scary" amino acid (they used it in OTC diet pills IIRC), that it's not so much any particular amino acid that's dangerous but having an unbalanced excess of a particular one. True? False? (Please help MeFi be an educational resource!)

Anyway, it's the mix of caffeine, taurine, and that glucuronolactone stuff anyway, right? I can do five times that much caffeine, even crushing and snorting No-Doz, and I don't mutilate myself.
posted by davy at 1:28 PM on February 7, 2005

Oh like jumping up and down in a cage and mutilating yourself is suddenly a bad thing?
posted by xmutex at 1:29 PM on February 7, 2005

I had a Red Bull once, then I went and worked out (this is not a Good Idea). It made me jittery and my heart pounded a bit too much. I've got low-normal blood pressure and usually drink a couple cups of coffee a day, so I wasn't expecting any effect. I didn't enjoy it, although I can see how someone might want to feel that way every so often -- it's more-or-less what the infrequent cigarette does to me, which I do enjoy.

A friend of mine ended his night a little early on Friday with a Red Bull and vodka; it went back out the "in" door. He says this combination often does that to him. I don't know why he keeps drinking it.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:29 PM on February 7, 2005

This is unfortunate. The CBC can usually be trusted to avoid this kind of health-issue fear-mongering.

I was particularly disappointed with this little sidebar about the potential danger of mixing Red Bull and alcohol. Be careful out there, kids - better to stick to something safe like rye and Coke. Or an Irish coffee.
posted by gompa at 1:34 PM on February 7, 2005

Here's a quick peculiar story:

My sister decided that she wanted to make some candles out of soda cans. So, we went to the store and got several aluminium cans full of different things. Coke, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Monster, Red Bull, Starbucks' Doubleshot, Dr. Pepper, etc.

We emptied them all out and rinsed them with warm water. After we prepared the molten wax, we set the wicks and started pouring. Most of the cans behaved completely as one expects cans to behave... that is, they just sat there.

Except for the Red Bull. Pouring molten wax into the rinsed-out Red Bull container set it off on some very crazy fizzing, popping, and general jumping-around on the counter. We let it do whatever the hell it was doing for about two minutes, after which it eventually died down and stopped. Something just isn't right with that.

Curiously, the Dr. Pepper did the same thing, but on a much smaller scale (maybe two or three seconds of fizz-n'-pop).

Moral of the story: If you can't drown it quietly in molten wax, it isn't for eating.
posted by odinsdream at 1:34 PM on February 7, 2005

I prefer Rock Star, myself (the teeny-tiny Red Bull cans piss me off), but honestly, neither has much effect on me.
posted by LordSludge at 1:35 PM on February 7, 2005

Humans can synthesize taurine from other stuff. Cats can't, they have to get it from their diet.

You can get it from meat, and it can also be made synthetically.

The reason you see it on the ingredients for cat food is because the high heat used for processing most pet food destroys nutritional content.
posted by Vulpyne at 1:37 PM on February 7, 2005

When I was tabling in my college's student center to hand out copies of a journal I'm editor of, we were approached by a couple college-looking folks, who chatted us up for a little bit, took a copy of our journal, and then whipped around their messenger bags, which were bright blue and had a big Red Bull logo on them. I then noticed that their outfits were all the same blue, with logos on the shoulders. They're looking to engergize student events. Shudder.

A friend once described it as "nerd juice," reasoning that it is exactly what you would get if you liquified Nerds candy. Same taste.
posted by rustcellar at 1:42 PM on February 7, 2005

Caution: contains caffeine, sugar and placebo.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:45 PM on February 7, 2005

Oh wow, is it true there's cocaine in Coca-Cola?

posted by davy at 1:48 PM on February 7, 2005

Oh wow, is it true there's cocaine in Coca-Cola?

No. But it was true until 1929.

Styrofoam, however, is not made from kittens.
posted by gompa at 1:53 PM on February 7, 2005

gompa, I think that the CBC is outraged that someone's getting around the Canadian no-caffeine-in-anything-but-cola ruling. Because of this, I have to drink wispy Canadian no-caff Irn Bru, which is not a patch on the highly stimulant Scottish original.
posted by scruss at 1:58 PM on February 7, 2005

Keep in mind when you buy Rockstar (salon lk), you're supporting an a-hole and his a-hole son
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:03 PM on February 7, 2005

posted by corpse at 2:08 PM on February 7, 2005

And despite all its rage, it's still just a rat in a cage.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:10 PM on February 7, 2005

Full Throttle is basically ginseng infused Surge (which seems to have been withdrawn from the market). Nice flavor, but notice the 16 oz can is a TWO serving container...
posted by dwivian at 2:10 PM on February 7, 2005

I'd like some of that beer with candy in it, you know, Skittlebrau.
posted by papakwanz at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2005

Sparks? Hey, if you want to sell something that combines the twin demons boons of caffeine and alchohol, I'm your guy. But Sparks is just nasty.

I drink a fair amount of sugar-free Red Bull; I also occasionally stock up on TwinLab Energy Drink, which is also sugar free and loaded up with aminos. I also drink a lot of coffee and a lot of Morning Thunder.

A lot of people will tell you matter-of-factly that there is a "different form of caffeine" in yerba maté and guarana; I've been told by biologists that's not true, but I know that mate has a different effect on me from coffee, and the effect of a Twinlab or a diet Red Bull is similar to the effect of Morning Thunder (maté): It's not as pronounced, but it also lacks that jittery edge that I get with coffee -- and especially with dark roast coffees.

I've long believed that much of the perceived "stimulant" effect of coffee is due to the diuretics it contains. Maté doesn't have as much of a diuretic effect. So it could just be that energy drinks are giving you a purer experience of caffeine. Then again, my experience is not the same as yours, since I rarely consume anything caffeinated that also includes sugar, so I don't get the sugar hit.

Oh, BTW: I can absolutely believe that consuming unusually high levels of some amino acid might cause some odd mental effects. I know I managed to mess my own mind up pretty badly at one point, and I know believe that megadoses of choline and inositol were the cause.
posted by lodurr at 2:38 PM on February 7, 2005

This past month has been a jittery blur since I discovered Rip It, some Red Bull-knockoff that's sold in 16 oz. cans at my local party store for a mere 99 cents. Even better: they market a sugar-free version.

It's sorta the Faygo equivalent of energy drinks, I'm guessing.

I've only given it a quick glance, but seems to have a whole slew of energy drink reviews for caffeine-heads like me.
posted by joe lisboa at 3:23 PM on February 7, 2005

for me it tastes so bad that I only had half a can about ten years ago. a friend of mine quite likes it but red bull seems to have an embarrassing side effect on his system -- after drinking the potion he starts letting off an appalling series of ripping, horrible farts
posted by matteo at 3:53 PM on February 7, 2005

matteo... hee hee hee hee.

Being a Canadian I sincerely hope that this story is a non-starter and nobody starts trying to ban Red Bull again. I was reduced to buying the shady under-the-counter at-the-vietnamese-store stuff until Red Bull was officially allowed to be sold here. Maybe once every two months I'll go on a vodka and red bull bender...

posted by anthill at 4:15 PM on February 7, 2005

lodurr: At last there's an alternative to Sparks: B^E.

"Contemporary adults thirst for variety and what's new."
posted by cloeburner at 4:21 PM on February 7, 2005

Just want to say that this is one heck of a good post. Thanks, loquax.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:27 PM on February 7, 2005

Holy energy drink!
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 4:57 PM on February 7, 2005

My friend came back from Prague a couple years ago singing the praises of Semtex.

Very interestingly enough, the company that makes this energy drink also makes--yep, you guessed it--plastic explosives.
posted by zardoz at 5:17 PM on February 7, 2005

Red Bull saves my life on a regular basis. It's absolutely instant anti-tired. Add vodka and a splash of 7Up, and it's joy in a glass.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:23 PM on February 7, 2005

What I don't understand is that everyone is ragging on Red Bull and it's like for all its caffeine..

Coffee has freaking 200+ mgs of the stuff...

This is a bunch of fear-mongering, plain and simple.
posted by PissOnYourParade at 5:36 PM on February 7, 2005

This is a good post, thanks, loquax. I had just discovered the story on the CBC site myself earlier today, and was contemplating posting it. But I'm lazy so I'm glad you did it instead, and really really well. :)

I think the most interesting angle is the marketing issue. The Red Bull people in Vancouver telling people how to mix it with alcohol even though that's not an approved use? Getting in under health drinks? I have a real bug up my ass about regulatory issues and I am upset by products that scam the system and try to circumvent it. I acknowledge it's unfair, but I get even more upset by foreign products that do this. There's no respect for our system of laws and I find that frustrating, and I sort of knee-jerk wish Red Bull would get kicked out just for this crap.

Course, I don't get to drink caffeine anymore, so sometimes I have really violent reactions when I'm exhausted and everyone else is drinking it, damnit.
posted by livii at 9:05 PM on February 7, 2005

This AskMe thread on Red Bull contains replies by a former employee of the manufacturer.

I can't get why drinks with modafinil/adrafinil aren't developed and marketed for vigilance. Why is modafinil a controlled substance (Schedule 4)? And why isn't adrafinil scheduled (it metabolizes to modafinil)?
posted by Gyan at 9:11 PM on February 7, 2005

My personal experience is that if I'm really tired, and need to stay awake (eg long distance driving) - coffee makes me jittery but still tired, whereas Red Bull makes me feel properly awake. I can't even drink a whole can of it, just half is enough to do the trick. Last time I drank the whole can I was running up and down stairs like a loon for 3 hours afterwards. I try not to drink Red Bull very often, but it does the trick when I really need it.

P.S. Lodurr - WTH is Morning Thunder? It sounds like some kind of early morning bowel movement.
posted by Joh at 9:39 PM on February 7, 2005

I love RedBull's taste a lot...but can't drink it. Every time I do I get all jittery and nervous. I completely lose my concentration and I can't wait to get to baseline again.
posted by lorbus at 10:25 PM on February 7, 2005

I've had Red Bull in the past, but I'm more of a fan of Rock Star and Monster, myself. Rip It is good, too - cheap at Wal-Mart. All of those have lo-cal and/or sugar-free versions, as well, and I stick to those , usually. You cannot taste the difference at all.

It definitely helps with my energy levels. However, another reason is because I'm not a alcohol drinker, so it's a good non-alc alternative for me. I'm surprised more bars don't sell the stuff - with the prices on those things, I've got to think the profit margins wouldn't be bad. Besides, you kind of feel stupid ordering a Coke in those places, anyway.
posted by Leege at 10:46 PM on February 7, 2005

WHEN he launched Red Bull..Dietrich Mateschitz wrote a new chapter in marketing history. The Austrian entrepreneur...created a new beverage category

I was under the impression that Red Bull was a Thai drink.
posted by the cuban at 2:05 AM on February 8, 2005

Ugandan Discussions: WTF?

the cuban: it was, but Mateschitz invented the Red Bull branding and sold it worldwide.
posted by grouse at 2:55 AM on February 8, 2005

Kabbalah energy drink? There's a concept.

Red Bull tastes horrid, to me anyway, a bit too sweet and pink and I say no thanks to the "Lady Boy" (which the red bull and Vodka combo is called). My picker-upper is Jolt Cola when I can get it, as I don't get that "perk" from a red Bull. All my friends do mind you, but I've been known to fall asleep ten minutes later. I must be immune.
posted by dabitch at 3:31 AM on February 8, 2005

Mateschitz invented the Red Bull branding and sold it worldwide

I give him that, but to say he 'created a new beverage category' is pushing it a bit, wouldn;t you say?

Genki drinks have existed for a long time (cf Coke, Laudunum).
posted by the cuban at 4:15 AM on February 8, 2005

I would just like to say that I despise the red bull tv adverts more than any other in the universe. Oh god... those voices and the animation and the stories!! I really would like to cause serious pain to whoever is responsible.

Also, I have a red bull icon on the main screen of my nokia phone that I just can't get rid of (someone else downloaded it there years ago).

Thus, Red bull does nothing but dent the joy of my existence. I say, take every can and fire them into the sun.
posted by leibniz at 6:18 AM on February 8, 2005

WTH is Morning Thunder? It sounds like some kind of early morning bowel movement.

Morning Thunder is one of Celestial Seasonings' flagship products: A blend of Yerba Maté and an English Breakfast style black tea. I discovered it in high school, and have been drinking it for almost 25 years by now. It actually tastes good, too; I can't claim to be a tea afficianado, but it seems to me that black teas don't get as bitter as brown or green teas, and maté doesn't get bitter at all. I like to mix it with red tea; that way I can fantasize that I'm doing something healthy....
posted by lodurr at 7:33 AM on February 8, 2005

Personally, I would love nothing better than to take this to a discussion about branding, since the concept (and the fact that people believe in it so strenuously) fascinates me. But alas, I must get work done; I'm only getting paid for billable time, now, and I do have to pay the cable modem bill...
posted by lodurr at 7:38 AM on February 8, 2005

I just got here and I wanted to thank dirigibleman for brightening my day. I had to wipe off the keyboard.
posted by exlotuseater at 7:53 AM on February 8, 2005

Well, half the time I'm tired because I'm slightly dehydrated or my blood-sugar is low, and drinking a glass of OJ will have the same effect.

I'll second that. My cure for those afternoons where I'm practically falling asleep are a 20 oz. Gatorade + a caffeine tablet. Always works for me.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:13 AM on February 8, 2005

I'm a big fan of Bawls *snicker*.

It only tastest half as crappy as red bull and for some reason works a lot better on me. And doesn't give the high jitters like red bull does.

But then, I drink A LOT of coffee, so YMMV.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:43 AM on February 8, 2005

It's sorta the Faygo equivalent of energy drinks, I'm guessing.'re a good guesser, it's acually made by the same company - National Beverage Products. We sold this at a dollar store I used to work at. I think it tastes better and works at least as good for less.

And why isn't adrafinil scheduled (it metabolizes to modafinil)?

These are the people that have cannabis in Schedule I and methamphetamine in schedule II, please don't expect them to make any sense.

A lot of people will tell you matter-of-factly that there is a "different form of caffeine" in yerba maté and guarana

Yerba mate contains a mixture of xanthines including caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. The claim generally is that yerba mate contains mateine, "a stereoisomer of caffeine", but caffeine has no stereoisomers. Most people think that mateine=caffeine. Florida International University studied yerba mate and found that it contained only minimal amounts of caffeine, so the stimulant effects are probably due to the combination of the different xanthines. See Wikipedia.

lodurr - You didn't think mate was bitter? I drank it out of a bombilla (which ends up being about 1:1 water to mate) and I thought it was really bitter. How much mate did you use? It could've been the quality of the yerba mate I got, too - it was in a box.
posted by nTeleKy at 1:27 PM on February 8, 2005

nTeleKy, late getting back, but: I've only ever had mate at that concentration once, and I don't remember thinking it was bitter. The stuff I get if I drink it straight is Guyaki, in bags, which is rather pleasant-tasting, actually. Maybe it's something to do with smoke-curing -- the stuff in Morning Thunder is also smoke-cured.

Anyway, it would be hard for it to be more bitter than green or brown tea. As someone who started drinking strong straight unsweetened brown tea (i.e., Lipton, Salada etc) in high school to stay awake, I have a high tolerance for bitterness in my beverages, so YMMV.
posted by lodurr at 12:29 PM on February 11, 2005

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