A common avenue for conservative commentators seeking an escape from politics is wine criticism. One thinks of Roger Scruton, Kingsley Amis, Roger Kimball and other such sophisticated, cultured men for whom even refreshment is a serious business. Millions of words have been spilled on wine criticism, though, and in the service of a drink a normal man only enjoys when he has finished work and has no need to drive. Who speaks for, say, the chilled caffeinated drink?
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world,” said Hemingway. The same could not be said of energy drinks, perhaps, but then the same could not have been said of Hemingway. Our moveable feast is a varied one, and each element deserves attention. Why should so-called soft drinks be excluded from the wily critic’s attention?
So it is that early on an autumn morning, when even the air seems exhausted, this half-awake reviewer endeavors to assess the leading energy drinks on the market. This is a matter of both taste and efficacy. What energy drink, I ask myself, will aid an energetic think?
First, I open a Red Bull. The snap is music to my ears. Red Bull is the Galileo of energy drinks. The Elvis. It “gives you wings,” promises the marketing. A bull with wings? Very curious.
The carbonation of Red Bull is not especially striking. This slumbering reviewer welcomes a little more vivacity in that opening gulp. Still, it has a rich, full-bodied taste, with notes of citrus and a honeyed flavor reminiscent of the cough syrup mother would feed you when you were — or pretended to be — ill. (Such nectar it was. Calpol I yearn for you.)
The drink improves with every sip, and the final splutter as the can yields its remaining drops is disappointing. A 250ml energy drink? Like a two ounce steak. Enough to whet your appetite. Not enough to leave you satisfied.
To the fridge, my friends. A marching band is striking up a song within this eager critic’s veins as he opens a can of Bang. Well, the drink certainly promises explosiveness. But will it be a bomb or a damp squib?
Allow the grizzled critic a brief digression. Energy drinks, for the uninitiated, must be cooled — chilled, indeed, to the point of freezing. A lukewarm energy drink would be like a damp cigar, or a single malt whisky mixed with day-old dishwater. It would, in other words, not just be unpalatable but also a tragic waste. Pop it in the fridge and give it time. The waiting might be painful, but it is worthwhile.
Bang, properly prepared, erupts in the mouth with hints of orange, lemon and lighter fuel — a combination that evokes the experience of eating a fresh fruit salad on a hot runway as a plane takes off behind you. It is marvelously enjoyable. Again, though, the little can is a cruel seductress. A peck upon the cheek and it is gone.
Ants are storming through the genial reviewer’s arteries as he turns to the third and final energy drink. The day, once cramped and dark, feels as expansive as the universe. Birds are singing. Planes are soaring. Fireworks are going off. (This humble reviewer pauses to check his pulse. Are we approaching the three-figure mark? Not quite. But what if we were? Biomarkers are all about perspective. A score of one hundred to a cardiologist? Concerning. A score of one hundred to an opening batsman on the first day of a test at Lords? Cause for celebration!)
The final can is Monster Energy — not the black-and-green original but the white sugar-free alternative. Here, we are not playing with the kiddie stuff. No, a Monster is a grown adult: 500ml. The can is tall and elegant — a pale Lauren Bacall, with all of her temptations. It whispers lovely promises of taurine and ginseng.
This reviewer claims no neutrality. This is a masterpiece. Every element you want from an energy drink is there. The bubbles hit the spot. The sweetness and the citrus are balanced like the hints of fruit and tea in a fine Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial. Yes, to sip this beverage is to be transported on a roller-coaster of ambitions. It is to feel blessedly alive.
Wagner fills the air. A flight of the chemicals must be taking place as sodium citrate and L-carnitine flood my system. Now, your half-mad critic feels like he has snorted half of Colombia. My pupils are the size of footballs. My heart is beating hard enough that it makes John Bonham look like an emaciated schoolboy. Struggling up from my desk, I reel across the office and out into the corridor.
More! I crave more. Rockstar? NOS? Burn? Give me whatever. If it is cold, carbonated and caffeinated then I’ll willingly inject it into my veins. As your maniacal critic roams the Spectator offices, he bursts into a room where two distinguished writers are drinking.
“Hm,” one of them says, “Do I detect a note of vanilla?”
“Absolutely,” says the other, “And a whisper of raspberry?”
“Is it — caffeinated?” I ask.
They turn around and inspect me with the enthusiasm of two immobile Australians inspecting a croccodile.
“No, dear boy,” says one, “It’s wine.”
Whine. The new energy drink. Whine, like a falling bomb. Whine, like the engine of a car being accelerated. Lurching forward, your thieving critic pulls the bottle from their hands and takes a gulp. Nothing. No carbonation. No bitter kick of caffeine. Just a light, delicate, refreshing hint of — “Hm, yes,” I say, “It is raspberry.”
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s January 2022 World edition.