Review: Red Bull

When you think about energy drinks, Red Bull comes to mind. After all, it owns the energy drink market with 42.6% share (2006 U.S. numbers per Beverage Digest). 2nd place is Monster, distant with only 14.4%. Red Bull really does have wings when it comes to sales!

Red Bull

Red Bull

So what is it that makes this drink so popular? Why is it sitting at the top of the energy drink mountain? Well, for one thing, it had a strong first-mover advantage, first being big oversees and pretty much inventing the energy drink sector. The drink is based on an original 1962 blend from Thailand known as “Krating Daeng”, but eventually was reformulated in Austria and released in 1987. While the origins are rather complex, it was originally devised as a “pep drink” and quickly found popularity with those who needed to stay up late (students, truck drivers, construction workers, etc.) Hence the slogan, “Red Bull Gives You Wings.” It wasn’t until 1997 that Red Bull hit the United States, being distributed internationally by Red Bull GmbH.

Today, Red Bull is a powerhouse, not only in sales, but in branding. When it first came out, it was considered “the” thing to be drinking. While PepsiCo‘s Amp may have its name on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR vehicle, Red Bull actually is the name of two soccer teams! (FC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and Red Bull New York in the U.S.) The brand is heavy into sponsorship of Formula One teams and various extreme sports.

Originally marketed in just the 8.3 oz. can size, it found itself going up against Hansen Beverage‘s Monster Energy, which offered 16 oz. at roughly the same price. Eventually, Red Bull rolled out both a 12 oz. and 16 oz. version. These days, the 16 oz. size is pretty much considered the standard for an energy drink.

Interestingly, Red Bull has not really diversified into flavor extensions. The only alternative here in the United States is a sugar-free version of the drink. This is odd, as pretty much every competitor has various editions of their drink in the marketplace. This may hurt Red Bull in the long run.

The packaging hasn’t changed from when it was first introduced. It still sports the “bullet can” look, utilizing a blue/silver color scheme, augmented by the red/yellow “Red Bull” logo featuring two charging bulls. A tagline at the bottom of the can notes that it comes “With Taurine / Vitalizes body and mind.”

Exactly what makes up a can of Red Bull? The ingredient list includes carbonated water, sucrose, glucose, sodium citrate, taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, inositol, niacinaminde, calcium-pantothenate, pyridoxine HCL, vitamin B12, natural and artificial flavors, and colors. There is a surprisingly high amount of sodium in this drink — 200 mg — you’d think this was a Jones Turkey & Gravy Soda! 27g of sugars also are included, with the 8.3 oz. can setting you back 110 calories. And according to the official website, Red Bull is Kosher!

As far as caffeine content, a can of Red Bull sports 80 mg, which breaks down to 9.64 mg/oz. Contrast that with Mountain Dew (4.5 mg/oz.), Vault (5.83 mg/oz.), Amp Energy (8.875 mg/oz.), and Monster (10.00 mg/oz.). No wonder this stuff keeps you up at night!

From a flavor perspective, I wasn’t too impressed. The scent upon opening the can was berry, but with a hint of bitterness. The taste itself continued that cherry-ish flavor, but there was quite a bit of syrupy residue. Not so much a “fake” or “artificial” residue, but more of a tart and bitter one. It wasn’t very smooth going down, hinting at a medicinal experience. Red Bull definitely has an edge and can clearly be classified as an energy drink based on the harsh flavor, but so many competitors these days are more refined in the taste department. I’m not an energy drink guy myself, but even if I was, I could see myself looking elsewhere based on flavor experience alone.

Given the amount of caffeine I just drank for this review, I will obviously have a lot of time to think about that tonight… when I’m not sleeping!