Big kick in little cans

A different kind of soft drink is muscling its way into the fridges of convenience stores, a soft drink with an edge that’s tailor-made for today’s super go-go, “sleep-is-for-wimps” lifestyle. This week, Neon Babylon jumps into the brave new cardiac-jacking world of the energy drink.

I’m not sure if these ampy little coolers can be called a phenomenon, but take a look in the mini-mart and you’ll have your pick of anywhere from six to 10 energy drinks. The one ingredient common to all is caffeine, and whoa, what a shock there. Some other metabolic tasers found in energy drinks include guarana, ginseng and taurine. No, taurine is not something made from powdered bovine gonads. It’s an amino acid, described as “conditionally essential.”

Anyway, I’ve been strung out on this stuff for the last week, test driving six of these rambunctious little rockets, and I am here to tell you, they work. Energy drinks do indeed give you a boost. In fact, the boost you get from your basic e.d. is equal to, and in some ways superior to, that of coffee.

No kiddin'. These drinks are downright zippy. It’s gotta be the herbs. Somehow the guarana, the ginseng and the taurine wrap themselves around those caffeine molecules and vitamins and wwwhhhooooooEEEEEEE!!!! The result is a smooth, non-jittery, yet muscular buzz that sustains in your veins for a good, sturdy multi-hour run.

One night, I sampled Sobe’s entry into the field, the appropriately named Adrenaline Rush. Drank it at 5, came on about 6, sailed pleasantly through the night and was staring at the bedroom ceiling at midnight, thinking I might be paying a visit to Conan-ville. I was impressed. A cup of coffee is gonna have to be some very ornery, very dark ultra-roast to rack me up like that. As a bonus, the energy drink supplied me with solid doses of vitamin C, B6 and B12, as opposed to coffee immersing my pancreas in a boiling black acid wash.

Energy drinks aren’t going to threaten coffee’s sacred status as America’s favorite jump-start. At least, not in the a.m. There is just something right about that hot mud in the morning. But later in the day, when it’s 77 or 86 degrees, energy drinks provide a refreshing alternative for those who are dragging their tails and looking for a bit of a bump. Say what you will about coffee, but refreshing it ain’t.

These energy drinks taste fine, by the way. They’re not ultra-sweet like regular sodas, but actually sorta complex and very easy to drink.

I didn’t run into any duds on my week-long e.d. jag, although the drinks with taurine and herbs seem to have a little extra oomph. That meant Adrenaline Rush and Whoop Ass (perfect name) were the strongest and longest lasting. Red Bull, Hansen’s, 180 and KMX were a little milder, but still packed nice, comfortable, energizing voodoo. These sodas are MADE for swing shift. And good lord, whatever you do, don’t drink two, unless you’re (a) under clinical supervision, or (b) driving to Jacksonville.