Waltz into any pharmacy, corner deli or gas station, and be prepared to stare down a panoply of elixirs, shakes and tonics touting revitalization in 12 fluid ounces. There are more than 1,000 brands of energy drinks worldwide, with a select handful reaching global brand status. For every Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy, dozens more carbonated carbon copies claim to offer better boosts and easier come-downs.
Here is the history of the major players in the industry of getting amped.
Unofficial Energy Drink OG
Chemist Angelo Mariani combined red wine and coca leaves (from which we get cocaine) in 1863, and, unsurprisingly, people loved the vino-yayo cure-all. According to Jezebel, advertisements promised Vin Mariani could restore health and vitality, cure malaria and “be especially adapted to children.” Kids go crazy for coca leaves, as Coca-Cola also learned: America’s favorite sugar water also famously included coca leaves in its earliest recipes.
Official Energy Drink OG
In 1962, Japanese company Taisho introduced the first energy drink to be called an energy drink. Packaged in shot-sized bottles, Lipovitan didn’t contain cocaine, which by then had fallen under the purview of drug laws. Instead, Lipovitan combined a high dose of caffeine with a proprietary blend of vitamins (taurine, vitamin B, ginseng and maltodextrin) — still the standard formula that’s been tweaked and refined ever since. As its target customer, Taisho chose the Japanese salaryman looking to dominate the corporate rat race. Several Lipovitan commercials feature Arnold Schwarzenegger mugging like an amphetamine-fueled maniac.
The Game Changer
As the story goes, Austrian bathroom-products salesman Dietrich Mateschitz discovered a local Thai energy drink named Krating Daeng in the early 1980s. By then, Krating Daeng had already been on the market for a decade; it was popular with the country’s taxi drivers. Seeing an opportunity, Mateschitz licensed the name (“Red Bull”) and created a formula more suited to Western tastes. His carbonated concoction hit shelves in Austria in 1987. A decade later, it arrived stateside. Once Red Bull gave us wings, everyone wanted to fly, and the modern-day energy drink craze truly took off.
A noxious [Editor’s note: Some would say “delicious”] mixture of caffeine, niacin and B vitamins, Red Bull has been sold without restrictions in the U.S. since its arrival, despite varied attempts to limit its sale, particularly to minors. Other countries haven’t been so cavalier. For years, France only allowed the drink to be available at pharmacies. Lithuania banned energy drinks for the under-18 crowd; Denmark prohibited Red Bull's sale altogether. Other countries require label warnings regarding caffeine content and alcohol mixing.
The original Krating Daeng, by the way, continues to sell as an independent brand in Southeast Asia and, of course, on Amazon.
ROCKSTAR & MONSTER
The 98 Degrees and Stone Temple Pilots of energy drinks, Rockstar and Monster fall into an expanding category of popular brands that didn’t break any mold, but have capitalized on their ability to fit neatly within it. Rockstar was introduced in 2001 and, by 2007, was among the top-three brands, available in more than 20 countries and 20 flavors. Monster followed shortly after in 2002. Whereas Red Bull has gone after extreme sport types with high-profile stunts, Rockstar and Monster have instead targeted hillbillies and gamers.
The Trucker’s Choice
In 2004, GNC stores nationwide began stocking 5-Hour Energy, which hit the market within a year of its conception. Though initially formulated as a “16-ounce concoction,” as Forbes reported, Living Essentials founder Manoj Bhargava insisted his new product shrink down; he didn’t want to compete with Red Bull, et al, packaged in eight-ounce cans and larger. It was a brilliant move — Bhargava’s little red bottle found its way to check-out register shelves, right beside the spearmint gum.
And what’s inside the $3 bottle that makes exhausted coeds tweak out during finals week? Reportedly, just four calories, no sugar, a junk-drawer of vitamins and caffeine. Independent tests — first conducted by ConsumerLab.com in 2010 and then by Forbes two years later — showed that these seemingly innocent 1.93-ounce bottles contain vitamin doses well in excess of the recommended daily value and roughly the amount of caffeine in a tall Starbucks coffee.
In 2013, the FDA investigated 13 deaths tied to 5-Hour Energy consumption.
The Forsaken Fiend
In 2005, three Ohio State bros transformed their favorite drinks — caffeine and booze — into a product they intended to sell. Within three years, teens and coeds across the country were buying and bingeing on Four Loko, a fruit-flavored malt liquor dressed up with taurine, guarana, caffeine and wormwood. Bros will be bros, and it didn’t take long for the bodies to pile up. After a litany of lawsuits and too many panicked, proselytizing politicians to count, Phusion Projects halted the production and sale of Four Loko. The brand lives on, but the formula is no longer affectionately known as “blackout in a can.”
COCAINE, PUSSY & BLOW
The Heavy Hitters
Because young men are, by and large, stupid, energy drink producers go to great lengths to target them. Without any attempt at subtlety, Cocaine and Pussy are highly caffeinated energy drinks gussied up in provocative wrappers. Blow, meanwhile, is a white powder that’s packaged in glass vials and comes with a mirror and fake credit cards; it’s actually just a caffeine-based additive meant to spruce up beverages. The FDA was none too pleased with the drug-inspired names and has taken various actions to get them off store shelves. After various legal road bumps, both are back on the market and available at a website near you.