Taste Test: Red Bull Cola
Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red Bull Simply Cola
I entered this Taste Test skeptical, as did most of my test helpers. The world already has a perfect cola drink, and despite what you may think about mega-corporations and high-fructose corn syrup, you have not invented a nectar as sweet or as satisfying as Coca-Cola. If and when you do, I will invest my meager savings in your IPO, and I will wear a T-shirt with your logo on it every single day.
Now, I'm not saying that all other drinks are shit and Coke Is It. Hell, I'll drink another cola if that's all they serve at a restaurant. (Kyle won't, but that's an angry letter to the editor for another day.) Pepsi's fine at the movies (though I'd probably go Sierra Mist in that case), but if there's a choice—and this is America, dammit, so there's often a choice between exactly two similar things—it's Coke. And before you tell me I'm contaminating my body, I don't really drink Coke that often. It's a treat. And it's fucking delicious. And perfect.
I don't drink Red Bull. I don't like Red Bull. It tastes bad, and it makes me a little jumpy. Worse than that, it's got that sharp aftertaste that most energy drinks do, which I always assume is taurine, but in fact, I have no idea. I just know it's icky. (To me. You can like it if you want. Live and let live.) At the National Association Of Convenience Stores Convention this year, when young ladies with refrigerated backpacks tried handing me cans of what I thought was Red Bull, I declined. But they kindly explained that this was a new product: Red Bull Simply Cola. No taurine. Not an energy drink. Just a new, all-natural cola product being test-marketed only at Speedway. The Red Bull company also had a gigantic booth set up, and little plastic cubes featuring each of the soda's natural ingredients so you could look at it up close. Have you ever seen an orange displayed as if it were the Crown Jewels? It was like that.
What are those flavors, you ask? I will not only type them here for you, I will offer you some visual information from a Red Bull Simply Cola pamphlet as well. Coca leaf, kola nut, lemon/lime, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, pine, corn mint, galangal, vanilla, ginger, mace, cacao, licorice, orange, mustard seeds. "Holy shit," you are likely thinking. "I just want some corn syrup, water, and artificial coloring! What have I gotten myself into?" Well, Red Bull wants you to know that their new cola can "do without a secret formula." (Take that, Coke!) They also want you to know that it's "100% pure cola." I'm not sure what the standards are for that. You'll notice that it includes kola nut and coca leaf, which most colas no longer use. (Though Blue Sky natural cola and the Whole Foods house brand do.) It also promises to be "strong & natural," a promise previously made to me by douche, condoms, diapers, and a transvestite hooker, so I took it with a grain of salt.
Taste: I told you up top that I was prejudiced going in, but I also told you that I've got an open mind about these things. If Red Bull Simply Cola were better than Coke, I might weep a little bit—but then I would switch to Red Bull Simply Cola. But I don't need to. Our testers, in a rare display of unanimity, disliked it. There were varying degrees of dislike, but nobody hopped up to defend it.
Most everybody commented on the strange aftertaste, which reminded me of the short-lived, caffeine-averse Like Cola from the early '80s—probably because that stuff also contained the kola nut. But there's just so much going on in this RBSC that it's tough to enjoy. There's the bitterness of lemon, the weird overpowering combo of spices, and an overall tartness that lingers and lingers and lingers. Maybe this is soda aimed at tough guys or at granola-heads who think regular soda is too sweet. But there's no difference in the amount of sugar between this and a Coke, so who really wins? Not me.
There's no contest. Sorry, Red Bull Simply Cola, you have been pwned. Did I say that right?
— "As a strident Coke loyalist, I'm tough to woo, and this doesn't do it. It tastes like flat generic cola, though it's missing the sweetness."
— "I'm not a Red Bull fan, and this isn't gonna make me start now. Give me Coke or give me death!"
— "This reminds me of the cheap-ass Big K Cola, Kroger's house brand, that they'd give us after soccer practice as a kid. I'm having flashbacks to sweat and shin guards."
— "Are you sure you didn't accidentally give me a cup full of air freshener?"
— "I'm trying to think of a context where I would want to drink this. If I wanted a cola, I wouldn't reach for this, but it's not so bad I can say I'd never drink it again." "By context, do you mean what alcohol you want to mix it with?"
— "They shouldn't call it cola. Fail on the part of the Red Bull marketing team."
— "You can really taste the mustard seed."
— "It tastes like carpet. Non-delicious carpet."
— "This is not good. No one will ever buy this."
— "I'm pretty sure my breath is amazingly bad right now."
Where to get it: The Red Bull reps told us it was being sold only in Speedway stores; the Red Bull website implies that it's currently available only in Las Vegas.