Beverages

Energy Drink Taste Test – Who Will Win?

energy drink taste test monster redbull rockstar

A couple of weeks ago a co-worker informed us that a friend of his works for Monster Energy Drink and if we wanted he could get us a couple free cases to try out. Now none of us here at the office are big energy drink guys, but we figured if they were free we’d give them a shot. A couple days later we were blessed with 2 full cases of 2 different flavors of Monster Energy Drink (M-80 and Khaos). Upon cracking open a can of Monster M-80 I was instantly blasted in the mouth with the terrible flavor of 80% juice mixed taurine, caffeine, guarana, ginseng and whatever else they jam into these things. Needless to say, Free or not, I don’t think I could see myself drinking anymore of this stuff, but reluctantly I cracked open a can of the Khaos flavor. Khaos is only 50% juice and smelled a little better than the other stuff so I took a sip. To my surprise it wasn’t that bad and we’ve all been drinking them for the past week. This gave us the idea to taste test some of the other energy drinks on the market to see what the big deal was. Previous to this test I had only tried a few of the drinks, Red Bull, Low Carb Monster, and a Rockstar Bomb (jager+Rockstar) and while I’ve always been partial to Red Bull it was time to see if there were any worthy contenders.

Energy drinks can be traced back to the early 1900’s in different forms, but the first actual drink marketed as being designed to improve the performance of athletes was introduced in the 1960’s and you may have heard of it, Gatorade. These days when most people think of “energy drinks”, Gatorade is not the first thing that comes to mind. Drinks like Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar are what people are referring to when they talk about energy drinks these days. And while they might be the more popular versions these days, Jolt Cola was probably the first drink that based it’s marketing strategy on the fact that it has tons of caffeine which is the main source of “energy” in these drinks. Sure energy drinks have more than just caffeine, but the main stimulant is just that.

In 1997 a new contender in the energy drink market emerged and took the industry by storm. Red Bull completely dominated the market for quite a few years before other companies realized the potential and demand of these drinks. Pretty soon every beverage company was coming out with some form of energy drink that claimed to boost energy as well as cognitive performance and alertness. If you walk into a gas station or grocery store these days you can usually find an entire rack dedicated to the different brands of energy drinks. And with the growth in popularity came experimentation. Alcohol and energy drinks are a huge money maker for bars and clubs these days. Jager bombs, consisting of Red Bull (or substitute) and jagermeister as well as Red Bull and Vodka have become extremely popular with the bar crowd. But while they may be popular drinks amongst the steroid laden, spiked haired, “douchebags” of the world, there are some inherent dangers when mixing alcohol with these drinks. The combination of caffeine (stimulant) and alcohol (depressant) can mask the effects of the alcohol leading to possibly dangerous consequences.

Energy DrinkTasteColorCan SizeBuy
Red Bull

red bull energy drink
5Yellowish Brown8.4 oz.Buy on Amazon
Monster Khaos

monster khaos energy drink
4.5Orange16 oz.Buy on Amazon
AMP Overdrive Cherry

amp energy overdrive cherry energy
4Redish Pink16 oz.Buy on Amazon
NOS Energy Drink

nos energy drink
2.5Yellow16 oz.Buy on Amazon
Monster M-80

monster m-80 energy drink
2Light Yellow16 oz.Buy on Amazon
Rockstar Energy Drink

rockstar energy drink
1Yellowish Brown16 oz.Buy on Amazon

So despite the warnings placed right on every single can we were about to drink, we plowed forward and did a complete taste test of 6 of the more popular energy drinks on the market. Included in this taste test were the 2 versions of Monster we were given, M-80 and Khaos, as well as NOS Energy Drink, Amp Energy Overdrive (Cherry), Rockstar and of course Red Bull. This was purely a taste test. We did not test the effects of caffeine on our bodies in this test, but that may come in the future. Frankly we knew a lot of these were going to taste like cat piss so we really didn’t want to drink more than we had to.

So let’s get to it. These will be listed from worst tasting to best tasting, hopefully some of them are better than Crystal Pepsi.

6. Rockstar Energy Drink

rockstar energy drinkWe read a few reviews online regarding Rockstar and everyone seemed to like the flavor, but I don’t get it. I remember my first experience with Rockstar at a concert, it was a certain pop-punk band and we were the oldest ones there by far (minus parents) so the bar had no lines. The show was sponsored by Rockstar so we couldn’t get true jager bombs (yes I do drink jagerbombs occasionally, no I’m not tan, buff, have spiked hair or wear ed hardy). Instead we were given “Rockstar Bombs” which tasted like absolute shit. I could only drink 1 and I don’t even think I finished that. So needless to say I was not looking forward to taste testing Rockstar straight up.

When poured into a cup, Rockstar very closely resembles Red Bull in color and consistency. It has a yellowish-light brown hue that, for lack of a better term, resembles piss, or beer I guess, but we preferred to compare it to piss. There was a gentle froth that coated the top of the liquid after the initial pour, which adds to the piss illusion. Once the froth had settled, the large carbonated bubbles could be seen floating around in the cup just beckoning to be devoured and turned into pure energy by our bodies. Like a few of the other drinks, the smell was oddly familiar yet we couldn’t put our fingers on it. At first we thought it smelled like a cheap generic cream soda type drink, but after getting a third opinion we figured it out, Robitussin. Despite the reviews we read saying it tasted less medicine tasting than other energy drinks, we had to disagree. The smell alone brought me back to my childhood and my parents forcing Robitussin down my throat whenever I was sick. How could you think this doesn’t have a medicine taste to it, I just smelled the cup again and it’s undeniable.

After smelling the piss-liquid I was very hesitant to put this into my body since I wasn’t sick and had no need for medicine, but in the name of science we pressed on. When the liquid first hits your taste buds it’s not terrible, there’s a similarity to a generic cream soda as our initial smell test would indicate, but once you swallow the true taste comes through. The Robitussin flavor sinks deep into your taste buds like a punch in the face. The only way to get rid of this nasty after taste is to take another sip from the can which will give you that initial blast of cream soda flavor, but again, that’s quickly followed by the taste of pure ass, so it’s just a vicious circle with no end. Based on that aftertaste alone there is no way we can recommend Rockstar to anyone. Maybe the other flavors are better than the original, but between piss and Robitussin we’re going to have to give this one the worst grade out of all of the drinks tested.

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5. Monster M-80

monster m-80 energy drinkThe first of 2 free flavors of Monster Energy Drink we received at the office, this is by far the worst of the 2. Monster apparently had this great idea that energy drink contents mixed with juice would be heaven for the taste buds, but I think they went a little overboard on the juice content on this one. This drink consists of 80% juice and 100% Monster according to the can. The liquid itself is a light yellow that resembles more of a juice than piss like the Rockstar did. You can definitely smell a juice combination, but I wouldn’t say it smells good by any stretch of the imagination. Just like Rockstar I almost didn’t want to drink it after the smell alone.

Upon first taste it was like a rush of juices consuming my mouth parts. A little pineapple, maybe a little banana, but it was all a ruse. Once the initial flavors dissipate in your mouth, the real beast rears it’s ugly head. It’s so ugly it’s hard to describe, kind of bitter, maybe a bit sour, I’m not sure, but whatever it is leaves a bit of a bite in the back of your throat that another sip cannot get rid of. While it was hard to make a choice between M-80 and Rockstar as being the worst tasting of the bunch, the little bit of fruitiness in the M-80 gives it the slight edge of the Rockstar Robitussin taste.

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4. NOS Energy Drink

nos energy drinkHow clever, the can is made to look like a small bottle of nitrous oxide, that’s appealing. Who wouldn’t want to drink nitrous oxide… If it can make a car go super-fast it should definitely be able to give me the energy I crave to make it through a grueling day of sitting in front of a computer in the office. And the fact that this drink has almost twice as much caffeine in it than any of the other drinks we tested is sure to boost my alertness and cognitive skills.

Upon cracking the can of NOS we were overwhelmed with a fruity, citrus aroma, possibly pineapple. One of the guys really liked the smell and was looking forward to giving it a try. I, on the other hand, thought it smelled terrible and was not looking forward to putting this acid on my tongue. The liquid itself is a yellow color very similar to the Monster M-80 drink, but unlike the Monster this one didn’t claim to have any real juice in it, it was pure energy (and a shit load of caffeine). The taste is semi-fruity and not nearly as bitter as the others. There didn’t seem to be too much of an aftertaste, what you taste at the beginning is what you get in the end. One of the guys compared it to an Italian soda called Ivi, but having never tasted (or even heard of) this “Ivi” stuff, I can’t verify the comparison. He also described the slight aftertaste as being similar to a crushed aspirin. Apparently when he was a kid he couldn’t swallow pills and would crush them up instead and the instant he took a sip of NOS he was transported back to better days when we didn’t need energy drinks to get us wound up. Personally I did not get any sort of medicine-like aftertaste from this drink and I can’t recall the taste of crushed aspirin so I’m not sure what to make of that.

So after getting past a couple of absolutely terrible tasting energy drinks in the Rockstar and Monster M-80, we’ve finally reached one that is fairly pleasant although still not something that I would drink on a regular basis due to the ungodly amount of caffeine found in one can compared to other energy drinks.

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3. AMP Overdrive Cherry

amp energy overdrive cherry energyThe grocery store I acquired the test subjects at did not have the original flavor of AMP so I was forced to get the Cherry version. I know it’s kind of like cheating to compare an original flavor to one that has been enhanced to appeal to a broader audience, but oh well it’s all they had in single can form. I really think these manufacturers are just rebranding cough medicine and jamming them full of caffeine. To me this one smelled a lot like cherry cough medicine and not all that enticing. One of the other guys here compared the smell to a cherry/red Flavor Ice aka Freeze Pop, which I didn’t understand until we actually tasted it.

As you would expect from a cherry drink the color is a redish pink color similar to a generic “red” (or cherry) soda and the taste was pretty comparable as well. If you can get past the smell this stuff is actually pretty tasty and does resemble a “red” type soda that you would find on the bottom shelf at the grocery store. And like every energy drink tested so far there is an aftertaste, but in this case it’s a welcome addition to the flavor of the drink. Once the initial “red” flavor is washed away to the back of your throat you are greeted by the nostalgic taste of a cherry Flavor Ice/Freeze Pop that sticks all the way to the next sip. There really isn’t any of the harsh aftertaste that we were used to in the other energy drinks and this is one that I could see myself drinking on a regular basis. It tastes more like a pop than an energy drink, but still has all those ingredients you’ve come to know from them, plus we’re back down to the normal level of caffeine found in these (80mg) as opposed to the massive amounts found in NOS (130mg).

We’ll have to go back and give the original flavor of AMP a shot and see how it compares to the other drinks, but since we couldn’t find them in a single can it’s not a viable option when you’re on the go. So if you’re looking for a fruity, good tasting energy drink and are a fan of cherry Freeze Pops and soda give this one a shot, you won’t be disappointed.

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2. Monster Khaos

monster khaos energy drinkThe 2nd of the free Monster Energy drinks we received last week and this one is considerably better tasting. So much in fact that we are almost completely done with the case, while the M-80 still has 3/4 left. This is another entry in Monster’s “juice+energy” line-up only this one actually tastes pretty good. The liquid is an orange color that sort of resembles orange sodas like crush and sunkist. It still smells fruity like the M-80, but this one uses different fruits (according to the ingredients) which works much better than the other stuff.

After pouring a sip into your mouth you’re immediately hit with what seems like an even combination of juices and energy drink flavor, meaning that there is some juice, but you also get that weird kick in the teeth that the energy drinks give you, it’s a hard to explain flavor. Unlike the M-80, there isn’t much of a bitter aftertaste with this one. There is definitely something there after the juices have washed down into your stomach, but the taste that lingers on the back of your throat is not bitter and disgusting like some of the drinks above. If I had to choose an alternative to Red Bull this would be my drink of choice. It’s smooth and refreshing, contains 50% juice and still tastes good while maintaing the “energy” aspect of the energy drinks. The caffeine level is on par with all of the normal drinks and all the typical ingredients are there as well.  Out of all the energy drinks we’ve tasted today I would recommend this one if you’re looking for something besides the typical Red Bull, Rockstar and [Original] Monster.

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and the winner is……

1. Red Bull

red bull energy drinkOld reliable. There’s just something about Red Bull that keeps me coming back for more. Even the other guy that was tasting with me agreed that Red Bull was the best tasting out of all them. Red Bull was first to market and I believe they still have the biggest market share. And I know I’m not the only one out there that prefers this drink to the others out there. I know there are also a lot of people that find Red Bull disgusting, but I can’t believe that some people actually drink the other crap that’s out there.

As for color, as I mentioned above in the Rockstar blurb, Red Bull looks like piss. It’s got a yellowish-light brown tint to it as well as a little froth and a whole lot of bubbles. But in the smell department, unlike Rockstar, I don’t get the though of medicine when I take a whiff, but despite that I can’t really describe the smell. It’s not necessarily fruity, but in a way it is, it smells sweet I guess. It also has a distinct taste that’s hard to explain. Like the smell, it tastes sweet but not fruity, its smooth and doesn’t have any bitterness to it and there’s no really bad aftertaste. It tastes the same all the way through. And unlike Rockstar (and probably others) it tastes very good with vodka and jager.

Buy on Amazon

So while the end results might be a little disappointing and our opinions might not reflect how you feel about your favorite energy drink, there’s no denying that some of these are just plain disgusting, and how anyone drinks this stuff on a daily basis is beyond me. I’ve got to imagine all of these Action Sports athletes that are scooping up sponsorships from these companies left and right are not actually drinking this stuff, but rather drinking water in a Monster/Red Bull/Rockstar can/water bottle. A Red Bull would not be the first thing I reach for to try to rehydrate myself after a good exercise, I think it would make me puke.

We’re curious to see if there are any better tasting energy drinks out there than the ones we were able to get a hold of, so let us know in the comments. If there are enough suggestions we may do a part 2 with some other flavors/brands. We’re also curious about the new trend of “Energy Shots” that are hitting the market so you may see a review of some of those in the future as well as a review of DRANK, if I can get my hands on a couple cans, I heard it’s only sold in like one state. DRANK is apparently the opposite of energy drinks, instead of being loaded with caffeine to make you more energized, it makes you more relaxed and calm. One article even went as far as to call it liquid marijuana, so I’d be curious to see what it tastes like.

And if you’re looking for a cheaper way to get your energy drink fix, we highly recommend buying from Amazon. It’ll save you about .60 cents a can on Red Bull. And don’t forget to check out our comparison of the Yeti and RTCI can koozies to see which one will keep your drink cold the longest!

About the author

Tom

I'm a married man in his 30's who doesn't really "like" food. If it weren't for my wife I would be living off of pizza and cheeseburgers for the rest of my life. Follow me as I venture slightly out of my comfort zone to try different foods and restaurants.

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  • Redbull’so taste: gummy bears puked into a can. Can’t disagree on the rest cept you should’ve noted your take on monster local or absolute zero. Green monster while same flavor is overly done and syrippy. Blue is just awesome, especially after going flat, and the smell is great too. Monsters rainbow of lowsugar varieties are almost all tastey, though the full sugar ones can suck like your m80. Came here in a search for things tasting like monster,because it’s so good I drink it FOR the flavor (low or no carb blue), like a generic brand or syrup for sodastream etc. Your writeup was quite entertaining though.

    • I should definitely revisit this article seeing as how this was written years ago. I wonder if my tastes have changed, or since I’ve stopped drinking sugary drinks, if I’d even like any of these anymore.

  • Since I started drinking Bawls, I can’t really enjoy any other energy drinks to the same degree. Bawls Cherry is like a Slurpee in a beautifully crafted glass bottle (which I do believe benefits taste from a psychological perspective), with enough Guarana in it to actually taste. Guarana in larger quantity definitely benefits flavor but most available products here in the States only add such a small quantity that it’s there by name only (or simply overpowered with sweet). The widely available Red Bull and less common Bawls are two where I can really taste it. I agree Red Bull is a nice go to. Monster makes a lo-carb in a white can that, because it partly uses erythritol as a sweetener, it’s very hard to identify as a diet drink because erythritol is like xylitol in that is very closely resembles the taste of sugar, and erythritol is probably the safest of all sugar alternatives (even more so than HFCS.)

    But try Bawls. It’s margin of enjoyment over just about everything else is considerable IMO.

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