Art of Drink

Red Bull and Vodka

In the cocktail world, there are lots of trends. Right now the classic cocktail seems to be on the rise and the martini craze is slowly slipping into obscurity, thankfully. I hate when people come to the bar and ask: “What kind of martini’s do you have?” I have two, gin or vodka. Usually, I’ll guide people away from the martini and into the world of cocktails served in something other than a martini glass. These people are easy because they have an open mind, the hard people are 20 something who think a Red Bull and Vodka is a cocktail and that’s all they drink.

I’ve only worked at one bar that served Red Bull. But in this place they worked the kitchen guys so hard we often found a dozen or so empty cans of Red Bull in the cooler. Seems the kitchen staff needed a boost. Pop and coffee, free as it was, wasn’t to their liking it seems. So eventually, Red Bull dropped off the list of available mixers. When this happened, the people who ordered a Red Bull and Vodka, and were told we don’t stock Red Bull, looked at us as if we weren’t stocking vodka or we had two heads.

In the time we stocked Red Bull, I’d watch people pound back six or more of these in a couple of hours. Now that’s about 480 mg of caffeine, which is fairly substantial. That’s enough to keep you going for most of the night. If you compared that to six Rum and Cokes, it would provide less than half the caffeine. When you order a double venti non-fat extra-dry cappuccino I’m sure you’re getting a whack of caffeine, but it’s not mixed with vodka or Taurine.

But, getting people to order something other than a caffeinated alcohol mixture seems to be much harder than a martini seeker. It seems that they can’t enjoy a night without caffeine, let alone alcohol. Throw some illicit drugs into the mix and you sir have a serious problem.

So what’s the big deal? Well as a bartender you want to control the room. You keep an eye out for annoying people and control their consumption. If someone is jacked on caffeine it can add to potential problems. Plus, people who have high caffeine intake tend to feel soberer than they really are. Then there are the potential health risks. The three chemicals in Red Bull, that may pose problems, are caffeine, taurine and glucuronolactone. For review purposes, here’s what these additives do:

Caffeine (80 mg) is a chemical that interferes / blocks adenosine, which is a chemical that helps regulate sleep. The caffeine molecule looks very similar to adenosine and fits in the same cell receptors as adenosine. But when caffeine binds to these receptors it doesn’t have the same affect effects with the sleep cycle, causing a temporary state of wakefulness.

Taurine (1000 mg) is a nonessential amino acid. This means the body can make this amino acid and you don’t require it from your diet. Taurine is used by the body to regulate the cardiovascular system, production of bile for digestion and is said to act as a mild sedative. This is probably the property the makers of Red Bull are trying to use to counteract the excited state caused by caffeine.

Glucuronolactone (600 mg) is a natural byproduct of glucose metabolism in the liver. It is purported to fight fatigue and provide a sense of well-being. However, it is not a mind-altering stimulant.

As it stands now, there have only been a few isolated cases of serious issues with Red Bull, far fewer than those associated with just plain old alcohol. Even so, a few countries have banned the sale of Red Bull and other drinks of the same ilk. But, the reality is that anything in moderation is probably ok, but when you pound back six or more, you might be pushing your luck. That’s when a bartender needs to keep an eye on you, and that just makes our life that much harder, liabilities and all.

Today, Red Bull seems tame compared to other energy drinks, like Monster, Rockstar, etc. For years people rallied against the use of chemicals in food products, now a whole multi-billion dollar industry has popped up based on the addition of chemicals. This new breed of drink contains all sorts of chemical stuff that theoretically provides a new kind of “feeling”. One of those ingredients is L-Carnitine, which is a prescription product in Canada, but not so in the US.

As a bartender, we have enough things to watch out for. But aside from over-consumption, illegal drugs and prescription drug reactions, we need to watch out for the first time drinker being served Red Bull and Vodka, especially when it comes to drinking and driving as energy drinks make you feel more in control when you are still drunk. Don’t drink and drive. 

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