The Current Buzz

Energized Cocktails — Made with Energy Drinks or Energized Spirits — Add Vigor to Drink Menus

Ever since the words “Red Bull and vodka” resounded in clubs all over America in the 1990s, the energy-infused cocktail category has evolved to include catchy-named shots and cocktails that reflect its vigorous vibe.

As the first energy drink to hit the mainstream U.S. market, Red Bull is the progenitor of the pick-me-up beverage craze and remains the best-selling brand in America in terms of dollar share, according to Nielsen data. Its widespread popularity has spawned concoctions including the Bull Breeze (Red Bull, vodka and cranberry juice), Melon Bull (Red Bull, Midori and vodka) and Thug Passion (Red Bull and Alize). While these simple mixtures are all the rage among the 20-something club-going set, the latest trend in energy drinks is creating fairly sophisticated signature cocktails that also deliver some cutting-edge flavors.

Original Energy
Sam Sameni, operating partner for Wish Ultra Lounge, a private members club situated in the Knox/Henderson neighborhood of Dallas, says shots like the Jäger Bomb (Jägermeister and Red Bull) and Berry Bomb (Belvedere Black Raspberry vodka and Red Bull) are hot, but a variety of specialty cocktails featuring Red Bull also are popular at the club. The Belvedere Orange Appeal (Belvedere Pomarancza, Red Bull and Cointreau served with an orange slice) is one oft-ordered tipple at this stylish lounge.

In Las Vegas, the N9NE Group has seven operations: Ghostbar, Moon Nightclub, Palms Pool & Bungalows, Rain Nightclub, Playboy Club, N9NE Steakhouse and Nove Italiano; Red Bull is served at all locations. “Over a weekend we could easily go through two pallets of Red Bull, at 120 cases each,” reveals wine and beverage director Christian Margesson. The caffeinated quaff is most often served with vodka or mixed with juice for a non-alcohol mixed drink.

Nightclubs aren’t the only venues where energy-infused cocktails are in vogue. Boston Pizza Restaurants, a chain with 53 locations in the U.S., is a full-service pizza eatery that offers casual dining and a sports bar atmosphere. The food menu is available until 2 a.m. and attracts a late-night crowd to whom energy drinks are hot sellers, according to Jack Civa, vice president of marketing.

“Most of our energy drink sales are combined with alcohol, and our most popular mixes tend to be vodka for mixed drinks or Jägermeister for shots and bombs. We also offer a Red Bull Margarita (silver tequila, Cointreau, Red Bull, Margarita mix and citrus wedges) that is a bit more unique than the average energy drink. We develop these types of drinks based on trends and trial. We believe that these unique items position us as innovative,” asserts Civa.

And bartenders on the high seas are reaching for energized ingredients as well. Cruise line Royal Caribbean International serves two tropical-inflected concoctions involving Red Bull: the virgin Pineapple Blast (Red Bull and pineapple juice) and the Coconut Blast (Red Bull, coconut rum, apple schnapps and pineapple juice). Bob Midyette, director of fleet beverage operations, comments on the Pineapple Blast: “We wanted to have a pick-me-up option available for our adult guests who may not want alcohol, as well as to have something that would appeal to the younger crowd. It is very popular since it works with our demographic and environment.”

Brand Statements
But Red Bull isn’t the only energy beverage brand causing a buzz on-premise. Rockstar, Monster and Roaring Lion are among those gaining in popularity. Chicago nightclub and lounge The Leg Room serves Roaring Lion from the gun. VIP Hostess Nicole Tharp says: “When guests order bottle service, the majority of the time, they request an energy drink to go with it. We bring them Roaring Lion, served in a carafe.”

Monster is the energy drink available at 30 locations from Baltimore, Md.-based Entertainment Concepts Investors (ECI), which operates restaurants, lounges and clubs throughout the United States such as Angels Rock Bar (Houston, Texas; Louisville, Ky.; and Baltimore) and Mosaic Lounge (locations in Houston; Kansas City, Mo.; and Baltimore). Vice president Jake Miller says, “Most of our Monster inventory is used in bottle service, where we send out six 8.3-ounce cans with each bottle purchased.”

Monster recently launched its Nitrous Monster Energy line and X-Presso Monster, nitrous oxide-injected energy drinks that involve smoother textures and sweeter flavor profiles, according to the marketer. With on-premise accounts in mind, 32-ounce cans of the original Monster Energy with a pour spout were recently added to the Monster line-up.

When selecting an energy brand to carry, Eddie Vidal, general manager of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s America’s Backyard, found the Monster brand mixed well with a range of spirits, and the availability of a 32-ounce package also was a benefit. “It is a statement when you see this massive can pouring into your cocktail,” he says. “Easily seen from across the way, it always sparks up a conversation. It also looks incredible next to your bottle when indulging yourself in our bottle service area.”

Behind the bar at America’s Backyard, bartenders create several cocktails involving the Monster Energy brand, such as the Petite Monster, which combines any Bacardi flavored rum with the low-carb version of Monster.

“The energy drink market has changed the cocktail landscape,” ECI’s Miller explains. “It seems like more than half of the new trendy drinks involve an energy mixer. Our bartenders love the Monster brand. We switched from Red Bull to Monster and our numbers for energy drink sales are up nearly 25 percent per capita.” He also reveals that bombs are the biggest trend in energy drinks — “Cherry bombs have overtaken Jäger bombs in most markets” — but notes that one of the most popular revved-up libations at Entertainment Concepts venues is a cocktail called the Tic Tac (equal parts Bacardi O, orange juice and a splash of Monster, served in a highball glass).

Spirited Spirits
For consumers who aren’t into fizzy energy-drink cocktails, alternatives exist in the form of vodkas infused with caffeine, taurine, guarana and other energy-boosting or functional ingredients. While p.i.n.k. isn’t touted as an energy vodka, the spirit contains guarana and taurine and is one of the hottest premium vodka brands on the scene.

“P.i.n.k. is an unusual spirit because it isn’t a flavored vodka, but it is infused with caffeine and guarana, which adds a great energy component,” says David Brogan, founder of Signature David and an independent cocktail consultant who was recently hired to create a series of cocktails for p.i.n.k. “It is a very clean tasting vodka and mixes really nicely. You see p.i.n.k. at clubs in New York and Vegas — any city that has a happening bar scene. It’s a party spirit.”

The p.i.n.k. Spirits Co. plans to launch a brunch program to promote some of Brogan’s libation creations, including the p.i.n.k. Flamingo (p.i.n.k. vodka, ruby red grapefruit juice, Cointreau and club soda) and the Big p.i.n.k. Apple (p.i.n.k. vodka, DeKuyper Pucker Sour Apple Schnapps, pineapple juice, sour mix and Chambord).

David Ruiz, mixologist at Mr. Smith’s, a three-level bar-club in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco, says Blue Lotus, a vodka containing caffeine, taurine and guarana extract, is a “two-in-one knockout. It’s great for cocktail drinkers to be able [to get a boost from] a Vodka Gimlet [instead of] limiting themselves to Red Bull or Rock Star. For us, it also has local appeal since it’s made in the Bay area,” he says.

Ruiz recently created a mixed drink called The Lotus Lemonade (muddled fresh ginger, Blue Lotus, grapefruit marmalade, fresh lemon juice and a dash of agave nectar). “Blue Lotus can be used like any other high-end vodka,” he advises.

Incorporating energy spirits puts a unique twist on traditional drinks. “Bars are substituting traditional vodka drinks with V2,” offers James Goldstein, president of Winguard Inc., importer of V2 Energy Vodka. “A Cosmopolitan becomes a Vogue and a Screw Driver becomes a Power Drill when made with V2.

“We wanted to give consumers a product that would allow them to continue drinking the cocktails they love, like a Cosmopolitan for instance, and yet get the caffeine and taurine effect that they would get from an energy drink,” quips Goldstein about the brand’s development.

The bombs and the energy drink mixers likely will continue to reign on the party circuit, but anecdotal evidence suggests the energy cocktail will grow. Says Boston Pizza Restaurants’ Civa, “Most new trends seem to be about stretching energy drinks into non-typical alcohol drink categories.” NCB

Top 100 Tips

Sam Sameni, operating partner of Wish Ultra Lounge in Dallas, finds energy drinks perk up cocktail profits at Wish, a 2009 Nightclub & Bar Top 100 venue. We checked in with him on the best ways to make the most of energy drinks in a cocktail program.

NCB: What should nightclub, bar and restaurant operators consider when selecting an energy drink brand for their venue?
Sameni: It all depends on the type of venue and the target market. For example, a college bar with a more price-sensitive clientele should consider the price of the energy product. Venues can afford to charge less for an off-brand energy drink since they are paying less for it, and chances are price-sensitive consumers will compromise brand recognition or even taste for savings.

Red Bull is more expensive than most brands, but it has the highest brand recognition. Therefore, the prestigious venues with a more brand-sensitive clientele will pay more for Red Bull knowing the clientele will gladly pay more for cocktails involving the brand.

NCB: Should operators taste one energy drink brand against another, like they often do with spirits brands?
Sameni: I think operators should compare the tastes between products to determine the one they prefer, but at the end of the day, since most venues only carry one brand of energy drink, the consumer will not have a choice and will drink whichever is available.

NCB: What about package size? Some brands offer 8-ounce cans, while others are available on the gun or in larger sizes.
Sameni: Personally, I prefer the 8-ounce cans for bottle service and the 16-ounce cans for the bartenders to use. Anything bigger than 16 ounces won’t be server-friendly.

NCB: How can operators best market the availability of energy drink brands and cocktails made with energy drinks?
Sameni: I think the best way is to include them in your signature cocktails. Encourage your employees to promote signature drinks and to upsell guests to super-premium spirits with energy drinks, such as a Belvedere and Red Bull. Most venues charge an “upcharge” for energy drinks, and although energy drinks are pricey to venues — most of the time they cost more than beer — the venues make their money back by the upcharge, not to mention the increased crowd energy, which leads to more sales.

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