Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

The long-winded-niest travelogue on the internet!


I composed the following essay back in 1998, when I was just an aspiring, mostly unpaid writer as opposed to the professional, mostly unpaid writer position that I currently enjoy. At the time, the now wildly popular, European version of Red Bull was just emerging on the US market, but those of us in the know were already gulping down Thai Red Bull (A.K.A Krating Daeng). With my current stay in Bangkok being mostly fueled by Krating Daeng, the piece has become topical again (at least for me) and thus I have cleaned up and will now shamelessly recycle the material. Regrettably, a year after I penned this tribute, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) belated decided to take a closer look at the Thai version of Red Bull and the stuff hasn’t been seen within the US ever since. Here in Thailand, of course, it’s available, ice cold, at every convenience store, street vendor and bamboo shack in the country for mere pennies a bottle. God I love this place!

Red Bull
Caffeine, Therefore My Life, Just Got Better

Posted on April 15th, 2005

The next generation in alertness aids and energy drinks has arrived and as usual, I'm on top of it like the caffeine junkie that I am. Red Bull isn't just another low rent, Mountain Dew knock off drink, a la Kick or Surge, because Red Bull isn't merely caffeine and sugar. It's a caffeine, chemical, energy cocktail that is not only aimed at those of us who are forever searching for that unreal zap that will actually motivate us to get out of bed before noon, but it’s also gaining quick and wild popularity with athletes. I was turned on to Red Bull through a network of bike racers who swear that a well timed can during the last 1/3 of a long road race will make you go bananas just as everyone else is blowing up. It has a "buffered" caffeine effect. Unlike my cherished Jolt Cola which kicks you up like a Roman Candle in five minutes, only to drop you on your ass with no warning an hour later, Red Bull slowly sets in over the space of 30 minutes to an hour without the usual head spinning rush of your serious alertness aids (e.g. Vivarin) and maintains your heightened mental performance and physical energy levels over a four to six hour period. And, by God, it really works!

After wading through several fads in energy drinks launched by Coke and Pepsi, where their supposed advancement in energy mixtures have been limited to how much sugar and caffeine the FDA will let them cram into a 12 ounce can, I was more than a little skeptical of anything that claimed to out perform my requisite bottle of Jolt Cola. Then it was pointed out to me that not only is this stuff shipped in from Thailand and not affiliated in any way with an international soft drink juggernaut, but it is actually produced by a pharmaceutical company. Pharmaceutical companies mean drugs. Asian pharmaceutical companies mean Asian drugs and the imagery of a team of guys mixing together exotic, barely legal, native Thai ingredients in some laboratory in a dark basement in Bangkok while trying to find this recipe, really adds to that feeling of adventure in trying a new, foreign, energy drink, with undeniable effectiveness. Meanwhile, one can rest assured that before being imported into the good ol’ US of A, the product has been sufficiently tested so that one will hopefully not run into any surprise side effects like their entire body turning orange and going completely hairless 24 hours after drinking it. [2005 Editorial Note: Oops!]

Before starting this essay, as much as it pained me, I took it upon myself to do a little research on the product. According to the very small portion of the can that is written in English, Red Bull is a product of Thailand, but some minor investigation on the Web revealed that the name “Red Bull,” is originally attributed to a fairly new European energy drink that was inspired by, and uses a recipe liberally sponged from, the Thai Red Bull. The initial Thai Red Bull name was/is “Krating Daeng,” which still appears as a sub-title on the product. It seems that once the Red Bull fad took off in Europe, the makers of Krating Daeng decided to bank on the European Red Bull name recognition and added “Red Bull” to their product. Despite what would seem like a potential for wild, intellectual property theft lawsuits, these two companies seem to have acquiesced to a mutual, unspoken, “concept borrowing” arrangement. The two drinks even share the same logo, though I can’t determine who is ripping off whom in that area.

The European Red Bull, based out of Austria, is available in over 20 countries. Their homepage is one big advertisement about the countless, positive aspects of drinking Red Bull. It's endless benefits include: helping with long drives, jet lag, long meetings, final exams, race day, and of course the ultimate application, partying. Not only does the Euro-Red Bull claim to help you party longer and harder, but they have even gone through the trouble of creating and listing mixing instructions for several cocktails with Red Bull being the main ingredient. Drinks like Bullrush, The Absolut Bull, and of course a Long Island Iced Bull are guaranteed to keep you revving until you collapse from exhaustion or until someone maces you. When you regain consciousness the next morning and you're feeling like you’ve lost an eye and the majority of your bodily fluids during the shenanigans from the previous evening, Red Bull can help with that too.

While the Thai Red Bull has it’s own, albeit rudimentary, web site, you don’t need to go online to learn about all of it’s wonders and benefits. The guys working in the little, hole-in-the-wall, Chinese markets where you go to buy Thai Red Bull in the Twin Cities promote the drink better than any professional ad campaign, web site or spokesperson. They will tell you anything to get you to buy it. Will Red Bull help your cold? Sure! Drive away demons? Yes! Impotence? Of course, and it will make you more desirable to the opposite sex too!

Some places will try to charge you upwards of $24 a case (24 cans). But good ol' Jou's Market, outside of downtown St. Paul is selling it for $14.95 a case and they have plenty in stock. Just be sure that you get Red Bull, and not Red Cow or Big Bull or one of about 10 knock off drinks that other Asian companies have put out in an effort to snag a few bucks from this energy drink fad. The cans and the logos of the imitators look very similar, but Krating Daeng is the original and most potent.

While drinking a straight bottle of Jolt when you're tired might make you edgy and crabby, Red Bull's combination of Taurine, Glucuronolactone, and a whole bunch of Sucrose, Glucose and yummy B-complex vitamins, brings up the body's performance on several levels simultaneously. This is not to say that Jolt still isn't the first and last word in instantly gratifying, caffeiney goodness, but for a steady lift in all around performance, be it work, sports, or sexual performance (allegedly, I'll get back to you on that), Red Bull is the new Leif Approved legal alternative.

Now the big question… How does Red Bull taste? There has been long and varied line of vitamin-packed energy drinks on the market ever since speed and cocaine became illegal and a few of these beverages have been a challenge to ingest, so taste is of the utmost importance. After all, if you can’t choke it down in short order while sprinting uphill, 56 miles into a grueling road race, what good is it to you? Those of you who have dabbled in the classic incarnations of energy drinks, usually sold in powder form at your local health food store, know that these products, despite having flavors like chocolate and strawberry, look and taste exactly like foamy sand. Then you have the popular soft drinks that were tailor made with taste in mind, with effectiveness being a distant second. European Red Bull, as they admit on their web site, should never be consumed warm. The same goes for the Thai stuff. In fact, if at all possible, the Thai Red Bull should not be served without a heaping glass of ice. In it's pure form, the Thai Red Bull tastes like strong, apricot cough syrup. Yuck. But poured over ice and allowed to sit and "breathe", letting the ice dilute the Red Bull for a good 10 minutes, it becomes a much more pleasant tasting, Kool-Aid type flavor. Almost refreshing. The European Red Bull is, well, unlike anything that I have ever put in my mouth and for me, that’s saying a lot! It’s carbonated and more palatable straight out of the can than the Thai stuff, but there’s a weird extra flavoring in there that almost tastes like liquefied Flintstone’s Chewable Vitamins. Personally, this odd tang falls into a weird predilection-limbo, where I don’t flat out hate it, but it’s certainly not something I would ever crave.

After trying Red Bull for the first time, it became clear that the reason that it works so well for so long is due to it's bonding nature at the molecular level. For example, the inside of my plastic beverage cup at work. After only one serving of Red Bull, a very noticeable aftertaste of the drink was detectable in subsequent beverages that I consumed out of the cup. Only after running it through the dishwasher set to "Scalding" did the residual aftertaste in the cup disappear. If Red Bull sticks to plastic with that much intensity, no wonder it takes six freakin' hours for your body to flush it through.

If one thought about it enough, consuming a drink with such characteristics might worry them about it's lasting effects on the human body, but I have chosen not to burden myself with the issue. In my philosophy, details like that should be left to people with much wider chemical and physiological backgrounds. Meanwhile, for the greater good, it's an aftertaste I can live with.

Wired in Bangkok,


Back to the travelogue index


©Leif Pettersen 2012