Sunday, April 17, 2005

This Bud's for you, because it's revolting and I don't want it

Like it? 
I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer...

We have classic rock group The Doors to thank for that pleasant little image. And now, we have Budweiser to thank for making a beer that's perky enough for a morning pick-me-up.

Friends, Bud Extra has hit the market.

This new brew from Anheuser-Busch Inc. is touted as "Beer With Something Extra." It's a delightfully vague promise, almost a challenge if you think about it. It reminds me of my youth, when my older sister would take all the old stuff fermenting away in the back of the refrigerator, put it on crackers, and say, "Eat this -- I call it Snack Surprise."

Look more closely at the can and you see the full story: "Beer with caffeine, ginseng and guarana extract and natural flavors." That’s right -- it's the liquid depressant of alcohol mixed with the liquid stimulant of caffeine. The result? The beverage equivalent of being stuck in an elevator.

I picked up a few cans the other day and gave them a test drive. Yes, my wife and I sat down with a couple of beers and took notes. These are the sacrifices I make for you people.

First, let's do a walkaround. The can looks more or less like a beer, except thinner. But it's not obviously thinner, leading to a slight sense of disorientation -- appropriate, considering the source. You hold the can and stare at it, wondering if the can is too little, or maybe your hands have gotten too big. Then you notice that it holds only 10 ounces of brew, not the regular 12. To keep the can in a foam cozy, you may require an adapter, sold separately.

When you open the can, it sounds like a beer, too, with a familiar crack. It even squirts out a little bit if it's jostled -- as it did on my wife's hand when she opened hers.

Then comes the puzzling news.

She licked her hand and said, "It's sweet."

She's right -- it is. Which is not what I expected at all. It's about as thin as a Bud Light, but the sugary taste is pure Mountain Dew. In short, Bud Extra tastes like it might once have been a beer before Willy Wonka got hold of it. Or, like drinking a Bud Light around a mouthful of candy corn. Or, like my older sister took a beer, mixed some old honey in it, and said, "Drink this -- I call it Beer Surprise."

Other taste-testers I found online have been equally unable to nail down Bud Extra's sticky-sweet flavor. One Web site said it tasted like "something akin to a beer with a Flintstone's vitamin ground up in it." A writer on the Web site AdFreak.com wrote, "Feels like beer; tastes like Sucrets." Don't all run out to the liquor store at once! Seattle Weekly wrote my favorite description: "It tastes like drinking Red Bull from an unrinsed glass that just had Bud in it."

Let's talk aftertaste. Hmm -- how to put this delicately. You know Twizzlers? You know Near Beer? It's like those, but if you threw them up.

I ended up drinking it, though, because it's beer. Sadly, after finishing mine and my wife's ("Drink this," she said), I no ill effects to report. No beer buzz. No slurred speech. I didn't even burp once -- none of the pleasant effects you hope for in a brewski.

As for caffeine, I'm not sure I felt any. Ginseng is an herb that's supposed to increase mental sharpness. Beer, on the other hand, is supposed to murder your brain cells. That's its whole charm.

And about this "guarana"? I had to look that one up online. It's apparently some kind of Brazilian berry -- with something extra.

I guess I'm old school. I figure if you're going to drink a beer, it should taste like a beer, not like some Juicy Fruit-flavored end-of-the-keg backwash.

Not everybody's like me, though, and some people will find Bud Extra highly potable. For instance, morons. I found one such person online at BevNet, an Internet discussion board for soft drinks. Yes, this is real.

"Only wish they had a Bud Extra Light or low-carb version in the works," one person wrote. In other words, he wants a beer that's even less like a beer than this travesty. The easy solution? Drink anything except an actual beer.

Bud Extra's official Web site, www.BudExtra.com, has no information to explain their motives behind this bizarre beverage, except a cartoon of a can with what look like little atoms zipping around it, or perhaps they’re moths.

But it's not hard to figure out why Budweiser would make beer with pep.

Caffeinated alcohol is all the rage with younger drinkers who aspire one day to be hyperactive alcoholics. Also, liquor has been known to make college kids, nursed as they have been on Slurpees and Dr. Pepper, very sleepy even before Conan O'Brien comes on TV. So, most common among wusses who can't hold their booze is the energy drink Red Bull mixed with vodka -- or a "Bullshot." I call it ... um, something similar.

Bud Extra, then, is a transparent ploy to horn in on the alcoholic energy drink market.

Will it work?

After two Bud Extras, I'd say we're looking at the new New Coke.

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