“When life gives you lemons, throw some Champagne in your lemonade and take a Plan B,” writes bartender and energy drink enthusiast Stephanie Russ in her 2015 book Energy: Cocktails to Get You UP. The book is a collection of drink recipes that combine taurine and spirits with a whole manner of other ingredients, contraceptive and otherwise. Of course, the lemonade in question here is actually lemonade-flavored Four Loko.
Russ is an LA-based bartender and longtime devotee of Four Loko, that infamous canned “energy drink” that caused untold numbers of teenagers to black out between 2005 and 2010. When the drink was banned and subsequently rereleased without alcohol, Russ and her college friends in Chapel Hill, NC, decided to take matters into their own hands. “I was like, you know we can DIY this. We can recreate it for ourselves,” she recently told me over the phone. She’s been mixing her own energy cocktails ever since.
The recipes in Energy, she says, are all designed to replicate “that Four Loko feeling.” They come with names like Bouncy Castle and Leather Daddie, each drink less a recipe than a conceptual art piece. A few of them even call for cocaine and Molly, but the illicit ingredients are more satirical trip down memory lane than mandate. “It’s a journal and catalog of really ridiculous things that I’ve tried,” says Russ. “A lot of people try crazy things when they’re experimenting.”
But even she has limits. Take the Afterbirth, for example, “a placenta sangria designed for new moms” that calls for red wine, brandy, triple sec, soda, citrus, an apple, sugar (listed as optional) and placenta (not listed as optional). “I’m not a new mom,” explains Russ, who admits she’s never tried one, “and I don’t want to drink someone else’s placenta.”
Same goes for the Skunk, a drink featuring IPA, liquid ginseng and bong water. “I wasn’t really a big bong-water-drinking fan,” she says, “but I heard from [an older friend of mine] that her friends like to keep their bong water in the freezer, and when they want to drink it they mix it with amaretto and they have an amaretto slushie with bong water.” The slushie is listed as a bonus recipe at the bottom of the page.
Needless to say, this book is best when paged through, not drunk from, unless you are the sort of person who lays awake at night thinking things like, “I can’t believe I’ll raise children who may never know the taste of the original Four Loko.”
The photos, taken by Pete Deevakul, are surreal and highly propped, with cocktails flanked by everything from chess sets and NyQuil to blunts and machinery. Sometimes the drinks are totally absent (the photo for the Afterbirth is just a fresh, open, white diaper). It’s as if a drunken pop culture savant got their hands on an Italian Futurist text—and that’s the point.
“I wanted to take the traditional cocktail book format, based on the traditions of food photography and product photography,” says Russ, “and twist it and subvert it.”
So what does taurine-spiked subversion taste like? For this special edition of “Drink Police,” we were joined by one of America’s most forward-thinking bartenders, Eben Freeman (of Genuine Liquorette), writer and PUNCH contributing editor Leslie Pariseau and Shit Food Blogger—along with PUNCH Editor-in-Chief Talia Baiocchi. From Muscle Milk to Mountain Dew, here’s what went down.
1/2 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce rum
1/2 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Pepsi Max
1/2 ounce Mountain Dew
1 BC powder
1 5-hour Energy (any flavor)
At first, there was some confusion as to how we were supposed to consume the BC powder—a powdered painkiller that contains both aspirin and caffeine—that accompanied the drink. Ever a martyr for my craft, I ingested it orally, sipped a bit of the 5-Hour Energy and then had some of the drink. It tasted like the sort of thing you’d mix hurriedly at a truck stop if you were, I don’t know, on the run from something.
Eben: You need to snort the powder off a prostitute’s breast to get the truck stop experience.
Marian: It tastes like chalky chemicals.
Talia: I’ve had this drink before, at some point.
Leslie: It tastes like college. If I were in college and someone handed it to me, I’d be psyched.
…and then we added more soda.
Marian: I do think the Mountain Dew adds something special. I think that if this just had Sprite in it, it wouldn’t be complex enough.
SFB: Would you really drink this in college?
Marian: Oh yeah.
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce Kahlúa
1 ounce Muscle Milk Vanilla Creme
Have you ever been at the gym and felt so eager to get home and start drinking that you somehow procured a nip of vodka and poured it into your French Vanilla Muscle Milk? Have you ever been fixing yourself a White Russian at home and thought to yourself, Hey, this could use a little extra protein? Yeah, me neither, but I assume that this is how this drink came to be.
SFB: What is that awful taste at the end? Is that Aspartame?
Talia: It’s more like Ovaltine—like, malted.
Marian: It tastes like a flat cream soda.
Leslie: I wanted it to be Nesquik, but it’s not Nesquik. Like when your mom gets the off-brand stuff, and you’re like, “Mom, that’s not real.”
3 ounces Moet Rosé Imperial
1 Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita
1 5-hour Energy (any flavor)
1/2 ounce Sprite
This drink has three outstanding qualities. One, it’s very pink and comes in a wine glass. Two, it tastes like a hydrating strawberry drink you’d want to consume either on the beach or after field hockey practice. And three, it’s named after Aubrey Drake Graham. After we drank it, Nothing Was The Same.
Eben: This one is for the lovers out there.
Leslie: It tastes like those Starbursts—like the ones you get not in the regular pack, but in the pink pack.
SFB: When somebody says to Drake, “What does your girlfriend taste like?” That’s how you describe this.
Talia: This is “Hotline Bling” as a drink.
Marian: This is what Drake thinks women like. I love it so much.
Note: We squeezed the juice of half a lime in the glass after a few sips, and it turned into a nice little Rickey—kind of.
THE PLASTIC BAG
1 1/2 ounces tequila
12 ounces Budweiser Clamato Chelada
2 ounces Red Bull
1 dash hot sauce
This drink takes a Michelada, feeds it an extra shot of tequila and hands it a Red Bull, because this drink gives no fucks whatsoever.
Marian: It’s so bad.
SFB: I’m so angry right now.
Leslie It smells like Herbal Essences.
Eben: It’s like the liquid you have to drink before surgery.
Talia: I kinda like this. It reminds me of something…
SFB: It’s vomit.
HONEY NUT CHEERIOS
2 ounces Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey
2 ounces Frangelico
1 shot espresso (or one cup of coffee)
1/4 ounce cream
No, this doesn’t taste like eating an entire bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios at your childhood breakfast table. It tastes more like coming to terms with the intersection of Frangelico and Jack Daniel’s attempt at honey flavor and then washing it all down with the highest-octane coffee you can find.
Talia: It’s not bad if you drink the coffee after.
SFB: It’s only good because the coffee destroys everything else.
Leslie: There’s this very medicinal flavor to the whole thing.
Marian: Could you put a cold brew coffee in this? ‘Cause I would put half a cold brew coffee in this and drink that as a cocktail.