The Untold Truth Of BigSommEnergy

TikTok account @bigsommenergy started off with humble beginnings, as do most who traverse the caffeinated and carbonated waters of the energy drink ocean. Creator Tim Riley's first video, dated January 2021, reviewed the time-honored Red Bull Zero, a beverage most millennials and zoomers (Generation Z) would fondly recall, possibly with pings of heartburn, drinking outside a Spencers or an abandoned playground.

Presented in a stemmed wine glass, Riley brings it to his nose, swishing and swirling to find notes like "fermented gummy bear and yellow flowers." He describes it as being rich and full-bodied, how one would describe a vintage Cabernet Sauvignon, which is an unlikely descriptor for something that resembles sparkling rosé and tastes like sugary, gutter water.

From that first video, he has made 281 similar reviews, to date, and has amassed 1.7 million likes, while scouring and sipping for new and international content recommended by his fans. However, after a three hour TikTok binge of every video, his hilarious content is inflamed through his idiosyncrasies and his loyal followers that praise the almighty "somm daddy."

He is a trained sommelier

The omnipotent, "Tim", as it appears in his TikTok bio, isn't just a guy using big, poetic words to describe the go-go juice of teenagers, third-shift workers, and the armed forces. Riley is an advanced sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, which has a prestigious and rigorous reputation.

In an interview with Baltimore Magazine, he recounted that he became one of three sommeliers in Baltimore to earn the esteemed certificate. According to Wine Enthusiast, at the time of publication, only 255 people have passed the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam encompassing two parts: a theory portion, along with a practical and tasting portion (what a smart cookie.)

Prior to that, he attended Cornell University and the Culinary Institute of America. He currently resides in the District of Columbia area with his wife, and gut-wrenchingly, adorable Chihuahua-mixed dog named Eddie, who makes a celebrity appearance in a couple of videos.

Riley's wife inspired his TikTok

Like most great works of artistry, behind everything, lay a muse –– in this case, Riley's wife in search of a pre-workout pick-me-up. He recalled in Baltimore Magazine that, one day, he started "started sommelier-ing (the energy drinks), for lack of a better term," trying to understand and pinpoint all its notes and complexities as he would a buttery Chardonnay or a cottonmouth-inducing Chianti.

He didn't have a passion for energy drinks –– "I drink energy drinks like anybody else ... " but his wife thought his satirical take on stuffy wine tastings would fill a 16-ounce hole in the TikTok world. Despite his lack of knowledge of TikTok algorithms and creating videos, the videos he thought would only garner a few hundred views have surpassed that into the millions.

However, what shot him to TikTok viral-ness was his review of Monster Zero Ultra –– otherwise known to us plebeians as the "white flavor –– " a personal best energy drink flavor that has amassed almost two million views alone.

His "BSE" rating is similar to wine rating

At your favorite grocery store or liquor store (depending on how fun your state is,) some bottles will have a number rating on it, like a grade on a math test, that might give an indication of how good or fancy that wine is. The rating scale Riley uses to rank the energy drinks, the trademarked "BSE" or Big Somm Energy rating, derives from that same 100-point rating scale for wine, as described in Wine Folly.

It was developed by Robert Parker in the 1980s and was used as an indicator for "production quality and typicity," as opposed to deliciousness. The scale starts at 50-59, meaning that the wine or beverage is undrinkable and should be immediately thrown into the garbage or a time capsule. The point system increases for each rating category, with 70-79 being average, and 95-100 being that the beverage deserves to be canonized and preserved in amber. Most wines and Riley's energy drinks fall in the 75-89 range, which is a solid B+.

BigSommEnergy shares his ratings in a public spreadsheet

Riley told Baltimore Magazine that, after getting over 290 video requests from loyal fans, he decided to make a spreadsheet in order to keep track of what he had already tasted. In his TikTok bio, the spreadsheet loiters in an organized and satisfying manner, with every episode number, energy drink, and rating numerically listed. The only improvement would be including the caffeine content included in the videos for every drink — if someone is referencing this for their next shopping list, it could mean the difference between heart palpitations and a day without sleep because the air is too loud.

What's a spreadsheet without a quick blast from the pre-algebra past? Because math is definitely used in a day-to-day writing job, aside from word count. Riley has reviewed 51 Monster flavors, our energy drink mode or most reviewed, with Bang coming in second with 29 reviewed flavors, 20 Rockstar flavors, 17 Red Bull flavors, 13 Reign flavors, and five Nos flavors, which is about five too many.

Riley's favorite drinks aren't in his most popular videos

Some of Riley's viral videos, such as the tastings of Rip It Power and Monster Energy Ultra Gold, represent fan favorites when it comes to cult classic energy drinks. However, despite their popularity, his favorite and highest-rated drinks have been some sleepers and shockers. In two TikTok comments where a fan asked what Riley's top drinks were at the time, he said he didn't regularly have drinks with full sugar, but loved The Visitor from Cult Energy, Monster Ultra Fiesta, and Alani Nutrition Cherry Slush. Aside from energy drinks, in that same comment, he enjoys wine like Champagne and Riesling, Scotch or Cognac, sour ales, and lots of tea.

He told Baltimore Magazine that he enjoyed the Celsius brand energy drinks, even though he tries to judge every drink "objectively based on overall quality and not (his) personal preference." The highest-rated energy drink, with a 96 BSE, is also one that palpates his heartstrings — Monster Juicy Mango Loco. His worst, a stunning three-way tie, is a mouthful– Pu$$y Energy and OG, as well as Jocko Go Dark Savage with a whopping 52 BSE. At least he gave them two participation points for spelling their name right.

The descriptors BigSommEnergy uses are strangely accurate

It takes years of experience to understand and develop the wine palette that Riley possesses, but thankfully, we don't have to smell cantaloupes and pineapple leaves in the produce aisle to achieve the same effect. In an article for Today, Riley develops his energy drink scores by looking at complexity –– "the array of flavors," balance –– how those flavors harmonize with each other, and aroma –– the smelly smell that smells ... fruity?

When learning how to taste wine, or anything in general, the rule of thumb outlined in Wine Folly is look, smell, taste, and think. BigSommEnergy analyzes the color in relation to the flavor and smell envisioned, like the lime green, toxic waste hue of the similarly tasting Monster Nitro Super Dry and the community pool tile blue of Red Bull Coconut Berry.

He dives in, nose first, to get the primary (grape –– derivative,) secondary (yeast –– derivative,) and tertiary (aging –– derivative) aromas. This helps envision and supplement taste, discovering flavors and smells like "rose-scented air freshener" in Pu$$y Energy (too much to unpack in 200 words,) "cat pee" in Ghost Tropical Mango, "Dramamine" in Uptime Blood Orange, and, a personal favorite, "swamp water" in Bang Sweet Iced Tea –– a common flavor in Bang energy drinks.

His attention to detail is like playing "I Spy"

As a former fashion major, it's hard not to notice the small stylistic changes that have evolved over the past 200-something videos. At the start of his videos, he starts with a tasteful, yet simple gingham or blue button-down, never fully buttoned though, since that's too stuffy to be satirical. After about 100 episodes, he switched to bowties and a wine cellar green screen with a white linen tablecloth -– a stunning transformation.

His eye for coordinating patterned ties to energy drink cans is something seen by only the most avant-garde of fashion bloggers –- a blue and white paisley tie paired with a blue and pink Bang Rainbow Unicorn, and a similar-patterned yellow and blue paisley tie with the orange Monster Monarch. It's a truly groundbreaking use of the complementary colors –- take notes, Gucci, for next year's inspiration.

Like with wine, Riley tends to tailor the glass to the type or "style" of the energy drink, usually using a light-bodied white or medium-bodied red wine glass. When breaking out the good stuff, he'll use a coffee mug for coffee-flavored energy drinks or a big daddy Burgundy glass for drinks like the big-waved Monster Pipeline Punch.

BigSommEnergy also makes cocktails with energy drinks

For a bartender, cocktails mixed with energy drinks can be both a solace and a sudden blip of happiness, as they are (mostly) delicious, quick to make, and the leftover energy drink makes for a great 11 p.m. pick me up before cleaning the bar. There are the classics such as the unkillable Vodka Redbull and the nostalgic Four Loko. Then there are Trash Cans – a riff of a Blue Motorcycle, or a Blue Long Island, with peach schnapps and an entire can of Red Bull usually in a beer mu. It's usually a favorite for locals at dive bars, college students, and people with low self-regard for their liver function. Regardless, the CDC informs us about the dangers of mixing caffeine and alcohol, so don't be too stupid.

Occasionally, Riley deviates from his usually scheduled program, using some fan recommendations, to play mixologist with fun, interesting, and sometimes gag-worthy cocktail combinations. His first cocktail video mixed Jameson Cold Brew and Monster Mean Bean; when combined with Frangelico or Amaretto, it makes a delicious Espresso Martini. Just don't shake carbonated drinks, for it will naturally ruin your day. Other quirky combinations include Grey Goose and Monster Ultra Zero (can confirm its deliciousness,) and Old English 42-ounce Malt Liquor and Monster Ultra Sunrise. The latter is a combination so outrageous yet enticing, it makes grabbing a 40-ounce and a Monster at 8 a.m. almost seem like a sound beverage choice.

He received backlash from people in Iceland

Despite the fun, lighthearted content, and Riley's cheery disposition, he received a tremendous amount of hate from one of the happiest places on earth –- Iceland -– following his review of Iceland's Collab energy drink in February 2022. He scored the fish collagen-infused drink a 55 BSE, and found notes of "cat litter" and urine, with similar aromas mixed with Chanel perfume and citrus.

He revealed in a follow-up video that roughly 10% of Iceland's population had watched the video, almost half the total views on the video. He documented on Twitter many derogatory and harassing comments he received in Icelandic that were translated on TikTok, including people calling him a "rapist" and telling him to "kill (himself)." He reported these comments to TikTok on the basis of bullying, but all the documented comments he posted showed that "(the comment) didn't violate (TikTok) community guidelines." It is unsure if any further action was taken, but in a follow-up video reviewing an additional Collab energy drink, he wasn't going to let anyone, not even Iceland, get the best of him.

He has no sponsors ... yet

It is interesting that Riley, despite having a large following for videos based around a popular industry, is not sponsored by any major energy drink brands (shame on them). In an interview with Today, he said that the vast majority, about 95%, of his energy drinks are purchased with his own money from his local convenience stores and grocery stores. As he gains a larger following, followers send him obscure or international brands, but "less than five" have been sent by energy drink companies.

Part of that could be due to increasing awareness of the link between heavy energy drink consumption and health problems, such as heart failure, high blood pressure, and heart rhythm abnormalities. In addition, research with the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior has discovered that energy drinks' digital marketing targets young adults more than any other method of marketing. With 43% of TikTok's global audience between the ages of 18 and 24, it could be easy for Riley's light-hearted content to be linked with big energy drink propaganda, but at least throw the man a Monster here or there. Recently, he collaborated with Vitamin Shoppe in a review of Logan Paul x KSI's Prime Hydration, so the sky's the limit from here.

Riley is using energy drinks to introduce people to wine

Tiktok account @bigsommenergy is more than just a satirical way of informing viewers of better ways to ingest caffeine in a satisfying dopamine-triggering manner. Riley hopes to nudge people into the world of wine without it seeming like an intoxicating and pretentious form of knowledge-splaining. He told Wine Enthusiast, "what I offer is an introduction (to wine) ... wine is a really complicated subject, and one that can be hard for people to break into." It's a way for him to talk about a drink's body and acidity, while making viewers more aware of wine terminology without every video feeling like a pop quiz. In addition, he also plans to launch a "Wine for Energy Drinkers" series.

Riley aims to push aside the stereotype of the fancy-pants sommelier that recommends only $300 bottles of Champagne in a tuxedo. By contrasting that stereotype with the irony of tasting gas station drinks under three dollars, he explained to Baltimore Magazine, that he wants to bridge the accessibility of energy drinks with the seriousness and self-exploration learning how to, in essence, taste.

If you are reading this, good job for reading an article in its entirety today without getting completely distracted by that weird noise outside; if you skimmed to the bottom –- A for effort.