Drank: The 'Anti-Energy Drink'

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You won't find caffeine here. According to its creator, Drank is the "extreme relaxation lifestyle beverage."

MIKE PESCA, host

In stark contrast to the tone of that last song, let me tell you that we start work at the BPP well before sunrise. Staying awake requires the help of various friendly stimulants like coffee, energy drinks and soda. So the beverage we're about to talk about is not something we'll be drinking at least until well after the work day is done. It's called Drank. It calls itself - I'm holding a can here.

What do you call yourself, Drank?

I'm an anti-energy drink.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Or in the words of the impeccably precise press release, it's an "extreme relaxation lifestyle beverage." In the studio with me now is Peter Bianchi. He's the CEO of Innovative Beverage Groups, and he's Drank's creator. He's with us at the BPP world headquarters, and there are cans of Drank in tow. How did you come up with Drank, Peter?

Mr. PETER BIANCHI (Chief Executive Officer, Innovative Beverage Groups): Actually, for a long time, I was real active, real hyper, and wanted to, you know, keep up with work, and keep my function about me, and keep my wits in my head. So it's a concoction I made up about three or four years ago, and it's all natural, with melatonin, valerian root, and it just lets me keep working during the day and not let stress kind of creep up on me.

PESCA: See, now, I could tell that you, well, I'm going to guess you didn't have any Drank because you're banging on the table, and you're right on top of that microphone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: So, this is NPR, and I always break this rule, but we're going to relax a little bit. In fact, let me, ah...

(Soundbite of soda can opening)

PESCA: Let me open some Drank.

Mr. BIANCHI: Ahhh!

PESCA: And what makes it relaxing? Is it the rosehips? Is it the purple color? Or is it just marketing? Peter, you tell me, right?

Mr. BIANCHI: Purple color itself, you know, reminds you of a grape soda, what it tastes like. But what actually relaxes you is the melatonin and valerian root. Valerian and melatonin has been used for many years to balance your REM sleep, gives you more recuperative sleep at night. So you wake up feeling a little more refreshed, not groggy.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Is there any sugar in this?

Mr. BIANCHI: There is sugar, a little less than your average Coke or Pepsi, but you've got to have the flavor, so you enjoy drinking it after work.

PESCA: Well, the first ingredient is water and then a bunch of sugary, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and then down the list, we have potassium benzoate. That's in everything.

Mr. BIANCHI: Right.

PESCA: Then, we have some vitamins, calcium, or calcium pantothenate, which is vitamin B5, rosehips. Here's one, pyridoxine hydrochloric? But is that, what is that?

Mr. BIANCHI: All of those ingredients help the efficacy of your melatonin and your valerian root. You know, the product was designed as most people after work just want to relax, just like coffee and caffeine gets you up in the morning. But you still have to function. You've got to pick kids up from work, school. You might have meetings. You might have things you want to function and do. This will still relax you at the end of day, especially traffic. Coming here was pretty crazy. So the cab driver and me should have probably split a can.

PESCA: Well, it does say, warning, this product may cause drowsiness, not recommended more than two servings within a 24-hour period. There's no operating-heavy-machinery warning, but I don't know if I would give it to the cab driver.

Mr. BIANCHI: No, warnings are placed on most cans. It's just like most energy drinks says no more than two servings. We just recommend you to follow the label. It's - you know...

PESCA: Right. But you do recommend two servings for everyone in America.

Mr. BIANCHI: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, everyone in America should relax.

PESCA: Here's what we need to address. This product is called Drank.

Mr. BIANCHI: Mm-hm.

PESCA: It's purple. Purple drank in Houston, in the South, where you are from, is something very specific in the Houston rap scene. There is a drink that's mostly codeine, some Sprite, some Jolly Ranchers are thrown in for color. Did that take the - I mean, the two, it can't just be a coincidence. There has to be some relationship. Tell me about this real illegal drink that will really get you high in your drink, how are they related?

Mr. BIANCHI: I spend a lot of time in studios in Houston, Texas, in the hip-hop scene and culture. I play drums. I'm invited to do a lot of beats for artists, so I'm pretty immersed in Houston hip-hop culture. And this beverage I created for myself about three years ago to keep myself focused but relaxed in the studio.

And a lot of Houston artists are aware of the detrimental life style that's going on with Drank, promathazine, in Houston. And they said, you know, Peter, this offers a positive alternative. And they thought it was real positive to do this. And now that all the hip-hop artists are talking about a lifestyle that may be detrimental, now we're offering a positive alternative to it.

PESCA: See, I was worrying that, you know, some crazy, radio-talk-show guy would be - this would be his latest crusade to ban this.

Mr. BIANCHI: Mm-hm.

PESCA: But what you're saying is that it's not a gateway drink to Drank. It's more like methadone, to wean someone off.

Mr. BIANCHI: Well, it's not a drug. It's a lifestyle beverage. It's like walking into Macy's or Bloomingdale's, you've got Sean John and Mark Echo. This product right now is being used as a lifestyle product. Everyone wants to have it in their hands, but it's - basically what it's doing is it's highlighting a name. It's highlighting a positive alternative right now.

PESCA: And it's taking advantage of a brand that's out there, so you don't have to - there's not that hurdle to explain it to people. They'll say, oh, OK, it's no codeine, but I see what you're going for.

Mr. BIANCHI: And that's why I had it three years ago. And I said to myself, how are you going to market something like this? How are you going to let America know about a relaxation beverage? How are you going to let America know? And when we were in the studio, and they said you've got to do something, I said, wow! It's when function met form. So now everyone knows, slow your roll. I don't have to tell you that. Just relax.

PESCA: And I have to confess that I was a two-pack-a-day candy-cigarette consumer, so...

Mr. BIANCHI: Candy cigarettes?

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. BIANCHI: Pall Mall, right?

PESCA: So this is sort of like the idea of Drank. You know, the candy version of this bad thing. But now, this is funny. You're talking about you were a drummer, and maybe if people don't really realize, they're used to a rap scene, they would think, oh, drummer. Or he's the most antic guy in the band, and he usually died if the band was spinal-tapped. But Houston does this weird way of remixing the beats and luckily, we have an expert on staff.

BPP's senior producer, from his private collection. What we're going to do is play a couple of original songs and then the Houston remix. So, first let's play - this is a legendary Houston musician Big Moe. Let's hear a little bit of his original "Barre Baby."

(Soundbite of song "Barre Baby")

BIG MOE: (Rapping) It's the Barre baby (huh?) The Barre baby (who?) The Barre baby (what?) The Barre baby

Now for all y'all who ain't heard of me. It's da M-O-E., the Barre baby. I'm a south-side living legend.

PESCA: Now, in Houston what they do is they do something called chopped and screwed. It's a hip-hop remix style, so what they would do is they would take that song, and here's the chopped-and-screwed remix.

(Soundbite of song "Barre Baby Remix")

BIG MOE: (Rapping) It's the Barre baby (huh?) The Barre baby (who?) The Barre baby (what?) The Barre baby

Now for all y'all who ain't heard of me. It's da M-O-E. the Barre baby. I'm a south-side living legend...

PESCA: And so this is sort of like psychedelic music from the '60s. In a way, it's supposed to approximate the feelings of being on the drug of choice. If you're on Drank, the codeine Drank, and everything slows down, the music's more appealing to you. Does it work with your drink? Does chopped and screwed work well with Drank?

Mr. BIANCHI: It has a similar feel, but just like - Oakland has their own style, with high feed, where they speed things up. Chopped and screwed has evolved from what you just played to, you know, Justin Timberlake, to a lot of your top artists right now, Missy Elliott. When you actually slow the beat down, just a couple of beats for a minute, and you feel hesitation, it makes the song feel like it's a little bit more relaxed. A little bit more, like, not as slow as that, but right now, most of your top artists are actually slowing the beat down a little bit and not keeping the beats per minute up.

PESCA: And as a drummer, do you like that? Or is it less demanding for you?

Mr. BIANCHI: I like anything that makes people feel the music.

PESCA: Yeah, and whether they need to hire drummers. Oh, well, you know, we've been talking and talking. Let's do some drinking.

Mr. BIANCHI: Oh-oh.

PESCA: Here's the taste test.

(Soundbite of swallow)

PESCA: It's playful without being pretentious.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm going to be honest here. I have to tell you that this to me taste like Dimetapp. Do you know what Dimetapp is?

Mr. BIANCHI: No.

MARTIN: It is cough medicine.

Mr. BIANCHI: OK.

MARTIN: Have you heard that before? I know it's not very nice, but it tastes to me - it brings back horrible memories of my mom plying me with cough medicine when I was young.

PESCA: I don't drink sugared drinks. It's like the one area of consumption that I abstain from. This is a lot less sugary. It tastes a lot - I don't know if it literally is. It has the 110 per eight-ounce servings, which I guess must come...

Mr. BIANCHI: Which is less than...

PESCA: Oh, that's less than cola.

Mr. BIANCHI: It's a little less than regular sugar, but when you serve it chilled, I personally like...

PESCA: Chilled?

Mr. BIANCHI: Welch's Grape, and I've been drinking that my whole life.

MARTIN: It definitely is grape. If you like grape sodas...

Mr. BIANCHI: Right.

MARTIN: I think I was tortured with them when I was a child, so...

PESCA: To me, it's less grape than grape. And it's less fizzy than, you know, Mountain Dew. And it's less sweet than any of those. So there's a lot of less in it. And I don't really feel the effects.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIANCHI: It's not going to stop you from running a race. But what it's doing is when you have a chance to sit down and relax, reflect in a nice calm environment, it helps you go, I think I'm going stay here an extra couple of minutes because it's comfortable. Just, it's equivalent to having a nice warm bath and sitting in your favorite recliner.

PESCA: So listen, if you're Peter Bianchi, and you are, and you're not Peter Pepsi or Peter Coke, what do you do? How does this become a grassroots phenomenon? How do you get it into stores?

Mr. BIANCHI: Well, I've been in business for five years selling products in Houston, Texas, where I'm a distributor of your household-name beverages. This particular product hit the shelves because of our relationships with our clients. We're in over 500 stores throughout Houston, Texas and liquor stores. In a...

MARTIN: You're in liquor stores?

Mr. BIANCHI: Pardon?

MARTIN: You're in liquor stores?

Mr. BIANCHI: Oh, absolutely, yes! We're in liquor stores...

PESCA: What kind of cocktails - are there cocktails that are good with grape Drank?

Mr. BIANCHI: There are a lot of people actually creating cocktails with Hennessy. They call it their lollipop, just like Lil Wayne's new song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BIANCHI: Yeah, no, they're coming up with their own little cocktails and neat little names...

PESCA: Maybe some Cointreau, have a little "Candy Shop" going on there, like 50 Cents' song, yeah.

Mr. BIANCHI: But you know, with what we've done, we've been proud. We haven't gone to any other market yet, but all the distributors feeling what we're doing, and seeing the consumer response to this, it's for everybody. It's not just for the young, urban, hip-hop lifestyle. It's for executives. It's for, you know, with Dr. Sanjay Gupta coming out and saying, I recommend five milligrams of melatonin for children, you know, anywhere from 13 to 20. Parents are buying this for their kids. They say this will help you sleep better at night.

PESCA: Drank, not just slowin' your roll, but excellent parenting. OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Well, look, it's clever marketing. And it for what it is, it ain't half bad. You know, it's slowing my roll. So we're going to slow our roll on out of here. I want to thank you, Peter Bianchi.

Mr. BIANCHI: I appreciate it.

PESCA: The CEO of Innovative Beverage Group, Drank's creator. Thank you, Peter.

Mr. BIANCHI: Thank you.

MARTIN: That does it for this hour of the BPP. We don't go away. We're always online at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Rachel Martin, slowing my roll.

PESCA: And I'm Mike Pesca. The roll has been officially slowed. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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