When Tim Riley's wife brought several different energy drinks home one day as part of her search for her favorite pre-workout boost, the Washington, D.C. sommelier decided to lend his professional opinions to the process.
"I — for lack of a better word — started 'sommeliering' them," Riley told TODAY Food. "That is to say, tasting them and offering thoughts like one would do with wine. My wife thought my comments were hilarious, suggested I start a TikTok account and a few days later, BSE was born."
BSE, or @bigsommenergy, started up in January 2021. On his TikTok and Instagram accounts, Riley shares thorough reviews of energy drinks made by companies like Red Bull and Monster, as well as other, more obscure brands.
In each video, Riley walks through the "nose" of an energy drink as well as its flavors, pointing out notes of ripe cherries, fresh-cut lime and, in the case of Bang's Sweet Iced Tea flavor, "swamp water."
Riley says he's reviewed 148 energy drinks in total — and he's got many more to come.
"95% of the drinks I've reviewed I've purchased at stores," he shared. "About a dozen — including many of the foreign drinks I've reviewed — have been sent to me by my followers, and less than five have been given to me by energy drink companies."
So, which energy drink has been Riley's favorite so far?
The sommelier, who scores energy drinks on a scale of 50-100 "BSE points" based on his tasting, says he scores his energy drinks on multiple categories, meaning his highest-rated drink, Monster's Mango Loco (96 BSE points), isn't necessarily his personal favorite flavor.
"As silly as this might sound," said Riley, "I consider energy drinks, like I consider wine, based on their quality. Not every wine I sell is something I am personally passionate about but I try to find high quality examples of all sorts of wines that the members at my club want to buy. Same goes with energy drinks."
Riley wouldn't disclose his personal favorite (though he did tell Baltimore magazine it was "probably the Celsius drinks"), but he did admit his least favorite: Jocko Go Dak Savage, to which he awarded only 52 BSE points.
When scoring energy drinks, Riley considers three points: complexity, balance and aroma.
"Complexity meaning that there is an array of flavors," he explained. "Balance meaning that those flavors work in some sort of harmony with one another, and refreshment. At least to me, energy drinks have to be refreshing."
Riley says he didn't anticipate how passionate energy-drink fans would be about their favorite brands, or that his TikTok, which has more than 100,000 followers, would be such a hit with them.
"When I first started my account, the points were meant to be funny and satirical of the way wines are scored in the United States," he said. "I've always thought the precision of such scores, while commercially useful, was a little silly. But by episode 30, I was getting messages that followers were writing down my scores and taking them shopping. At that point, I began to take the scoring a bit more seriously."