Sparkling Energy Water Death Match
Ok, full disclosure: we are Hiball apologists. Hiball Sparkling Energy Waters are the life-giving nectar that gets us out of bed in the morning.
Ugly, arriving onto the scene, has felt somewhat like an interloper. They launched their line of Energy Water in the US in 2018, a good decade after Hiball nobly entered (created?) the clean caffeine cosmos and changed our ability to function forever.
And a trip down the ingredients list shows that Ugly and Hiball are exactly the same. Exactly.
Hiball Energy Water Ingredients
Carbonated Purified Water, Natural Flavor, Organic Caffeine, Organic Guarana Extract, Organic Panax Ginseng Extract, Niacinamide (Vit B3), D-Calcium Pantothenate (Vit B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit B6), Cyanocobalamin (Vit B12)
Ugly Energy Water Ingredients
Sparkling Water, Organic Flavor, Organic Caffeine, Organic Guarana Extract, Organic Ginseng Extract, Niacinamide (Vit B3), D-Calcium Pantothenate (Vit B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit B6), Cyanocobalamin (Vit B12)
So when it comes to a side by side comparison, it’s all going to boil down to this: FLAVOR.
We’re not above being mercenary about this. We’re open to usurping Hiball from their Sparkling Energy Throne. We want sugar-free, crisp, sparkling caffeine in the best form available.
And maybe the Sparkling Energy Water world is up for a little “disruption,” as the venture capitalists say.
In this ongoing post, we’ll be updating you with a flavor-by-flavor breakdown of the tooth-grinding death match we’re conducting in our kitchen: Hiball vs. Ugly Drinks.
Sadly, none of that full citrus aroma is readily available on the palette. The flavor that we have is some thin, reedy bitterness. The lemon is in the vein of Lemon Lacroix, faded and generic.
It’s almost as if they didn’t bother to flavor it at all. Unlike Hiball’s Vanilla or Watermelon Mint, rock ‘em sock ‘em flavors that came to start the party, this is like a bitter wallflower, judging from the corners, although when you actually strike up a conversation you find they’re not so bad.
But still, not winning any charisma points.
This flavor could appeal to the camp of loyal Lacroix followers who like those watered down aromatics, inoffensive nods to the idea of flavor. But this is not a robust or interesting lemon-lime execution.
While this isn’t the worst thing around by far, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that this is giving us some flashbacks to the actual worst thing around: Waterloo Original. The flavor is so minimal that it veers into the “hints of the dregs of citric acid” category, especially as you work your way down the can and the stronger, upfront aromatics have dissipated a bit.
There’s so little lime in here that it actually seems more herbal than fruity. We don’t mind this, as often heavy soda vibes get a bit much for us. But considering this is named after two, distinct fruits, it’d be nice to see a little a more of them.
What we will give this one is that there’s a lot of restraint here. There’s a certain clean functionality to the flavor that refreshes without pretending that you’re here for anything other than the sparkling 160mg of caffeine.
These bubbles are tight. They came here to SPARKLE. Which we love, but to be honest, this doesn’t help with the overall vibe of bitterness in this flavor. It lends itself to a constricted feeling.
Where the Ugly Lemon Lime is juicier, looser, ready to party down your throat, Hiball is all business: we are going to caffeine the living sh*t out out of you, and it’s a serious enterprise. In fact, we don’t even care if you enjoy it or get a satisfying lemon-lime journey.
It’s hard not to enjoy any given Hiball, because of their life-giving properties: the vitamin-infused carbonation, the insane amount of caffeine. Any Hiball is a glorious Hiball. That is science-fact.
But we will be reaching for their Grapefruit over this one anytime we want a citrus Hiball. And considering that we know Hiball can do a bang up flavor, it’s disappointing that this one is underwhelming.
This one will do two things with machine-like precision: refresh and caffeinate. It’s not to be lingered over in the morning, or savored as a sparkling water.
Hiball’s Lemon Lime is served best mid-workout, when you’re sweating and need a sharp, crisp, barely-flavored citrus energy delivery vehicle.
In contrast to the nose, the dominant citrus in the sip is the lime: a ripe lime, full flesh, verdant and juicy. Unlike the Hiball’s lime, all aspects of the citroid are present in this one.
It’s reminiscent of Waterloo’s now-discontinued lime flavor (RIP). The lemon hangs back, thinner, adding a slightly bitter undertone that keeps this from going full 7UP.
Upon further sipping, a certain meyer-ness to the lemon emerges, though, a sweeter, rounder note than in the Hiball, and it also continues to evoke Lemon Pledge.
It’s kind of a bifurcated lemon: on the one hand, there’s the thin & astringent lemon, and then there’s the cleaning product lemon. We’re finding it hard to decide if there are two or three flavors at play here: is it Ugly Lemon Lime, or Ugly Lemon Lime Lysol?
The cleaning product note lingers, like the rude cartoon lime is softscrubbing your throat with his giant, glistening tongue.
That’s not to say that we don’t actually weirdly enjoy the detergentness of it all!
There’s an upfront artifice to Ugly’s branding and can design, nothing about Ugly is pretending to be “natural,” and the flavors are a continuation of this affect.
They do show some restraint, though, it’s not like they’re here to beat you over the head with the taste of ENERGY like a Red Bull or Monster or something. They’re a little chiller than that.
But will you be after mainlining 160 mg of caffeine?
These are your standard medium-tight bubbles, the usual suspects in a artificially carbonated water. They loosen up at the end, not as hyper-carbonated as the Hiball.
There’s something slightly more laid back about the bubble quality in this one, and it mimics the spirit of the looser, friendlier flavors. It all makes for an enjoyable sip.
There’s a more robust and intriguing flavor profile here than with the Hiball. There is something to savor, to turn over in contemplation, which is kind of our thing. There’s an arc to the lemon and the lime as you travel down this bubbler.
It’s soda, it’s detergent, it’s cartoonish pie. We appreciate the bubble quality, especially.
Lemon Lime WINNER: UGLY
Ok, the people have spoken, and you wanted GRAPEFRUIT thrown into the cage next. Grapefruit is dear to our hearts here at the Bubbleverse, so this one is a nail-biter.
Okay, so if we’re being honest, there’s not much to this flavor. It’s grapefruity enough, but maybe let’s just call it grapefruit-ish. Grapefruit adjacent?
There’s a kind of perplexing phenomenon that takes place with Hi Balls that we’ve noticed while writing these death matches: even though we drink these every day, the flavor becomes elusive when we’re sitting down to actually contemplate and write about it.
As the sage himself once said in the Tao Te Ching: the Grapefruit that can be told is not the eternal Grapefruit. The Grapefruit of Unknowing. Not This, Not That. Tasted through a rind darkly.
But like all mystics, it’s ours to attempt to put words to these mysteries. So we try.
There’s basically two notes here: one underlying layer of citric acid, a sour/bitter aura that communicates to our tongue that we’ve entered the citroid dimension, and a subtler, almost ineffable Holy Ghost of Grapefruit Extract that disappears when we try to place our tongue on it.
Something a little sweet? A little pink? If you don’t stare directly at it, your subconscious receives the Grapefruit transmission: you know what you’re drinking, but the conscious mind is unable to grasp it.
And weirdly, unlike the Ugly, the taste that settles on the tongue is something airy and sweet, a little glow of the promised pink grapefruit that we had on the nose.
It’s subtle, but if you dedicate your life’s work to swimming through the “natural essences” added to sparkling waters like we do, you can get there.
These are Hi Ball’s classic bubbles, here to invigorate and decimate your throat. Wake Up! They say, It’s time for your caffeine.
Small, tight, aggressively sparkling. In this one, the bubbles pair beautifully with the slight grapefruit overtones, creating a crisp, clean, pure Energy Grapefruit experience.
We have to say, disappointing grapefruit execution aside, there’s something that works overall.
It’s sort of like if you let your palette go fuzzy, and don’t look too closely, the smoke and mirrors do their work.
And so does the ungodly amount of caffeine.
Excuse me, ma’am? Where are my pink and yellow Haribo slices in carbonated form?
If Ugly’s Lime Time brought us a symphony (cacophony?) of Lysol, 7up and pie, this Grapefruit takes us careening in the opposite direction. Suddenly we’re searching for anything flavor-wise to grasp on to. It’s a citrus desert, dusty bubbleweeds tumbling across the barren landscape of our tongue.
This is a sensory deprivation tank: we’re floating in our can of caffeine wondering if we’re doing it right. A few thoughts crossed our minds pondering the grapefruit nature of the Ugly.
a) Did we spontaneously get the COVID and lose our ability to taste/smell?
b) Is it just this can? Certainly we got a can that missed the flavor fairy injector on the enchanted assembly line! (That’s how sparkling waters are made, right?)
We suddenly envision ourselves as a depression-era George Clooney, running around in our prison stripes, plucking banjos and trying to summon the citrus as we sing, “O Grapefruit, where art thou?”
As we ponder both the Ugly and the Hi Ball, it appears that they have a similar thing happening: we know on a somatic level that what we’re consuming is “Grapefruit”, but when subjecting the flavors in the cans to some left brain analysis, we’re unable to detect anything that we could pinpoint to conveying that specific and distinct fruit.
And let’s be honest, grapefruit is not a wallflower of a flavor. It can be polarizing: a strong, piquant punch that can send lesser flavornauts running for safer, berry-hued pastures. But none of that robust, citrus explosion of the gods is happening in either of these.
We love a thinker, but this is starting to break our brains.
Now, there is a hit when you first sip that is reminiscent of the promise of the nose. But it’s so ephemeral and quick that you almost wonder if you’re just getting some of the aromatics confused with your taste buds.
We mean, we know that’s technically how taste works, but still.
There’s once again a faint and fleeting detergent note that lingers in the background, and there’s what seems to be a real round, slippery minerality to the water quality, which we love.
We’re not sure what all is happening in this flavor: it’s grapefruit, but not. It’s certainly not bad, but it’s all a little too complicated to parse through when you’re just waking up and all you really want is 160mg of caffeine down the gullet.
When the flavor is barely apparent, the bubbles send us to a mineral territory.
There’s not enough sweetness or flavor to work in harmony with the carbonation and create something alchemically new. Nor is there enough sweetness of flavor to make the bubbles just a background, where the carbonation is simply the stage for the flavors dance on.
No, the bubbles are pronounced here, and this experience is mostly bubbles.
Well let’s not mince words: with 160 mg, B vitamins and guarana we totally enjoyed this. This is basically proof that we actually don’t need any flavor to enjoy a caffeinated sparkling water.
Grapefruit WINNER: HiBall
(by an imperceptible, citric acid hair)
This one might be difficult to say we’re doing a truly scientific comparison, because whereas the Ugly Berry flavor is simply labeled as “berry,” the Hiball calls itself Wild Berry, an important distinction.
What exactly that portends remains to be seen, but we imagine that where Ugly’s CEO simply drops by the produce section to grab a few clamshells of mixed berries, the Hiball CEO is out there in the brambles and thickets, hand plucking thimbleberries and gooseberries from their thorny vines, lingering by a rushing stream in the dappled sunlight, hurrying home with their overflowing basket as the dusk sets in, wild beasts howling in the distance.
On first sip, it turns out that Hiball is actually interpreting Berry through the lens of a vague, watery, cranberry-esque sour tartness.
It’s truly difficult to determine which type of berries Hiball thinks they’re conjuring here: the flavor is so reticent that we’re left grasping, projecting random berries into a haze of citric acid and generalized tartness.
Have you ever seen a cranberry bog at harvest time? Thousands upon thousands of bright red berries floating in a brilliant crimson carpet. Imagine that, but with a single cranberry.
Now imagine you’re blindfolded, standing in the middle of a carbonated bog, bobbing for a lone berry that you know is somewhere out there. Maybe a raspberry floats by. Or is that a blueberry? Who knows? At least you’re getting caffeinated as you thrash about in the wild bog, your bobbing becoming more frenetic as you repeatedly dunk yourself searching for any point of reference in the wild vagueness.
We will say this though: as with all Hiball Energy Waters, the sour crispness is the draw. The flavors are here not to be savored or contemplated — in fact, the more you think about them the further they recede into the distance.
Instead, they’re here to give a slight nod to your tongue, trojan horses that allow that sweet sweet caffeine to make it into your bloodstream. If you turn your brain off and just keep sippin’, it’s an overall refreshing experience.
But we also have to say: this is the worst Hiball flavor in their roster. This one, in our opinion, is only to be drunk when the rest of the shelf is empty. For emergencies only.
As always, the tight, mellifluous carbonation is a standout here. The small, aggressive little bubbles are here to play.
If you drink too big of a sip, you may wince a little as these sparkles make their way down your throat.
The aroma floating up from the can is already different from the one we got with the Hi Ball. There is something rich and lush, a discernible fruit. Something at all.
We’re wildly excited, because we feel like we’ve been bamboozled by whatever Hiball was trying to tell us was “wild” or a “berry”.
Despite being let down by Hiball in this round, hope springs eternal, and our hope has returned.
Well hello there, berry!
The rich, luscious fruit note persists. The berry we’re getting here is specifically and singularly blueberry.
Berry, as we’ve seen above, can be a lazy catchall term for any flavor that broadly communicates anything sweet, fruit-forward or nothing at all. Berry is inoffensive enough and widely used as a second or combo “flavor” in sparkling waters.
And sometimes it feels like a slippery way to be the shelf equivalent of clickbait: you may be enticed, but ultimately, the click/sip only leads to disappointment and the unshakeable sense that you were suckered again by the promise of the One Weird Berry That Doctors Don’t Want You To Know About.
But here the opposite happens:
The Ugly Berry, with its lolling tongue emblazoned on the can, telegraphs a blackberry (or tiny cluster of wine grapes? Either way, it’s a fleshy drupe). But once you sip, lo, we are basking in a ripe blueberry, much like in the nose.
It’s like a hit of the mashed mass of fruit-at-the-bottom marinating in your yogurt waiting for you to stir it up and shove in your face. Compote Splendor, if we do say so ourselves.
And yet, not even “wild” accompanies this Berry title. Putting “Berry” on the can understates and undersells this, considering what astonishing Blueberry explosion actually awaits inside.
Now that we think about it, we strongly believe Blueberry Explosion should be the actual name of this one.
We genuinely feel Ugly has sold themselves a bit short here. This is fantastic.
We are Sparkling Energy Water apologists in general, and we’ll give a pass to any subpar flavors running around as long as they come with that sweet hit of 160 mg of caffeine and proprietary blend of guarana, ginseng, B12, et al.
But this is actually a thoughtful, well-executed and, for our money, incredibly accurate blueberry.
This gives us very similar, eerily similar, flashbacks to the Waterloo Blueberry, and if you didn’t know how we feel about a finely honed Blueberry flavor, we compared Waterloo’s Blueberry to a Proustian masterpiece. We get echoes of that here. But echoes that also reverberate into the caffeinated heavens.
And thank the bubble gods, because we needed something to sink our teeth into, to chew on. And this robust flavor lends itself to a real mouthfeel.
Speaking of bubbles, we continue to enjoy the way that Ugly provides a Goldilocks Bubble Experience: not too hard, not too soft.
The flavors and the bubbles harmonize with the caffeine to give a resoundly perfect sparkling water experience.
We have a recurring subscription to Hiball Vanilla (Ugly: we know you have a Vanilla in you somewhere, make it happen), but maybe we might want a subscription to the Ugly Berry instead.
We never considered ourselves Daily Berry people (who among us does, really?), but this Uglyberry might be our fave of their energy offerings.
Berry WINNER: Ugly
(Did Hiball even try?)
Stay tuned for peach, the last of the head-to-head flavors! Can it carry the mantle to take the crown? Or will this end in a deadlock??
Watch this space.