I never got into the whole energy drink / overly-caffeinated product craze. That might be because I got my super-caffeinated soda fix out of the way earlier in life with Jolt Cola.
A can of soda with double the caffeine to an eight year old was like a crack rock. I say that in retrospect, of course. I didn’t know what a crack rock was when I was eight. I didn’t know until I was at least ten.
I have long been under the assumption that the original slogan was “Twice the Sugar, Twice the Caffeine.” While checking some information (it happens on here occasionally), it turns out the slogan was actually “All the Sugar and Twice the Caffeine”. Which I suppose makes sense, since having twice the sugar of a normal cola would probably be pretty disgusting. Probably not to an eight year old, but given my lack of a disposable income, I probably wasn’t their target demographic.
Eventually, when they made the switch from sugar to high fructose corn syrup, they had to change their slogan to “Maximum Caffeine, More Power”, which made the slogan not only worse, but also cryptic. More Power? Despite the inferior recipe and slogan, Jolt still had what is one of my favorite can designs of all time.
Eventually, Jolt became harder to find, and became somewhat mythical. Its legend was only helped by the fact that it kept appearing in awesome things. Dennis Nedry drank it in “Jurassic Park”. It showed up numerous times in “Hackers”, a movie universally acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever created. It even (sort of) showed up in Beavis and Butt-Head, as Volt Cola.
Despite my love affair with Jolt Cola, I never got into Red Bull, Monster, or the myriad “Caffeine is awesome!”-theory products. My goth brother Eric gets into all of them, but my branch of the family tree sticks to the source of caffeine that nature intended: soda.
That’s how family trees work, right? We each get our own branch? If that is inaccurate, please feel free to mentally edit that metaphor as you see fit.
When something like Perky Jerky comes along – a caffeinated product that is so bizarre and different – you immediately have to take notice. Although I am being very lenient with the “immediate” part, since Perky Jerky has been around for years.
After doing some reading up on Perky Jerky, it seems their formulation went through a somewhat tumultuous period. Initially, they packaging screamed “Caffeine!”. The original recipe contained the caffeine equivalent of two Red Bulls. Technically, a package is two servings. But come on… when you open a bag, you’re finishing it.
Apparently, the USDA doesn’t like companies using guarana (which is scientifically classified as “Like caffeine, I think… I don’t really know”) to spike foods.. You can do it to beverages, but not foods. For some reason. So instead of being a caffeine booster, the guarana became a “flavor enhancer”. In order to keep the USDA from continuing to bother them, Perky Jerky slashed their caffeine content from around 150mg of caffeine per bag to 90mg, or approximately two cans of Diet Coke.
That’s information I got from a New York Times article, so I’d assume it’s legitimate. Although only lowering it about 60mg of caffeine doesn’t seem like too much. Maybe they meant a whole package has as much caffeine as a Diet Coke, not a serving. Oh well. Point being, there’s less caffeine now. How much less? No one knows.
Okay, some people know. But I’m not one of them.
The caffeine reduction didn’t affect only the ingredients. I don’t know if they were forced to, or if they changed it to lay low, but all mentions of “caffeine” were stricken from the packaging. But we will get to that later, when I discuss the packaging.
Now, let’s review the packaging.
Apologies in advance for this terrible photo. The packaging is rather reflective, so my two options were “use flash and have everything insanely shiny” or “don’t use flash and have a washed out, sad picture”. Option B it is!
In person, the packaging is very nice – simple and understated. It’s a good change of pace from the usual beef jerky package, which often have things like unsettlingly-zoomed in pictures of beef pieces, or cows punching things.
Where the packaging used to say “Caffeinated Beef Jerky” or “Flavored With Guarana”, it now simply says “Ultra Premium Beef Jerky”. Which is fine enough, but unfortunately a far more pedestrian slogan.
The back of the packaging is where they start to differentiate themselves. Like the front, the back contains no proclamations of caffeine. The only time it comes up at all is in the ingredients list, where you can find a solitary “guarana” in size 6 font.
What immediately brings Perky Jerky into a higher echelon is the claim of “no preservatives, no nitrates, and no msg added” which is a good change from some of the scary stuff you can find in jerky. Also, I feel weird about using the word “claim” – it feels like I’m being accusatory. Let’s go with “statement”, maybe?
The slogan on the back of the packaging is its only weak point. I suppose the “jerk” in “Grab a jerk and go!” makes sense in relation to beef jerky. But the phrase is still… off-putting.
Before diving into the food itself, for the sake of clarifying where my opinion is coming from, it might be helpful to mention my two favorite beef jerkys. Rosie’s is my favorite, by far. When I would go to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont, these were readily available in gas stations and convenience shops. In these stores, I would proceed to dump an armful on the counter. I always felt extra ashamed, because based on the looks I got, the fact that I was the most unusual customer that day in a gas station meant I had reached a new level.
My second favorite is Green Mountain. I don’t have a story about that one.
Opening the bag of Perky Jerky, I am met with a mixture of sweetness, and a very vague dog food smell. I do apologize, because I know that is a terrible comparison. But despite beef jerky being one of my favorite foods, I’ve never found it to smell very good. It smells like meat, just slightly off-center.
Perky Jerky has a softness and moistness that is immediately obvious. I’m slightly let down, because I usually prefer a drier and tougher jerky. Most readily-available packaged jerkys tend to have that moisture that doesn’t feel juicy, it just feels slimy.
I’m sorry for continuing to use the word “moist”, since I know that is one of the least popular words in the world – I’ll try to stop.
Despite the moist (sorry) texture, Perky Jerky doesn’t have that “packaged” feel. It is very soft, but still has chew. And due to varying sizes and thicknesses of the pieces, you get a nice assortment of different levels of toughness and softness.
While it isn’t my favorite texture of jerky, I wound up liking the chew a lot more than expected. But what really makes a difference is the taste. The packaging doesn’t indicate a flavor, not even “Original”, but it is clearly teriyaki. What’s nice is that it isn’t that super sweet or super salty teriyaki flavor you’ll normally get – the not-impressive flavor that makes me usually skip over teriyaki-flavored beef jerky.
The flavor is well-balanced, but more importantly – it’s very good. Not overly anything, not short on anything, just really good.
I kept expecting to get hit with that harsh, medicinal guarana taste. Thankfully, there is absolutely none of that. At the same time, I wound up not really feeling any sort of caffeine kick. I wasn’t expecting anything, since it’s not a huge hit of caffeine, and I got what I expected. It could be one of those “take the tired edge off” caffeine hits, where you don’t feel extra alert or awake, but I honestly didn’t notice anything.
Initially, I bought Perky Jerky for the caffeine novelty, and got no caffeine buzz. I also didn’t like the texture at first, but came to love the jerky. So despite none of my expectations being met at first, somehow Perky Jerky managed to come out a winner.
Since caffeine in food is apparently not going to take off as a bizarre trend, due to minor annoyances such as laws, maybe the opposite route could work? I’d try a bag of beef jerky with Ambien or Tylenol PM in it. Feel free to contact me, beef jerky executives, I’ve got lots of good ideas like that one.