Vlad Cood

How to Make a Red Bull Vodka, According to the Bar That Invented It

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In today’s vast landscape of cocktails, the Red Bull Vodka is one of the most mocked. It’s sugary and often pricey, more an efficient vehicle for creating a buzz than anything else. That type of drink has fallen out of vogue in bars across the U.S., part of the reason the days of Red Bull Vodkas (or Vodka Red Bulls, or Vod-Bombs, or DVR depending on who you ask) have largely waned since the early 2000s. But those days haven’t left at the bar where the Red Bull Vodka originated.

Butter, a bar in San Francisco with strong trailer park vibes, claims to be ground zero of the Red Bull Vodka, or R.V. as they call it. Butter opened in 1999, two years after Red Bull was first introduced to the U.S., and 12 years after the energy drink was created in Austria. The story of exactly how the Red Bull Vodka became Butter’s signature drink is disputed and a little hazy, and it’s made hazier still because Red Bull distances itself from any association with alcohol. Regardless, creating the drink is, and always has been, a defining part of Butter’s identity. That much is clear from the original drink menu still hanging on the wall.

The menu was painted on plywood by the general manager’s brother, who Butter owner Vlad Cood says was a “hippy artist” who did things by hand. He painted a little logo for each of the 14 drinks on the menu to match the name. When it came time to painting one for the R.V., he painted a literal R.V. with the tagline, “Red Bull Vodkas as big as a Winnebago.”

Vlad Cood

Each R.V. is served in what was established as “The Perfect Pour,” Cood says. That means 2.5 ounces of vodka poured over ice in a 16-ounce Mason jar, which is then topped off with a full 12-ounce can of Red Bull. The can is given to the customer alongside the drink to top it off with the little that’s left. Other places were serving the drink when Butter first put the R.V. on the menu, Cood says, but no one else served it with the full can.

He describes the bar as the nucleus for the house and techno crowd, a group that fanned out, inspiring other bars to follow Butter’s lead. “By 2001, there wasn’t anywhere I could go without seeing Red Bull Vodka,” Cood says. “If they played techno or house [in the bar], they had Red Bull Vodkas.”

You know the rest of the story if you came of age in the 2000s. Red Bull Vodkas became so ubiquitous it just seemed like a natural combination. Trendy rooftop bars served them in little plastic cups for exorbitant prices, and dives sold knockoffs using copycat Red Bull that came out of the soda gun.

Then came the backlash of mixing energy drinks and alcohol, and then the fall. Now spotting someone drinking an R.V. in a bar is like seeing a shooting star. But not at Butter, where it’s more like gazing at a meteor shower. “It’s as popular here as it ever has been,” Cood says. “We consistently go through 20 cases of Red Bull every month, and we don’t know why but we don’t ask. People just love to drink it here.”

Vlad Cood

And why not? Butter has embraced its trailer park aesthetic and combined it with its Red Bull Vodka history. A real Winnebago just like the one drawn on the original menu is mounted on the wall and serves as the DJ station. Side tables with bases designed to look like giant Red Bull cans are on either side of the camper. A poster on the wall lets everyone know Butter’s place in drinking history with an enlarged version of the original R.V. drawing that reads “Home of the Red Bull Vodka” in all caps. Plus it’s only $12.

Some things have changed since the early days, though. Butter has brought in all of the variations and flavors that Red Bull makes, and sugar-free is almost as popular as the regular R.V. Mixing some of the flavors with a shot of tequila instead of vodka is growing in popularity recently, too. One thing that hasn’t changed? The Perfect Pour. “Butter is likely the last place on earth that maintains the tradition of The Perfect Pour,” Cood says, just like it has for nearly 20 years.
“We’re a small place, a community bar,” Cood says. “We’ve been in San Francisco since the heydays and we maintain our roots—most of the staff worked here since day one.”

So if you decide to throw it back and give the drink another chance, make it the way it’s made at the original home of the concoction: 2.5 ounces of Seagram’s poured over ice and topped off with Red Bull in a 16-ounce Mason jar. And don’t forget to keep the can nearby.

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