While modern energy drinks may contain such exotic stimulants as ginseng, taurine or yerba mate, carbonated sodas during the 1980s often contained a few milligrams of caffeine and a significant amount of sugar. Highly caffeinated beverages such as Mountain Dew or Coca-Cola were very popular among students and others looking for a stimulating alternative to coffee. A sociology major attending the State University of New York (SUNY) noticed that many of his fellow students were concocting their own heavily caffeinated beverages in order to remain awake during study sessions. C.J. Rapp created Jolt Cola in 1985, inspired by the highly stimulating homemade soft drinks created at SUNY and other campuses.
The original formula contained real cane sugar and 72 milligrams of caffeine, which was the highest amount of the stimulant allowed by federal law. Because caffeine could be very bitter, soft drink companies routinely added more sweetener to their more heavily caffeinated products, but the general trend during the mid-1980s was towards diet and caffeine-free colas. When Rapp introduced Jolt Cola in 1985, he promoted it as containing "all the sugar and twice the caffeine" of other colas such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The drink became very popular with students, young professionals and computer programmers who found themselves working long hours behind desks.
Jolt Cola was originally bottled and distributed by Rapp's Jolt Cola company, but eventually the company changed its name to Wet Planet Beverages. While the drink never really posed a threat to the two major soft drink companies Pepsi Co and Coca-Cola, it did become a popular niche item in convenience stores and coffee shops. The original soda in cans or refillable bottles became the prized possession of college students, gamers and computer enthusiasts everywhere.
Jolt Cola is still being produced and bottled by Wet Planet Beverages. Along with the original cola flavor, Jolt Cola can be found in flavors ranging from lemon-lime to black cherry. There is even a diet version called Ultimate. The current incarnation no longer uses pure cane sugar, however, but it does contain significantly more caffeine. Consumers can now buy 23.5 ounce resealable cans shaped like batteries. These oversized battery cans also feature a gauge which measures the amount of product remaining in the "battery." While other energy drinks may enjoy more popularity on grocers' shelves, there are still twitchy, nervous Jolt Cola fans willing to travel great distances for their beverage of choice.