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.
Jump to: Lemon Lime | Grapefruit | Berry | Peach
first up: Hiball
The nose on this one is is faint. But there’s a distinct bright citrus in here, a reve of meyer lemon, a lime fresh cut, ready for you to pucker up.
It’s not overwhelming, but if you get your nose up close, you can find all of those notes.
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.
next up: Ugly
The nose on this Ugly is real refreshing: lemon-forward, faintly sprite-like, vague whiffs of cleaning products whispering in the background: is it Lemon Pledge?
Candied lemons dancing through meringue, accompanied by leaping key limes as they dust your woodwork and leave it shining and clean.
Dessert expressions of sour citrus waft up to invite you for a juicy sip, promising an invocation of drinking a lemon-lime soda at the laundromat.
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.
first up: Hiball
We crack the poptab & take a sniff.
This isn’t the lushest grapefruit scent in the citrus grove. It does hit some of the important notes, but mostly, it’s just a vaguely candied grapefruit.
But it’s not bad! Kind of promising! We are ready to bust out our metaphorical grapefruit spoons and shove in.
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.
Grapefruit often sends us in some kind of real mystical, spiritual-citus-fugue direction, and perhaps it’s simply the deep profundity of the grapefruit experience that leaves us a little tongue tied.
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.
next up: Ugly
As you might expect with an Ugly by now, the nose on this is as bright and fervent as the hot pink on the can.
We’re awash in candied visions, sweet grapefruit slices coated in granular sugar wafting up to invite us in.
Bringing our eager tongues to meet the can’s tongue inexplicably emerging from the grapefruit’s rind. Well, that’s a look.
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.
first up: Hiball
The nose on the Hiball Wild Berry is tangy and tart, somewhat evoking a faint red raspberry, but mostly evoking…apple cider.
We didn’t quite expect that note in here, but we guess it’s understandable that you might accidentally grab a few fermenting crab apples in your foraging haste?
Either way, this indicates that Hiball is clearly interpreting Berry through the lens of the raspberry. Maybe there’s a little bit of a strawberry note?
Either way, we’re ready to pucker.
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.
next up: Ugly
Now we leave the wild bramble bog behind and go to the simpler, tamer, assumedly-domesticated Ugly Berry.
We suppose they dropped the “wild” moniker here, just on the off chance it scared off some suburban housewives.
We’ll guess that this is aiming for the same Idea of Flavor as the Hiball, because we’ve noticed that no matter what you call them, all berry flavors generally just go towards some jumbled-preserve amalgam that really doesn’t evoke anything sauvage, or even “domesticated” for that matter.
But let’s find out.
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?)
It’s the final round in our death match! We have mixed emotions. A part of us is sad to see this spirited competition come to an end (for now?). The other part of us is as exhausted as the fighters themselves. Splitting hairs between two similar flavors is a dogged pursuit, and only the insane amount of caffeine in each can has spurred our weary brains onwards.
But lace up and strap in. Here we go!
first up: Hiball
The peach present in the aromatics is an airy, candy peach.
But not the actual candy itself, it’s the scent you get when you open the bag. The dream of confection. It’s peach potpourri.
Plug in that peach potpourri Glade air freshener and you too can understand what this Hiball smells like.
Peach is not our first choice for a Hiball. It’s candied, it’s a little too sweet. It’s not as refreshing as their Grapefruit or Watermelon Mint. It’s more of a cloying, effortful chore, your throat glazed and coated like a chewy peach ring itself.
This series has actually led us into a deep contemplation of how little we’ve considered these Hiball flavors over the years, despite drinking literally thousands of them. Because as far as Hiball’s flavors go, Peach is actually one of the more discernible ones. Actually, the most discernible one. Honestly Hiball, wtf was that pitiful citric acid excuse for a Berry?
This Hiball Peach however carries a little bit of heft to it. And beyond that it gives us some authentic peach notes. It’s mellower than a ripe peach. The stone fruitiness wide and accessible. We’re surprised at how much this one is pleasing to us after so many years of avoiding it, only snagging it if it was the last flavor left on the shelf.
But here we are. After truly and deeply analyzing Hiball’s flavors, we feel like we’ve been left on flavor read for two months, then this Peach shows up with some major fuckboi energy that we can’t resist. It’s a basic-ass peach flavor, but at least it’s giving us something.
It’s not great that this Peach is shining just because the other Hiball flavors have been so disappointing, but this Peach is showing some spunk, and well, we’ll take it.
So maybe our expectations have been lowered all the way to the ground, especially after that last round, but when we take a sip, this livelier Peach flavor essentially sends our mouths a late night “WYD” text and we instantly reply COME ON IN, even though we know better. But damn, we are desperate after all the other paltry flavors Hiball has teased us with.
And you know, it’s not bad, for what it is. The end of a dry spell always comes with some enjoyment, even though we know this is just a one-morning stand with Peach. It’s kind of fun, we feel alive again for a moment, but it’s not a flavor we want to wake up next to regularly, or ever again.
next up: Ugly
The Ugly Peach has a similar peachy aroma to the Hiball, but where the Hiball is only lightness and sweetnss, Ugly has no pretense of faithfulness to the actual fruit: this is peach as a signifier of artifice.
There’s an extra, deeper dimension that it’s difficult to put our finger on exactly: it smells more like candy, like maybe there’s a Haribo Peach Ring lurking in the depths of the can, a gummy leviathan, a Lovecraftian Elder Peach of the deep.
It’s over-ripe, perhaps in the early stages of decay, a fallen peach leaking its decadent, artificial nectar towards the ground, saccharine juices oozing into the astroturf.
This might be the strangest peach we’ve ever tasted.
There are the classic peachy overtones, and they’re really good. But there’s also a weird savory sensation, the deep dimensionality of the nose unfolding further into chemical realms, bitterness, peach pits, that detergent undertone that has been present in all of Ugly’s energy waters thus far.
Whatever we’re drinking, it’s not a peach. It’s a peach’s doppelganger, a cloned peach-detergent hybrid sprung from a petri dish, lightning crackling from its giant, juicy tongue.
Your brain says peach but your tongue says something else, an alien language, cryptic molecules sparking some other association that feels so close yet remains unnameable.
We get eerie T-1000 Terminator 2 vibes from this one. This Peach (P-1000) enters our home/fridge cloaked in the body of a fruit beloved and familiar to us. And yet, something is off. Honey, is that you? The unsettling alien vibes cloak this peach bubbler and we’re left blinking and confused: how can we know you so well and yet, who the fuck are you?
Maybe peach flavor isn’t strong enough to mask the taste of the raw, crystalline caffeine, and the various B vitamins in their bitter essence. Maybe there’s a swirl of melted plastic, the l’air of the anthropocene and the haunting aftertaste of late stage capitalism.
Whatever it is, we’re in no rush to finish the can.
Except for the caffeine, we might stop right here.
Peach WINNER: Hiball
(Seriously Ugly, wtf was that?)
The final score:
We honestly didn’t see this coming. We’ve been so in thrall to Hiball that we thought, going in, that Hiball would handily dispatch the young Ugly upstart. But we were wrong. They have fought this battle to a grisly stalemate. The only clear winner is caffeine itself.
But even though this resulted in a tie, we do have to say that we were surprised at how little we’d unpacked Hiball’s flavor profile over the years, considering we drink them daily.
Maybe mediocrity best slips through unnoticed at the crack of dawn, before our brains have arisen from slumber, gliding in on a trojan horse of energy, forming dopamine associations and deeply ingrained assumptions about what we actually love in life.
All of these are fine, though. The worst were Hiball’s Wild Berry and Ugly’s Peach.
Our clear favorite of all eight of these was the Ugly Berry, so if that’s the tiebreaker you need, there ya go.
Ugly Berry is the caffeinated sparkler to rule them all. It’s the only one we actually re-ordered specifically because of this taste test.
Unfortunately for Ugly, Hiball has two other flavors that we hold above all others in this list: Vanilla and Watermelon Mint. These are the best Hiball flavors, hands down.
Well, one of us will die with a Grapefruit Hiball in hand. But that notwithstanding, Vanilla is objectively the best sparkling energy water out there.
Ugly did just permanently bring back four of their previous limited edition flavors. They’re still only available as sparkling waters, not sparkling energy waters.
But the day that Ugly releases a caffeinated Cherry Cola, or caffeinated Dr. Ugly…all bets are off.
yours in sparkles