X Man

Every high-energy minute counts with Jeff Barthold. He's already networking when I arrive at Maloney's, one of several Valley bars that carry Liquid X, the "euphoric party energy drink" that Barthold invented. He's here to tell me about the caffeine-infused beverage, which he hopes will give Red Bull, the energy drink of choice, a run for its money. But before we can talk, Barthold's got to wrap up a meeting with the guy who's building the TV commercials that will introduce Liquid X to a wider demo of party animals. From across the bar, I can hear their negotiations above the din, because Barthold doesn't speak, he shouts.

Maybe he's been drinking Liquid X, which contains enough sugar and caffeine to stun an ox. Barthold is just shy of his 40th birthday, but his oomph level and his repeated use of the word "party" as a verb belie his age. The soda pop pioneer is a blur of frenetic energy, constantly drum-rolling his knuckles, wagging his foot, and bellowing exclamations about his canned concoction, which glows in the dark under a black light. After 20 minutes in his presence, I'm completely exhausted.

New Times: How did you happen to invent Liquid X?

Jeff Barthold: My girlfriend and I were in Amsterdam and we met this guy who made this energy drink. He mixed this stuff up in his kitchen, and it glowed in the dark. And we were partying with this guy and we were mixing his energy drink with vodka, and with tequila, and we just, you know, partied with it. While I was there I discovered Red Bull, which tastes awful, and they were selling it for two dollars a can. So I went and got the recipe for the other stuff and brought it back to America, and I had a chemist put together a drink that was as close to legal as we could sell, and we called it Liquid X. It's a great party drink, but it's a great recovery drink, too. It's loaded with vitamins, and ginseng, and horny goat weed.

NT: Horny goat weed?

Barthold: Yeah! It's a natural aphrodisiac. It stimulates blood flow. Liquid X has got three natural aphrodisiacs in it, plus a whole bunch of other stuff that works together to give you a real rush.

NT: Like a ton of caffeine, according to the ingredients list. So how much horny goat weed do I need to consume before I'm more horny than usual?

Barthold: Well, it depends on how much you weigh. We're not claiming Liquid X is like Viagra or anything. But my delivery driver met this 70-year-old woman the other day who said, "My husband and I drink Liquid X every day and our sex life has never been better!" He gave her a free six-pack.

NT: Maybe you should start marketing this stuff in Sun City.

Barthold: I know! The second day we were in business, we got pulled over by the cops. We were in the Liquid X van with the logos all over it, and I thought we were busted because we had a bunch of people in the back who weren't wearing seat belts. But the cop goes, "We've been looking all over for you," and I thought I was in big trouble. He goes, "We love the way Liquid X tastes, and it keeps us wired through our whole shift! We want to buy two cases from you!"

NT: That's one way to get out of a traffic ticket. What makes this stuff glow in the dark?

Barthold: I won't tell you that. It's a secret, but it's not something that's bad for you.

NT: It says here on the can, "Not intended to treat or cure illness." Why would I mistake this stuff for medicine?

Barthold: I'm not trying to mislead people into thinking that this is a nutritional drink, because it's not. We don't want to be seen as a sports drink, and we won't sell out; we won't sponsor sporting events. But we'll sponsor anything edgy, from midget mud wrestling to wet tee shirt contests to Miss Stripper Arizona. We just did a Jell-O wrestling fund raiser at a gay bar, because we feel like we should support people no matter what they are. People are people no matter where they put their dicks, you know what I'm saying?

NT: I'm afraid I do.

Barthold: There's a hundred energy drinks coming out every month, but they're all horrible-tasting, cheap products that have no vibe to them at all. Liquid X is really good for you. You should try one.

NT: I'll just stick to this tasty martini for right now. So, you drink this stuff?

Barthold: I drink at least two a day. If I'm out partying, sometimes more. Most of the time I don't drink. I mean, I'm having a Long Island Iced Tea because you're having a drink. But normally I don't drink.

NT: Of course. So if I get a hankering for a can of Liquid X, do I have to go to a bar to buy one?

Barthold: No! You can go to Circle K. Or Mobil on the Run stores, or Chevron, or Texaco. And Danny's Family Car Wash. They carry it, too. Our distribution is absolutely exploding.

NT: At discos and gas stations, at least. But not at grocery stores.

Barthold: Our customers don't shop at grocery stores. Moms shop at grocery stores. I don't even shop at grocery stores.

NT: Where do you get your food? Do little elves deliver it to your door?

Barthold: I eat out every meal, because I'm working 18 hours a day.

NT: That's right. Because you also own a chain of shoe stores.

Barthold: I don't want to talk about my shoe stores. Don't mention my shoe stores in your article.

NT: Okay. So what happens to me when I drink this stuff?

Barthold: You're probably gonna die. I'm just kidding. You're gonna get a really nice buzz, a nice lift, and if you drink it with alcohol, you get a lift and a buzz.

NT: I don't see an FDA stamp on this can anywhere.

Barthold: There isn't one. We're a supplement, and we're not regulated by the same FDA rules as a nutritional drink. But we got approved. You can't just put out toxic waste and call it a supplement drink. I'm not Jim Jones. I'm not trying to kill people with my drink.

NT: So who approved it?

Barthold: The chemist. The bottler. They did that part for me. They tested it to make sure it was all kosher. The important thing is we're bringing joy to people's lives. You know what I'm saying?

NT: Yes, joy. And an inability to sleep. So, is the name Liquid X short for ecstasy, like the party drug?

Barthold: No, it's short for Generation X, because they're our target audience. Other people like it, and we want their business, too. My parents like Liquid X with vodka. My attorney drinks it! My accountant likes it. There have been some stories about people drinking energy drinks at parties who've had heart attacks, but I don't believe it. I want to know what else they had in their system.

NT: Are you normally this energetic?

Barthold: Oh, yeah. When I'm passionate about something, I'm gonna give it 110 percent. I'm not doing this for the money, I'm doing it because I love what I do. I could literally work 24 hours a day.

NT: Especially if you drink enough of this stuff. Okay, I'm ready to try Liquid X.

Barthold: Here you go. Just drink it straight from the can.

NT: (Sips from can.) Wow. This stuff tastes like shit.

Barthold: Well, uh . . . really? You don't like it? You know, uh, not everyone likes it. But people love the way it makes them feel. We're the official drink of Cocaine Anonymous! We sell a lot to AA people, too.

NT: I'll bet. Liquid X tastes like something, but I can't quite place it.

Barthold: Otter Pops. It tastes like Otter Pops. Remember those?

NT: Yes. No, it tastes more like Mountain Dew. Only scarier.

Barthold: It's the choice of a whole new generation. It glows, man!

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela