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    John Mittel was in med school, fighting back exhaustion with sugar-zapped energy drinks, when he had the idea to make something healthier. Now he’s putting off his residencies to work on Phocus, a caffeinated sparkling water company he started with Tom O’Grady, who works in finance. Phocus has zero calories, zero sweeteners, caffeine extracted from green tea and eye-opening amino acid L-Theanine. Counting the founders, the company now employs seven Louisvillians full-time, and they’re pushing the product at health foods stores like Rainbow Blossom, Fresh Thyme and Paul's Fruit Market. (At the Fresh Thyme in St. Matthews, O’Grady showed me a display shelf of Phocus up front that the company provided to the store. Talk about guerilla marketing.) It fits right in to that type of place, with words like “natural” and “pure” printed on the cans, and it’s even made its way into Heine Bros. and onto the cocktail menu at Red Herring. And if you don’t want to drive out to try it, you can order Phocus, produced north of Milwaukee, on Amazon. The company sent us a case to taste test some of their five flavors — natural (unflavored); blood orange; yuzu and lime; grapefruit and cucumber — and we’ve included some of our comments below.

     

    Unflavored

    Mary Chellis Austin, managing editor: I mean, I can do it, I’m just kind of scared. I’ve never had water that tastes like… It tastes like La Croix.

    Alex Winters, assistant web editor: It does. I love that stuff.

    Austin: But that, I know, is not going to give me a jolt. This? I could just down this and drink three of these and be off the wall.

    Winters: It tastes just like normal sparkling water. I thought there’d be a different kick or something.

    Suki Anderson, art director: It’s a little bit salty? There might be a little sweetness to it. I don’t know.

    Austin: Occasionally, I’ll drink a vodka Red Bull if I’m struggling and I need to be up for a minute, and I would rather drink this, because it doesn’t have that taste. And I like to drink soda with my liquor sometimes.

    Dylon Jones, web editor: So you’d make cocktails with this?

    Austin: Totally.

    Winters: I would totally make cocktails with that.

    Austin: But that’s kind of dangerous. You have to be careful with caffeinated cocktails. But if you remember that you’re doing that…It does taste a little bit flatter (than La Croix). It doesn’t hit your tongue as harsh.

    Winters: Which can be nice, because sometimes it’s a little too much for me.

     

    Grapefruit

    Jones: It smells good.

    Winters: Oh, no, that’s different than other grapefruit sparkling water. It’s not sweet. It’s almost got a tartness that I don’t get in the grapefruit La Croix. It tastes more like a real grapefruit.

    Austin: Mmhm. I think part of it, too, is that La Croix hits you so hard, the bubbles do.

    Jones: I feel like something like this would help me kick my soda addiction.

    Winters: And for people who want caffeine but don’t drink coffee, or want to quit coffee, this would be a good way to get water in, too.

    Austin: If I didn’t want a soda, and I wanted something cold in the summer, I didn’t want to drink a hot tea, I would drink this.

    Anderson: I think there are probably a lot of high school students and college students who don’t like coffee who would drink this to study, which is why it’s called Phocus, maybe.

     

    Yuzu and Lime

    Winters: It’s probably gonna taste just like lemon lime. Oh, it smells really good… It is not normal lemon and lime.

    Austin: It smells like lemonade.

    Jones: I feel like if you took all the sugar out of Sprite—

    Winters: Yeah!

    Anderson: Yeah, that’s exactly like it. It’s almost like a false lemon. Little Pledge-y.

     

    You can find Phocus online here: www.drinkphocus.com

     

    Cover photo: Phocus // Facebook

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