My first encounter with the Y Bomb was at a Tallahassee bar near Florida State University. It was a Saturday night in October. Daylight savings was scheduled to begin, rolling back the clock at 2 a.m. and adding an extra hour to an already interminable night of drinking, which was coming on the heels of a day spent tailgating.
Exhausted but not beat, my friends and I looked to the bartender (who was also a friend) for help making it over the hump and into the next segment of the night. We were not disappointed. He grabbed an 8.4-ounce can of Red Bull, punched a hole near the bottom, dumped half of it out, and filled it with a shot of vodka.
There’s no better place for nights that take years off of your life than the capital city of Florida.
That night in Tallahassee, I came to know the Y Bomb, which combines shotgunning a beer with drinking a vodka Red Bull. It’s the kind of drink you reach for when a five-second drink seems like a good idea at the time (kind of), but quickly turns into the most questionable decision of your week.
Speed is key when taking Y Bombs, though not a problem you have to worry about, thanks to physics. Pressure from the top of the can forces a Niagara Falls of Red Bull and vodka into your mouth in a way that would be impossible if you simply mixed the two ingredients in a can. A similar effect could be achieved by mixing the two ingredients in a can and then puncturing a hole near the top of the can; it would look a little classier, but it would also miss the point. Y Bombs are not for your black-tie affair, no matter how much caffeine mixed with alcohol mimics the effects of cocaine.
That night in Tallahassee, I came to know the how and the why of the Y Bomb, but the who, unfortunately, remains lost to history. There is no definitive origin story to this drink, though this hasn’t stopped the website Mixed Drink Recipes from offering one. “The origin of this drink is when (sic) a bartender is working all day and steps foot in the club he/she sometimes needs a pick me up,” the websites says. “This I found out will do that.” Then again, that “history” was written under the ingredients section.
Delving deeper, I found that the earliest post online about anything resembling a Y Bomb was in 2002 on the website Bombshock, when a user by the name of Zodiac69x wrote about shotgunning “a lot of vodka” and a can of Red Bull. Zodiac69x also gracefully added that “with all that vodka you’ll be to (sic) fucked up to know what’s what so just do it.” I, unlike one of the most powerful leaders in America, did some investigating into my sources of information and found threads like “Anarchism” and “How to make weapons” on Bombshock’s homepage, so onward I went in search of good data.
The trail of Y Bomb history goes cold for eight years after that 2002 post, until someone by the username gingerrae on Urban Dictionary put in an entry for something called a Schnorkel in 2010. The Schnorkel uses flavored vodka; gingerrae adds that the “beverage and word originated in Wisconsin.” A 2011 video on YouTube from Red Bull Phoenix seems to support gingerrae’s theory. It shows an advertisement for $6 vodka Red Bulls with the helpful advice of, “A shot of vodka poured into the side of a Red Bull can, pop the top, and chug!” It seemed like good information, though the Twitter account associated with the ad, @RedBullPHX, doesn’t exist anymore and the last mention was in 2013.
Conversely, two Urban Dictionary entries, the first from 2013 and the second from 2015, credit the drink to Tallahassee. User LDN1851 goes so far as to credit Yianni’s, a Donald Trump retweeting bar that opened in the early 1990s. But Total Frat Move, the home of the most stereotypically bro fraternity culture, credits the Chasers Bar and Grille — also in Madison, Wisconsin.
Regardless of the origin, you can’t just get a Y Bomb (or Snorkel) anywhere. A Reddit post in r/bartender listed Gainesville, Florida and Chicago as two other places where bars serve them, but I’ve asked bartenders in California, New York City, and Alabama for one and been denied every time.
The good news for the curious is, you can make one at home.
It’s been at least a year since I last had a Y Bomb, so for the sake of good journalism, I got a Red Bull and some vodka for a 3:50 p.m. shotgun. Standing over the office sink, I punched a hole in the bottom with my keys and let half the Red Bull fall into a cup. Then I poured in a shot of Cîroc (possibly the fanciest Y Bomb ever made, but the office doesn’t keep a stock of Aristocrat and Georgi on hand). One Y Bomb and one hour later, I’m still alive, and the experience was just how I remembered it: not necessarily positive, but not quite negative, either. If you try it for yourself, stick to one and keep in mind that mixing high amounts of caffeine and alcohol isn’t the best idea. Bombs away!