When David Verlé tells me he works the overnight shift at a milk factory near Ghent, Belgium, I immediately presume that’s how he fell into his hobby. But no, the 46-year-old Verlé doesn’t drink the über-caffeinated Monster Energy to stay awake. In fact, he doesn’t drink it at all—he simply collects it.
Verlé had never even heard of the uniquely American energy drink—created in 2002, currently the second-best-selling energy drink in the world after Red Bull—until April of last year, when he visited a friend’s house and noticed his teenage son enjoying them. Verlé was immediately drawn to the Totally X-treme design and proprietary Monster Energy font. The next time he was at the grocery store, he bought eight or nine different cans. And that was just the beginning.
Remarkably, Verlé is not alone in his obsession with amassing the taurine-packed cans favored by Twitch gamers and nu-metal enthusiasts, and peddled by Tiger Woods. He belongs to the niche world of rare-can hypebeasts who collect not just Monster, but Red Bull, Mountain Dew, obscure Japanese sodas and even Four Loko with the same fervor as the most hardcore bourbon enthusiasts.
What sets Monster Energy collectors apart from their bourbon counterparts, however, is the scale at which the energy drink is produced. With so many products rolled out with such frequency across so many countries, not only is it a futile task to attempt to collect them all, it’s almost impossible to keep track of each release.
Is there no public master database of Monster inventory? “That question is very popular. Many people ask me that,” says Verlé. The answer is no.
Collectors learn about what’s out there by scouring the Instagram feeds of fellow collectors like @monsterenergy.collector, @monsterenergycollectoruk and @monster_collezione, among thousands of others by Verlé’s estimate. “Only older collectors still use Facebook,” says Verlé. He buys, sells and trades with this network of friends across the globe: in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Japan, even Russia. (He notes that these days, packages from the latter are often held in customs for two to three months at a time.)
New promo releases stay on shelves for about a month in each country, and they need to be snapped up immediately; discontinued releases are much trickier to find. For Verlé, part of collecting’s appeal lies in amassing the same releases from different countries and noting the subtle differences in can size, lettering or health labels. Take, for example, the Mexican release of Mango Loco, which warns of “exceso calorías”/“exceso azúcares” (“excess calories”/“excess sugar”), or his display of the Ultra Rosa release with versions from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Even the color of the liquid can differ from country to country depending on what ingredients are and aren’t allowed in each region. With such minimal gradations, “sometimes it’s tough to decipher your own collection,” says Verlé.
Unlike most liquid-based collectibles, it is perfectly acceptable, if not expected, to drain your Monster cans lest they degrade or explode over the years and then become worthless. This is done by adding two small holes to the bottom punting in order to keep the pull tab intact; it doesn’t decrease the value. Verlé rarely tastes the contents when he empties his cans, as he doesn’t actually like the taste, citing “too much sugar” as the primary culprit.
Verlé prioritizes acquiring full sets of specific cans and interesting promotional variants, like a series saluting Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton or “Canadian Gronk”; he might not have the most Monster Energy in the world, but he has one of the most “diversified” collections, he tells me. In fact, he doesn’t relate to those collectors who pursue every single SKU ever made and are then forced to keep their prizes hidden in storage.
“I’d never want to do that; I like to watch them, I like to post photos of them,” he says.
This past summer, he even went on a two-week road trip through Switzerland, France and Italy—“vacationing with [my] cans,” he jokes—in order to display them in front of special backdrops, including the top of Mount Pilatus or the Royal Palace of Turin. He tells me that fellow collectors thought he was crazy for bringing such precious cargo with him on the road, as some of those cans are worth 200 euros each.
If you’re curious as to what the Monster Energy equivalent is to, say, Red Hook Rye, it would surely be the 2015 Canadian release of Java Monster Salted Caramel. (“Not a very beautiful can,” Verlé admits.) It goes for about 300 to 400 euros these days, and has been rapidly rising in value of late. Another white whale, known as “Old Camo,” is a camouflage-colored Monster Assault can released circa 2007-2008. It currently has a similar value, though like bourbon, things are booming.
“In the last two years, prices have risen,” says Verlé. “For new collectors it’s a bad time, because everything is so expensive. Many are quitting the hobby.” Just like in the bourbon world, there are now Monster collectors in the game simply to flip acquisitions for a quick buck. They don’t have the passion for the claw-shredded cans like Verlé does.
He dreams of one day making the pilgrimage to Monster Beverage Corporation headquarters in Corona, California, 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles. There are no tours or tasting rooms, but they do offer complimentary Monster Group–labeled water bottles. Once acquired, Verlé would display the bottle in an attic he and his wife use as a second living room. The ultimate destination for his collection is a 12-by-12 meter outbuilding he is converting into a man cave, complete with a snooker table and big screen.
Verlé’s wife, like many outside the collecting community, doesn’t exactly understand his collection, balking at the cost to acquire some of his cans.
“The people that don’t collect it find it crazy,” he says. “When I die, whoever inherits my collection will probably just throw it away.”