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November 24, 2010

Four Loko: Publicity Enemy #1

Can O'Death

Doctors don’t like it:

“Combining caffeine and alcohol is, indeed, crazy. It can be lethally crazy.”

Politicians and journalists don’t like it:

"A toxic, dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol."

"Spreading like a plague across the country."

"A witch's brew."

"Blackout in a can."

You know what?

You had me at “lethally crazy.”

Regular readers know that I am more than a little familiar with the process of throwing down a few drinks now and again, or as I prefer to term it: “The alcoholic arts.”

So, when the latest prohibitionpalooza came along, I felt it was my responsibility, despite the many personal risks involved, to investigate the issue myself. While yesterday we explored the public policy discussion surrounding caffeinated alcoholic beverages, today we examine the product that is itself at the center of the controversy, “Four Loko.”

I had already heard that the makers of Four Loko were going to remove the toxic caffeine with which they had illegally “adulterated” their plagued concoction and so wanted to make sure I got some samples of the original witch’s brew before they disappeared from store shelves. Wasting no time, I visited my local 7-11 store in Arlington, VA this past Sunday to see if they had any left.

Lots of Loko

They had some left.

I went back to the refrigerated section where I came upon a twenty-something dude pulling out can after can, juggling the armful he had already accumulated.

Me: You know, they have cases of the stuff here.
Dude:  Really? Where?
Me: Right down at the end of this aisle.
Dude: Excellent, thanks!

He bought two cases.

I feel like I am at least partially responsible for what I can only assume was his certain death.

I purchased three individual cans of the three flavors they had available, watermelon, lemonade, and fruit punch.

That was a bad sign right there.

Regardless, I settled in for the evening, determined to drink one of the oversized cans.

I chose watermelon since it struck me as potentially the most revolting. A watermelon flavored “malt liquor” beverage is about as appetizing sounding as beef flavored tequila.

I didn’t want to drink it straight out of the can since it is well understood that to fully appreciate an exquisitely refined spirit such as Four Loko, you need to engage all your senses including sight.

That raised the question as to what is the proper vessel for serving Four Loko.  My first instinct was “the drain,” but that would defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. I ended up choosing a stemless wine glass as its weeble-like shape made it the least likely to be knocked over should I be overcome with the expected caffeinated alcoholic insanity.

And so I carefully decanted the delicately flavored malt beverage into the glass.

Watermelon Loko

Gaaggghh!  What the hell kind of a color is that?

Sure, I had already been warned by the FDA that consuming Four Loko “may result in adverse behavioral outcomes” I just didn’t think gagging was going to be one of them.

Now, I should point out that I have something of a sweet tooth.  I’ll drink the occasional frozen strawberry daquiri or “mud slide” or any of a number of alcoholic drinks designed for people who don’t really like alcohol so you’d think I’d have some tolerance for the stuff, but Four Loko has the kind of cloying, candied sweetness that would offend a honey bee.

No matter, this was for science, so I finished the can and awaited the psychosis to befall me.  The result?

I felt like I had drunk a bunch of alcohol with a maple syrup chaser.  No blackouts, no near-death experiences, no hypnotic states during which I contemplated the likelihood that our entire universe is just a single molecule in a giant’s fingernail.  The only thing I contemplated was whether or not I should take a Zantac.

Having survived Sunday night, I decided to try the lemonade the next night.

Lemonade Loko

Its appearance was improved over the Day-Glo watermelon and it tasted a lot like a Mike’s Lemonade.

That’s not a compliment.

I polished off the can inside of an hour and… pretty much felt like the night before. 

I’m sure if I slammed down four 23.5-ounce cans I’d get really messed up.  That will happen when you drink A LOT of alcohol, regardless of how awful it tastes.

White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, taking a break from losing the war on drugs, spoke in approval of the FDA’s actions against Four Loko (Would you rather talk tough to some Ohio State grads or Mexican drug lords?), remarking that:

"These products are designed, branded, and promoted to encourage binge drinking. These drinks are especially unhealthy and dangerous because they combine alcohol and caffeine ”

The only thing in a can of Four Loko that encourages binge drinking is alcohol. 

When you’re twenty one years old you don’t need caffeine to binge drink.  You need something to drink.  I’m pretty sure the time I had to crawl around my dorm floor for 12 hours because I was incapable of standing up wasn’t because someone had spiked the triple-shot kamikazes I’d been drinking with No-Doz.  But you know what? I learned an important lesson.

They don’t mop those dorm floors as often as you might think.

Also, something about responsibility.

My conclusion?  Four Loko is an awful, vile drink, but hey, some people think Martinis are revolting. In other words:

I might not agree with what you drink, but I’ll defend to the death your right to choke down the crap.

Where it Belongs?

But no, I never got around to drinking the fruit punch flavor. I switched to beer.


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November 24, 2010 at 07:07 PM in Current Affairs, Health & Fitness | Permalink


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That stuff looked like antifreeze but probably tasted worse! Ah the sacrifices for science...

Posted by: TheOldMan | Nov 29, 2010 2:25:44 PM

Thanks! I was having trouble coming up with something as disgusting as watermelon-flavored malt liquor. Onion-flavored gin? That's just a premade gibson in a bottle. How does an oyster-and-cocktail-sauce-flavored beer sound? Well, they actually do that in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and call it a "Kill Devil Shooter" and easily the foulest thing I've ever had.

Come to think of it, Four Loko continues a long and proud tradition of seeing just how desperate people are to have a drink!

Posted by: Planet Moron | Nov 25, 2010 6:58:59 AM

Laugh my butt off funny dude. There is no way I would've quaffed that day-glo bubbalicious-in-a-glass.

Thanks for sacrificing in the name of science.

Beef-flavored tequila, on the other hand, sounds kinda yummy . . .

Posted by: Linda | Nov 24, 2010 10:01:14 PM

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