Killin’ our buzz

FDA pulls plug on caffeinated alcoholic beverages

Feelin’ punchy.

Feelin’ punchy.

Photo By photo by jason cassidy

Whispered in college halls across the nation, the legend of Four Loko spreads. A caffeinated and flavored malt liquor, Four Loko comes in 24-ounce cans and has an alcohol-by-volume level of 12.5 percent. Produced by Phusion Projects, a Chicago-based company formed by three friends from Ohio State University, the drink preferred by bros and people up 24/7 wearing hoodies is now under attack by people who feel it’s too extreme. Eighty years after Prohibition, the government is once again trying to control how America gets its drink on.

For almost a decade, caffeinated alcoholic beverages such as Four Loko, Joose and Sparks have been on the market, but in past months the drinks have received media attention after one student committed suicide and others were hospitalized after consuming multiple cans of Four Loko. In 2009, the FDA began an investigation into these products, and on Nov. 17 sent warnings to manufacturers stating, “… there are insufficient publicly available data and information relating to the safety of alcoholic beverages with added caffeine to form the basis of a consensus among qualified experts that the beverages at issue … are safe.”

What they’re really worried about is the buzz from the energy-drink side (provided by caffeine, the amino acid supplement taurine and the guarana plant) that might make you think you’re less drunk than you are, allowing you to drink more. If you can manage to finish one, Four Loko will get you drunk, but the buzz is minimal if you’re at all friendly with energy drinks.

Aside from the energy boost, the high-alcohol content is a concern. The media can’t stop reporting about the “blackout in a can” that contains “four times the amount of alcohol as one beer,” which is misleading at best. The alcohol by volume is just more than twice as strong and then there’s twice the amount of liquid. By this logic, we should ban six-packs (six times the alcohol of a single beer) and Everclear (more than 40 times as much) as both are more intoxicating than one brew.

However, there’s one important fact that news reports and the FDA findings don’t discuss: Four Loko tastes like crap. It’s a fruit-flavored energy drink mixed with malt liquor. If nothing in that sentence causes your stomach to churn, imagine drinking a combination of stale beer, off-brand Robotussin, and off-off-brand Red Bull. In the eight varieties, flavors include Blue Raspberry, Watermelon and Uva, which is essentially grape. Each flavor uses food coloring to match the color of the sickly sweet liquid to the can’s camouflage design. Blue Raspberry tastes like the Energizer Bunny vomited up a Steel Reserve Slurpee, and though Uva is slightly better, it still tastes like vinegar mixed with those two-gallon jugs of grape drink that you can only get at the Dollar Tree. If the FDA wants to regulate food based on taste, push this swill to the front of the gallows. But banning alcohol because it gets you drunk? Consumers need to take responsibility for their decisions, and if they decide to drink runoff from the Capri Sun factory, then they can deal with the consequences. Throw a warning label on the neon camo cans; hell, that’s all cigarettes warrant. Address the concerns, but no mo’ Fo’?

Phusion Projects has already stumbled under the pressure (or maybe they’re on their third can?) and have announced that it will remove the uppers from Four Loko, demoting it to nothing more than a sickly sweet cousin of King Cobra and Old English.

Moreover, there are certainly much better ways to booze it up. But if college students are so determined to get drunk that they’ll drink Four Loko, it’s not a stretch to imagine they’ll find some other way to get tore up if The Man takes away their Fo’. Perhaps they’ll go back to sniffing Elmer’s or drinking Drano.