Stay Loko forever?
Last week, on November 17, the Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters that gave 15 days for companies to stop producing and selling caffeinated alcoholic beverages. This notice was directly targeted at Four Loko, a drink produced by Phusion Projects, a Chicago-based company founded by three friends from Ohio State University. Four Loko varies in size and alcohol content in different states, but in California, the drink comes in 24-ounce cans and has an alcohol-by-volume level of 12.5 percent. The legend of Four Loko has spread through college dorms across the nation. There’s even a Four Loko rap on YouTube. News reports and FDA findings lambast the hugely popular drink, but they never discuss one important fact:
Four Loko tastes like crap.
The drink is a fruit-flavored energy beverage mixed with malt liquor. If this doesn’t cause your stomach to churn, imagine drinking a combination of stale beer, off-brand Robitussin, and off-off-brand Red Bull. Offered in eight varieties, Four Loko flavors include Blue Raspberry, Watermelon and Uva, which is basically grape. Each uses food coloring to match the shade of the sickly sweet liquid to its can’s camouflage design.
Blue Raspberry tastes like the Energizer Bunny vomited up a Steel Reserve Slurpee. And while 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.
But it’s an acquired taste—and one with benefits if you want to get wasted: Four Loko contains four times the amount of alcohol as one beer, plus lots of caffeine, which fools consumers into believing they’re not as drunk as they really are.
But the claim that Four Loko has more alcohol-plus-caffeine content than other drinks, however, is misleading. A 24-ounce can of Four Loko at 12 percent ABV contains the same amount of alcohol as four 12-ounce beers. A bottle of vodka contains the alcoholic equivalent of 17 beer cans. Plus, rum and Coke, Kahlua and coffee, and vodka and Red Bull are common drink orders at every bar in America, and have been for quite some time.
Still, let’s not trivialize the illness and even deaths that have resulted of Four Loko. Binge drinking is an epidemic in America. But when the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that every year, more than 1.3 million students are killed or injured in alcohol-related accidents and disputes, can the government squarely place the blame on one beverage?
Sure, on taste alone, no one should drink this stuff. But if cigarettes have but a warning label, then a ban on Four Loko is extreme. Plus, if a college student is 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 huffing Drano.