Loco Over Four Loko

How a fruity, brightly colored malt beverage drove politicians to madness in two short years

(Page 2 of 4)

August 2009: To demonstrate the threat that Four Loko poses to the youth of America, Blumenthal cites an online testimonial from a fan of the drink: “You just gotta drink it and drink it and drink it and drink it and not even worry about it because it’s awesome and you’re just partying and having fun and getting wild and drinking it.” The Chicago Tribune cannot locate that particular comment on Phusion Projects’ website, but it does find this: “I’m having a weird reaction to Four that makes me want to dance in my bra and panties. Please advise.”

September 2009: Eighteen attorneys general ask the FDA to investigate the safety of alcoholic beverages containing caffeine.

November 2009: The FDA sends letters to 27 companies known to sell caffeinated alcoholic beverages, warning them that the combination has never been officially approved and asking them to submit evidence that it is “generally recognized as safe,” as required by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. In addition to Phusion Projects, the recipients include Joose’s manufacturer, United Brands; Charge Beverages, which sells similar products; the PINK Spirits Company, which makes caffeinated vodka, rum, gin, whiskey, and sake; and even the Ithaca Beer Company, which at one point made a special-edition stout brewed with coffee. “I continue to be very concerned that these drinks are extremely dangerous,” says Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, “especially in the hands of young people.”

February 2010: In a feature story carried by several newspapers under headlines such as “Alcopops Only Look Innocent and Can Hook Kids,” Kim Hone-McMahan of the Akron Beacon Journal outlines one scenario in which these extremely dangerous drinks might end up in tiny hands: “Intentionally or by accident, a child could grab an alcoholic beverage that looks like an energy drink, and hand it to Mom to pay for at the register. Without taking a closer look at the label, Mom may think it’s just another brand of nonalcoholic energy beverage.” It does seem like the sort of mistake that Hone-McMahan, who confuses fermented malt beverages with distilled spirits and warns parents about an alcoholic energy drink that was never actually introduced, might make. She explains that the combination of alcohol and caffeine “can confuse the nervous system,” producing “wired, wide-awake drunks.”

July 12, 2010: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urges the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Four Loko and products like it. “It is my understanding that caffeine-infused, flavored malt beverages are becoming increasingly popular among teenagers,” he writes. “The style and promotion of these products is extremely troubling.” Schumer complains that the packaging of Joose and Four Loko is “designed to appear hip with flashy colors and funky designs that could appeal to younger consumers.”

July 29, 2010: Schumer, joined by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), urges the FDA to complete its investigation. “The FDA needs to determine once and for all if these drinks are safe, and if they’re not, they ought to be banned,” says Schumer, right before telling the FDA the conclusion it should reach: “Caffeine and alcohol are a dangerous mix, especially for young people.”

August 1, 2010: After a crash in St. Petersburg, Florida, that kills four visitors from Orlando, police arrest 20-year-old Demetrius Jordan and charge him with drunk driving and manslaughter. The St. Petersburg Times reports that Jordan, who “had been drinking liquor and a caffeinated alcoholic beverage and smoking marijuana prior to the crash,” “may have been going in excess of 80 mph when he crashed into the other vehicle.” It notes that a “can of Four Loko was found on the floor of the back seat.”

August 5, 2010: In a follow-up story, the St. Petersburg Times reports that “Four Loko, the caffeine-fueled malt liquor that police say Demetrius Jordan downed before he was accused of driving drunk and killing four people, is part of a new breed of beverages stirring controversy across the country.” It quotes Bruce Goldberger, a toxicologist at the University of Florida, who declares, “I don’t think there’s a place for these beverages in the marketplace.” The headline: “Alcohol, Caffeine: A Deadly Combo?”

August 12, 2010: The Orlando Sentinel, catching up with the St. Petersburg Times, shows it can quote Goldberger too. “It’s a very bad combination having alcohol, plus caffeine, plus the brain of a young person,” he says. “It’s like a perfect storm.” The headline: “Did High-Octane Drink Fuel Deadly Crash?”

September 2010: Peter Mercer, president of Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey, bans Four Loko and other caffeinated malt beverages from campus after several incidents in which a total of 23 students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. Just six of the students were drinking Four Loko. Mercer later tells the Associated Press, “There’s no redeeming social purpose to be served by having the beverage.”

October 9, 2010: In a story about nine gang members who tied up and tortured a gay man after luring him to an abandoned building in the Bronx by telling him they were having a party, the New York Daily News plays up the detail that they “forced him to guzzle four cans” of the Four Loko he had brought with him. “The sodomized man couldn’t give police a clear account of what he’d gone through,” the paper reports, “possibly because of the Four Loko he was forced to drink.”

October 10, 2010: In a follow-up story, the Daily News reports that Four Loko, a “wild drink full of caffeine and booze,” “is causing controversy from coast to coast,” citing the deadly crash in St. Petersburg.

October 13, 2010: Police in New Port Richey, Florida, arrest Justin Barker, 21, after he breaks into an old woman’s home, trashes the place, strips naked, defecates on the floor, and then breaks into another house, where he falls asleep on the couch. Barker says Four Loko made him do it.

October 15, 2010: Calling Four Loko “a quick and intense high that has been dubbed ‘blackout in a can,’ ” the Passaic County, New Jersey, Herald News notes the Ramapo College ban and quotes Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli. “The bottom line on the product is it gets you very drunk, very quick,” he says. “To me, Four Loko is just a dangerous substance.” The “blackout in a can” sobriquet, obviously hyperbolic when applied to a beverage that contains less alcohol per container than a bottle of wine, originated with Four Loko fans who considered it high praise; one of their Facebook pages is titled “four lokos are blackouts in a can and the end of my morals.”

October 19, 2010: Bruce Goldberger, who co-authored one of the two studies linking caffeinated alcohol to risky behavior, tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “the science is clear that consumption of alcohol with caffeine leads to risky behaviors.” Mary Claire O’Brien, the Wake Forest University researcher who co-authored the other study, expresses her anger at the FDA. “I’m mad as a hornet that they didn’t do something in the first place,” she says, “and I’m mad as a hornet that they haven’t done anything yet.”

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Suki||

    Good morning reason!
    The Cosmotarians and Liberaltarians shoue be saying Happy Mawlid al-Nabi like all good Muslim Brotherhood/CAIR supporters should.

  • Mr Whipple||

    On noes. They might be spreading herpes


  • Mr Whipple||

    Even worse, they might come over here and kill all of our Datsuns.


  • Abdul||

    dude, you were so much better when you did "Moonshadow" and "Wild World."

    What happened to you, Cat?

  • Yusuf Islam||

    The first cut was the deepest.

  • Daniel Pearl||

    You're telling me!

  • The Islamists ||

    "Resistance is futile!"

  • The French||


  • ||

    Too many rides on the Peace Train.

  • Fatwa Issuer||


  • Nutz||

    Instead of sitting around on the internet all day, posting pointless messages about "freedom" and abusing yourselves to pictures of loose women, why not do something productive and surrender your lives to Allah?

    I want it all!

  • Zeb||

    Please go away.

  • ||

    The first prohibition in America did not work. Perhaps if they tried a new one, where only of 40's are allowed to drink, it might work.

    These people who want to ban all these things probably want to achieve a Stepford wives type society where everyone is so happy and so polite, I mean who would not want to live in such a society, right ?

  • Rich||

    David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, [says] “It’s hard to imagine any argument for such products. It’s also hard to imagine anyone objecting to a ban of such products.”

    Sheesh, David. You don't have much of an imagination, do you?

    What's harder to imagine is that there are
    35 such centers nationwide.

    Also, Prevention Research Center = PRC. Coincidence? /snark

  • Gregory Smith||

    That's what happens when you let the Progressive Health Nazis achieve influence. Why isn't America outraged when the First Lady pressures Wal-Mart to sell healthy foods? Where is the outrage against Hospitals that choose not to hire smokers or demand that smokers quit? Why isn't anyone saying anything about the Department of Transportation banning electronic cigarettes on the air without even holding a hearing?

    Yeah, everyone says "it won't happen to be" but before you know it the government will be banning something you like, and then what will you do?

    New Budget, New Tax Hikes: Obama does it again.

  • Sovereign Immunity||

    Are you related to Hercules Deviated Septosis, or whatever the hell his name is?

    You never see them in the same thread.

  • Bucky||

    "Hercules Deviated Septosis"
    now that's funny! that guy is out there.
    "Earth to Hercules, earth to Hercules, put down your Loco!"

  • Gregory Smith||

    I am not.

  • Gregory Smith||

    I am not.

  • ||

    Is that a double negative?

  • Gregory Smith||

    No, it's a double reply. It happens. Blame the computer.

  • Bucky||

    more turds of wisdom from the PRC...
    "Thus we are "Research Centers" not because we work in a laboratory, but because we measure effectiveness"
    measuring effectiveness = more legislation needed

  • Rich||

    “It’s a very bad combination having alcohol, plus caffeine, plus the brain of a young person."

    But if you add eye of newt and a pinch of kosher salt, and liquify it, it's pretty good.

  • Brian D||

    Clearly we must ban young people from having brains.

    Or maybe they've already beaten us to that...

  • ||

    Best tesimonial I've yet seen:

    “You just gotta drink it and drink it and drink it and drink it and not even worry about it because it’s awesome and you’re just partying and having fun and getting wild and drinking it.”

  • ||

    I like how it starts out as a piece of advice and just never goes anywhere at all.

  • David Katz||

    It goes to ... HELL!!

  • Jonathan||

    Great to see that alcohol and it's place in social order hasn't changed since 1736.

  • Number 2||

    "A grand total of two studies have found that college students who drink alcoholic beverages containing caffeine (typically bar- or home-mixed cocktails unaffected by the FDA’s ban) tend to drink more and are more prone to risky behavior than college students who drink alcohol by itself."

    So I take it that those who drink nothing but straight tequila all night are safer than those who drink rum and cokes, and we should be encouraging young people to do the former?

    Just askin'...

  • cynical||

    'Once an intoxicant has been identified with a disfavored group—in this case, heedless, hedonistic “young adults”'

    Or, in the case of the "malt liquor" analogy that Frank Bruni wrote about... well, you know.

  • ||

    David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, [says] “It’s hard to imagine any argument for such products. It’s also hard to imagine anyone objecting to a ban of such products.”

    Die in a fire, Dave.

  • Bucky||

    see? twisted logic wins the day again!
    i like what Old Mexican did on another thread...
    "It's hard to imagine any argument for such products.
    It's also hard to imagine anyone objecting to a ban of such products."
    Therefore; because it's hard to imagine, we should ban such products.
    butt-speak at its finest...

  • ||

    ... and slowly, with a caffeine IV drip so you can stay awake whilst the flames singe and sear your libtard, nanny-state infused flesh.

  • Young College Student||

    I guess it's back to dissolving crushed-up NoDoz in cans of Milwaukee's Best for me.

  • Orwell O'Well||

    That's good, Son.

    Back to basics.

  • IceTrey||

    Was the chick who crashed into the telephone pole driving a Toyota?

  • ||

    Was in a deli in lower Manhattan the other night where a Wall Street couple was paying an extra $50 for the LAST CASE of Four Loko.

  • ||

    So where the HELL are the ethanol-sotten, hyper-caffeinated OWS freedom-fighters on THIS???

  • ||

    Al this reminds me of those ridiculous, insane "Reefer Madness" propaganda films they used to make us watch years, and years, and YEARS ago!

  • Robert||

    Feb. 15, 2011: 4 Loco provides material for yet another Sullum on 4 Loco. Side effect: it generates another Colon too.

    Just teasing you guys. Not a bad summary, Jacob, and I like the cartoon too.

  • ||

    Sorry to be picky, but it is THE Ohio State University.

  • Dave||

    As a physician, I am not surprised the FDA's behavior in this case. The FDA routinely makes decisions without any basis in science. It bans drugs based on whim rather than rigorous scientific study and maintains marijuana prohibition despite the mountain of scientific data against such policy.

  • ||

    Hey, FDA: Get your head out of your collective PIRG-beholden arse and go after something demonstrably dangerous - Homeopathy, a scourge of pernicious snakeoil marketers if there ever was one.

  • partymarty||

    It's unbelievable how many educated people in our society; doctors, scientists, politicians, etc: could be so ignorant of the tremendous logical flaws in extrapolating so much from so little. Its common for people too mistakenly infer causality, but on this dumb of a scale?

    Two schools from the same rural region of one state. I mean common, anyone from Eastern Washington knows kids at Central and WSU have nothing to do but rage their faces off. WSU went through a serious riot phase once upon a time. Kids there get drunk and punch things.

    And I say this as somebody who has relatively recently partied with those dancing girls in underwear at WSU.

  • ||

    It's unbelievable how many educated people in our society; doctors, scientists, politicians, etc: could be so ignorant of the tremendous logical flaws

    Actually, it is perfectly believable.

    Politicians need things to ban and regulate to "protect us from ourselves."

    Scientists access billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars conducting "research" that tends to support the foregone conclusions of politicians. (Research that contradicts politicians' ends tends not to lead to additional funding).

    And physicians benefit from a licensing scheme that restricts entry into the market of health care providers -- increasing income -- while also creating additional new "health crises" that can be transformed into new "treatments" for "conditions" and further juice the coffers.

    It's a nice trifecta for personal financial enrichment at the expense of everyone else.

  • ||

    Dam, this means it's back to 5-Hour energy/Tahitian Treat/Vodka cocktails.

    Oh and I'll make sure I mix it in the Tahitian Treat bottle so I can throw out the other containers. Then the police can't blame the wreck on the vodka or the 5 hour energy, just the Tahitian Treat.

    Or say that the combo made me too drunk, too fast.

    Anyone remember a similar hullabaloo back in the 80's over wine coolers? That the attractive packaging made them tempting to children? Or how the two-liter bottles encouraged more drinking?

    Where is the outrage over other malt beverages that don't even taste like they have alcohol in them?

  • ||

    Damn, that sounds YUMMY!

    ... now, where are my car keys ...

  • The Meatriarchy||

    Sshh no one tell the FDA about Coffee Liqueurs

  • ||

    Great article, I'll have a vodka red bull to celebrate the ban!

  • ||

    I need an attorney that will sue four loko for me how dose it work do i have to pay money or will they represent me for free till we win? My son drank four loko and now is on trial for murder he has no memory of the night at all or having a gun. i need help i need an attorney to take my case i have no money and my sons only 14 years old being tried as an adult please someone help

  • قبلة الوداع||

    ThaNk U

  • دليل||


  • ||

    Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and may come back someday. I want to encourage you to ultimately continue your great writing, have a nice evening!
    we've got many new users here who recently got an Apple iPod touch or an www.apple.com/ipod/start.

  • ||

    i have bad chest pains when i dring 4 loko. and joose! i didnt know it had such high levels of cafeen! i have slight high blood pressure. i will never drink this again. i have chest pain right now and am buzzed and thought I should google this pain to be safe! then I read this. holy Sh*t! this is crazy. they should post this on the can you drink,right? good luck guys!!! God bless


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.