NPR joins the brew-ha-ha over alcoholic beverages spiked with caffeine (or is it caffeinated beverages spiked with alcohol?):
In Washington state, nine college freshmen landed in the hospital recently with near-lethal blood alcohol levels after drinking a caffeinated malt beverage called Four Loko, according to law enforcement officials.
Police reports describe chaos at the October incident, where officers found female freshmen unable to talk or sit up, lying on mattresses in a basement near Central Washington University, about two hours east of Seattle.
Police shuttled loads of intoxicated freshmen back to campus and took the worst cases to the hospital. One student almost died, according to the police reports. At first, investigators thought the students had been drugged, but it turns out they were drinking Four Loko.
Now, Washington's Attorney General Rob McKenna wants state lawmakers to ban these types of drinks.
"The wide availability of alcoholic energy drinks means that a single mistake can be deadly. If you're a 135-pound woman [and] you drink two of these Four Lokos...you can reach the level of toxicity for alcohol poisoning," McKenna says....
One can has about as much caffeine as a six-pack of Diet Coke. One can also fills an empty wine bottle and in fact, contains about as much alcohol as a bottle of wine....Jarod Franklin, 23, says he has used these drinks to the point of blacking out. He and his friends liked them because of the buzz — the feeling of energized euphoria.
"We would start to lose those inhibitions and then [it would be like], 'How did you get a broken knuckle?' 'Oh, I punched through a three layer of ice [because] you bet me I couldn't,'" Franklin says.
NPR is right that Four Loko's alcohol content (12 percent) makes it about as strong as wine and that 23.5 ounces is almost 750 milliliters (695, to be more precise). But college students were getting drunk, passing out, going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, and injuring themselves through stupid stunts long before Four Loko and similar products were introduced, and I venture to say they will continue to do so even after the evil drink du jour is banned.
At least NPR did not claim that Four Loko causes heart attacks. And so far, I haven't seen any news outlets highlight the homicidal implications of the caffeine in Four Loko, although the New York Daily News does mention that "attackers involved in a horrific gay bias attack in the Bronx last month reportedly forced their victim to guzzle cans of the drink."
The Daily News story is mainly about one of Four Loko's rare defenders: "culinary provocateur" Eddie Huang, who "scrapped plans for an all-you-can-drink Four Loko night" after the paper informed him that such promotions are illegal. Illustrating a more common reaction to the controversy, the makers of MateVeza, the only craft beer to appear on the Michigan Liquor Control Commission's list of newly forbidden "alcohol energy drinks," are keen to distance their product, an India pale ale brewed with the caffeine-containing herb yerba maté, from Four Loko and its competitors:
We believe our inclusion on this list was a mistake; MateVeza is not currently sold in Michigan and it hardly fits the Commission's characterization (inexpensive, brightly colored can of 12% alcohol malt liquor with added caffeine). Since MateVeza is made with yerba mate as an ingredient and not caffeine as an additive, it is in full compliance with TTB and FDA guidelines. Further, MateVeza was not included in the FDA's inquiry into caffeinated alcoholic beverages. We have brought this to the Commission's attention and are seeking to be removed from their list even though we have no immediate plans to distribute to Michigan.
As I noted the other day, there is little rhyme or reason to the commission's list. But the FDA, which takes the position that combining alcohol with caffeine is probably illegal because it has never said it isn't, has been pretty arbitrary too, sending a warning letter to the Ithaca Beer Company concerning Eleven, a coffee-infused stout that it produced to mark the brewery's 11th anniversary in 1999.
[Thanks to Robert Woolley for the NPR link.]