Demonized Drinks

Four Loko's predecessors in infamy


Four Loko was not the first alcoholic beverage to be singled out as a special threat to public health, safety, and morals for reasons that in retrospect are hard to understand. Here is a rundown of some other demonized drinks. 

Demonized drink: gin

Charge: too cheap

Legal action: The British Gin Act of 1736 imposed prohibitive taxes on the drink, provoking riots; the levy was abolished in 1742.

Representative quote: Gin is "the principal cause…of all the vice & debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people, as well as the felonies & other disorders committed in & about this town." —Middlesex magistrates, 1721

Demonized drink: absinthe

Charge: too conducive to madness and murder

Legal action: After the ban wagon started rolling in Europe, absinthe was prohibited in the U.S. from 1912 until 2007, when the Food and Drug Administration began permitting formulations with minimal amounts of thujone, a psychoactive chemical in wormwood.

Representative quote: "Absinthe makes one crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant. It disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country." —petition from a French temperance group, 1917

Demonized drink: PowerMaster Malt Liquor

Charge: too appealing to dark-skinned drinkers

Legal action: In 1991, following complaints from black activists and Surgeon General Antonia Novello, federal regulators who had initially approved the product's label decided the brand name illegally alluded to alcoholic strength. 

Representative quote: "PowerMaster is marketed to primarily low-income powerless people so you get a feeling of euphoria and that you are powerful and masterful when in fact things that make you powerful and masterful you are not doing—you're drinking malt liquor." —the Rev. Calvin Butts of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, 1991

Demonized drink: Black Death Vodka

Charge: too morbid

Legal action: In 1992, following complaints from Surgeon General Antonia Novello, federal regulators decided the drink's name and grinning-skull trademark were illegal because they simultaneously implied the product was unfit for human consumption and undermined the government's warnings about the dangers of drinking. The vodka's U.S. distributor successfully challenged that decision in federal court on due process grounds.

Representative quote: The marketing will "target adolescents, condone drinking, and make people believe that abuse is OK. [I am] looking into taking this out of the market before the kids get it." —Surgeon General Antonia Novello, 1992

Demonized drink: Crazy Horse Malt Liquor

Charge: too insensitive

Legal action: Congress banned the brand in 1992. A federal judge overturned the ban on First Amendment grounds in 1993.

Representative quote: "This product is insensitive to the plight of the American Indian and the progress that has been made against alcohol abuse on reservations." —Surgeon General Antonia Novello, 1992

Demonized drink: alcopops

Charge: too sweet

Legal action: none so far

Representative quote: "Booze merchants formulate the products and the design of their labeling and packaging specifically to appeal to people who don't like the taste of alcohol, which includes teenagers." —George Hacker, Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2001

Demonized drink: Buckfast Tonic Wine

Charge: too popular among drunken hooligans

Legal action: none so far

Representative quote: "It is not only a drink which is particularly attractive to younger people for a number of reasons, but it is also a badge of pride amongst those who are involved in antisocial behavior."—First Minister of Scotland Jack McConnell, 2006

Demonized drink: Everclear

Charge: too strong

Legal action: The 190-proof version is banned in California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington.

Representative quote: "Young adults drinking nearly pure alcohol are especially vulnerable to alcohol poisoning." —Jon Williams, chairman of the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, 2010