The FDA Is Right About Four Loko

At the very least, a ban is a vote against poor taste

Not so long ago, if you told me the FDA would crack down on alcoholic energy drinks — including the infamous Four Loko, also known as “liquid cocaine” — I would have said it was another example of a knee-jerk reaction from headline-hungry politicians who put their careers ahead of our fundamental American ideals, such as an open marketplace, freedom of choice, and the Constitutional right to get hammered in any way we see fit. Have you seen Boardwalk Empire? Take away our booze and dead bodies end up in the cranberry fields of South Jersey.

I also hate to sound like some oldhead bitching and moaning about the kids today. But when the FDA announced it was banning these drinks on Wednesday, I couldn’t argue with the crackdown. What happened to change my mind? I actually tried the stuff. [SIGNUP]

It all started two weeks ago with a text from a friend who was rounding up a few buddies for some Friday night beers. “We’ll get some Four Loko,” he wrote. Hilarious! I love a good Four Loko joke, and the internet was already full of plenty of them. But even in the homemade rap videos that praise these “blackouts in a can,” there’s a sense that these drinks are trouble. (A sample lyric: “That shit make ugly chicks look like Halle Berry/Whoa!/That kinda drunk there is kinda scary.”) As I found out when I showed up at my friend’s house, he wasn’t kidding. I was the last guy to arrive for his social experiment, and there was one watermelon-flavored Four Loko with my name on it. Everyone else had already finished theirs and was ready to hit the bars. About 15 minutes later, I’d polished off my 23.5-ounce cocktail of malt liquor, caffeine, taurine and guarana. One can is roughly equivalent to four beers and three tall Starbucks coffees, and from my experience, that’s conservative.

Let me dispel one rumor first — these drinks do not taste good. The watermelon flavor was like a liquid Jolly Rancher spiked with Red Bull and a hint of Old English 800. The only debate among our group was which variety tasted the least horrible. As we walked to a bar around the corner, I felt the effects immediately. I was buzzed, but at the same time, in a state of hyper-alertness that, as the drink’s name implies, made me feel a little crazy. I joked that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run a marathon or go car-jack a Lexus (neither of which I’ve done before, for the record). As the night rolled on, so did the beers, but with so much caffeine in my system, I never hit that wall when the booze wins. I didn’t feel sick or tired or come close to blacking out. Only the fact that I’m 36 and know my limits prevented me from pounding pints all night.

The evening ended with a late-night trip to Little Pete’s for a cheeseburger deluxe, and I finally felt like I was running on empty. What happened the morning after was a complete shock — I woke up with no hangover whatsoever. Maybe that greasy meal helped matters, and thanks to the caffeine, I was wide awake at 8:30 a.m. Still, I expected to feel that old familiar jackhammer in my head, at least. By mid-afternoon, I needed a nap that was more like a coma than a snooze. But otherwise, I emerged miraculously unscathed from my tangle with Four Loko.

Of course, I’m not the target audience, most of whom probably wouldn’t be so lucky after a Loko-fueled night. If you traveled back in time and gave me and my 21-year-old pals a few alcoholic energy drinks, someone would have ended up in a hospital, in jail, on the local news, or perhaps all three. Now that Four Loko is synonymous with danger, that’s essentially a challenge for kids to do the dumb things that kids do, like beer-bong two Lokos at once, as one college-age guy demonstrates in a YouTube video. It’s hard to watch that clip, knowing how potent just one can is. So kids, keep doing your keg stands and your Jagerbombs and your shotguns and trust me. One day, when you’re old, you’ll be thankful that Four Loko isn’t on the menu anymore.