You'd think that the problem with sickly sweet, carbonated, high-alcohol energy drinks would be (1) that they're disgusting, or (2) that the hangovers are hellish. And you'd be right on both counts. But the Food and Drug Administration believes there's another problem: That consumers will drink too much of the stuff because the effects of the caffeine will temporarily mask those of the alcohol. Which is why the FDA is banning beverages that combine caffeine and alcohol.
But here's some breaking news: Four Loko and other caffeine-alcohol drinks are not the first beverages to combine booze and caffeine!
"The Irish do that all the time," says Sean Murphy, a bartender at West Palm Beach's legendary
Respectable Street. Murphy insists that caffeine and alcohol are not, in fact, a deadly combination. "I haven't been to Ireland in a few years, but last time I checked, the Irish were still there." According to Murphy, they didn't even seem sick. "No more than usual, anyway."
The Irish beverage to which he referred -- "Irish Coffee," which is ordinarily comprised of American coffee augmented with a plus-sized shot of whiskey -- is sold at virtually every bar in America.
When people arrive at Respectable Street, they often request "Monster and Vodka." "They actually ask for Vodka Red Bull, but we don't do Red Bull -- we have Monster," says Murphy. A Monster and Vodka contains, among other things, caffeine, taurine, guarana, and lots of alcohol. "People who order it don't die," says Murphy. "In fact, I see lots of them over and over again."
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However, Respectable Street does not serve Four Loko. "Not because it's dangerous," says Murphy, "but because it tastes like the backside of a bat. [...] It tastes like rancid Tang." According to Murphy, Monster and Vodka tastes a lot better than Four Loko, and so far, the FDA has not complained.
Four Loko -- called "four" because of its four main ingredients (alcohol, caffeine, taurine, and guarana), and "loko" because it makes you crazy (and a bad speller) -- is manufactured by a company called Phusion Projects LLC. It comes in eight eye-watering flavors: grape, watermelon, orange-blend, fruit punch, lemonade, cranberry-lemonade, lemon lime, and blue raspberry. The company came under the FDA's scrutiny largely because of its obvious promotion to college students, a demo notorious for its inability to hold its liquor, as well as for its consistently wretched taste.
But what choice did Phusion have? Who the hell else would buy the stuff? Grownup alkies know very well how
to get their caffeine-booze buzz without chugging a can full of noxious, Red Bullesque chemicals.