Four Loko was the elixir of my youth. It supplied my days spent drunkenly stumbling on abandoned beaches. It fueled my nights on the dark dance floors of sketchy night clubs. When I was just a teenager timidly stepping into ill-reputed corner stores to buy booze, the ultra-sweet caffeine and malt liquor cocktail was the only drink I reached for.
The fluorescent beverage was known as “blackout in a can,” and was simultaneously adored and abhorred for its insanely intoxicating effects. During its American heyday, Four Loko’s liver-obliterating indulgence captured public attention as the subject of numerous rap songs, the cause of atrocious crimes, and the focal point of a public paranoia about poisoning our youth.
Stories of Four-Loko-fueled hate crimes, escalated hospitalizations on college campuses, and multiple deaths blamed on the beverage rapidly dominated the US news cycle. The FDA responded to this media-induced outcry by cracking down on the cocktail’s manufacturers. After dozens of the agency’s attorneys pressured Four Loko to end its production and sale of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, the US tragically lost its access to “liquid cocaine.”
But years after the demise of America’s favorite alcoholic stimulant, the notorious Four Loko is making a comeback overseas. In Asian marketplaces and on giant online retailers like JD.com and Alibaba, consumers are buying up a beverage they lovingly refer to as “lose virginity liquor.”
Four Loko’s Asian resurrection is strangely reminiscent of its American lifecycle. First founded in 2005 by three college buddies, Four Loko capitalized on the popularity of energy drinks by combining two Red Bull’s worth of caffeine with 24 ounces of malt liquor (the equivalent of four beers-worth of alcohol). The concoction’s creators also tossed in taurine, guarana, and wormwood, the last of which was touted as the the psychoactive ingredient in absinthe.
Just as it did in the states, Four Loko is quickly becoming an intoxication sensation among Asian youth. And once again, the active ingredients stirring up concern are its stimulants. Alibaba’s flagship store, Taobao, offers Four Lokos in eight fruity flavors and lists recipe components of 12 percent alcohol, caffeine, and amino acids commonly used for “alertness.”
Alcohol is a depressant, but Four Loko’s energizing ingredients counteract its typical fatiguing effects and keep the drink’s guzzlers feeling invigorated. Undoubtedly, this facilitates binge drinking, which is especially problematic when the majority of its drunkards are underage, immature, and irresponsible.
As for Four Loko’s comeback, only time will tell if the cocktail will suffer the same government-sanctioned undoing. Given the shitty reputation fostered during its pre-regulation golden years — and given the collective American experience of Four Loko fueling an adolescence of substance abuse and shit-faced mistakes — we assume the end is near. When that day comes, all over the world, the excessively sweet booze will only taste of nostalgia.