The Untold Truth Of Four Loko

If you are old enough to remember the early 2000's, you probably remember the malt beverage Four Loko. If you didn't drink it at least once just to see what all the fuss is about, you definitely heard about the controversy surrounding the product, which was widely reported on in 2010. The Week states that at its most popular (and most controversial) Four Loko contained up to 12 percent alcohol and came in eight fruit-based flavors. The malt liquor drink became popular with college aged students due in part to its combination of caffeine and alcohol, which allowed drinkers to consume more than they would be capable of under normal circumstances. After a series of incidents, including one event in which 17 students and six visitors to New Jersey college Ramapo had to be hospitalized following a night of binge drinking linked to the brand and the suicide of one young man who was known to have been drinking Four Loko heavily, many began calling for a ban on sales of the drink.

Four Loko's beginnings

Four Loko was first introduced in 2005, as told to Grub Street by Jaisen Freeman and Jeffrey Wright, the beverage's co-creators. Inspired by the emerging market for energy drinks spiked with alcohol (like the "energy beer" Sparks and the still popular mix of Red Bull and vodka,) the pair, along with a third business partner, decided to attempt to create a new product to take advantage of the relatively small amount of competition. After attempting to trademark a series of names, they decided to go with Four Loko. The "four" in Four Loko represents the four key ingredients in the drink, and was chosen because they felt names with numbers in them were successful. To help create the flavor for the drink, the company enlisted a group of friends to work as taste testers. They originally wanted the flavor to be similar to cherry vodka, but decided to test the product on the market once they found something everyone agreed they would be willing to drink. Initially, the beverage did not perform well, which caused the pair to go back and make some changes. They decided to make the cans larger, raise the alcohol level, and redo the flavor to create a more palatable taste than the one they had originally settled on. They also added Four Loko's signature neon camouflage print to the cans, which was chosen to help the product stand out more from other malt beverage drinks on the shelves

The controversy

The real trouble for the company came in 2010, when drinking Four Loko was linked to a series of injuries and deaths in young people. Mixing caffeine and alcohol is extremely dangerous, according to the Centers for Disease Control, as caffeine masks the depressant effects of alcohol and can cause people to become much more drunk than they realize. The Legal Examiner states that the infamous four ingredients in Four Loko which caused the drink to be such a dangerous blend were alcohol, taurine, caffeine, and guarana, which are three stimulants and one depressant. Each 24-ounce can contained as much alcohol as four to six beers and as much caffeine as four to six cups of coffee. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission sent out a letter warning energy alcohol manufacturers that they may come into legal trouble for deceptive marketing, as the products posed a safety risk to those drinking them. In response to this letter, Four Loko decided to reformat its blend to remove the stimulants from their drinks.

You can still purchase Four Loko today

You can still purchase Four Loko, minus a few of the key ingredients that made the original beverage so dangerous, but also appealing to young, more risk inclined drinkers. ABC News reports that after the letter from the FTC in 2010 and a lawsuit brought on by a family of one person who took his own life after consuming multiple cans of Four Loko, the product's parent company, Phusion Projects, announced they would be removing the caffeine from the drink. At the time, 40 other beverages on the market also mixed caffeine and alcohol.

Four Loko also decided to change the way it marketed itself, which made it less visible and popular with young and underage drinkers, especially on college campuses. According to CBS, a second case, settled in New York in 2014, was directed at Four Loko's marketing. The brand was accused of consciously encouraging underage and binge drinking in social media advertisements. In the agreement reached, Phusion Projects admitted no wrongdoing, but promised not to promote the product to underage people, in schools, or on college campuses; to not post any promotional material depicting or condoning misuse of alcohol; to no longer hire any models under the age of 25 or who appeared to be under 21; and to not use logos, initials, or mascots of any schools, sororities, or fraternities.