The Truth About How Four Loko Is Made

Of all the canned beverages you might find in a convenience store, Four Loko is probably the most notorious. The tall, brightly-colored cylinders of what Grub Street once called "hypercaffeinated super-booze" caused quite the commotion when it came onto the scene in 2005, and more so in 2010, when the 12 percent ABV drink became associated with underage binge-drinking and subsequent legal trouble for the drink's manufacturers (via The Atlantic). 

Many people have picked up a Four Loko and chugged it without stopping to consider what the beverage was made of, much less how it's made. Even if they did, they may not remember such ponderings in the morning. Going back to the history of how the drink got its name, the formula seems somewhat simple. According to Grub Street's oral history of the beverage, the "four" in Four Loko referenced the drink's "four key ingredients": alcohol, caffeine, taurine, and guarana. Taurine is an amino acid found in animal tissue, and guarana is a tropical berry containing significant amounts of caffeine; both are common ingredients in energy drinks (via HuffPost).

Four Loko is different now (but still potent!)

The "four" in Four Loko isn't so accurate these days. After a string of incidents in 2010 that, per Esquire, included hospitalizations, lawsuits, and a warning from the Federal Trade Commission, the former frat bro founders of Four Loko removed caffeine, guarana, and taurine from the drink. Four Loko's website calls this a "voluntary product reformulation" and now describes the product as "a premium malt beverage with natural and artificial flavors."

As Thrillist reports, Four Loko's initial formula was also a bit different. Phusion Projects, the company behind the beverage, first strove to create a drink that had 6 percent alcohol plus taurine, guarana, and wormwood, which is an ingredient typically found in absinthe. The potent malt liquor content (with an ABV that varies by state, per the company), candylike taste, and neon camouflage can design is now all that remains from the boozy beverage's original iterations.

The OG, caffeine-laced Four Loko isn't entirely a thing of the past. In 2017, Vinepair writer Nick Hines attempted to brew it at home. His process involved active dry wine yeast, pilsner malt, crushed caffeine pills, and strawberry Kool-Aid powder. The result? "The closest thing to an original Four Loko I've had in years," writes Hines. Homebrewers, take note.