Wakey wakey, rise and shine

Apparently they’re banning booze again in the USA. Well, some booze:

A few weeks ago in New York a group of college students gathered at a vigil. They sang songs, and held candles as they mourned the passing of a friend. The scene can be seen on YouTube. What makes it slightly surreal is that the gathered crowd is lamenting the demise of an alcoholic drink, Four Loko. From Monday, Four Loko will no longer exist in its original incarnation – as a mix of alcohol and caffeine in a can – on the orders of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

(That’s ‘Monday’ as in the 13th of December. Sorry, I’ve been busy.)

Yes, it’s those evil caffeinated alco-pops. Add caffeine to an alcoholic drink and anything could happen:

one 23.5oz (694ml) can contains as much caffeine as a tall Starbucks coffee. It is a combination those who drink it say tastes great and makes you feel good. But others describe it as a “blackout in a can”, and blame it for landing a number of students in hospital.

“Blackout in a can” – whew! But isn’t this just teenage legend? (My son (15) is convinced that vodka and Red Bull will kill you. He didn’t get that from me, but I’m not in a hurry to enlighten him.)

Apparently not: it seems there are genuine health concerns.

Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration called on the top four manufacturers to take them out of circulation by 13 December. Dr Joshua M Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, said evidence suggested that the mix of caffeine and alcohol posed a “public health concern”. Four Loko will continue to be on sale, but now without the caffeine.

The FDA’s action came after some highly publicised scandals, in which the drinks were reported to have caused serious illness, including one at Ramapo College in New Jersey. “My friend had [a] little under three cans in one hour,” explains a student at the college, James Kulinski. “He didn’t know what he was doing. He was a mess – he had no motor skills and no ability to communicate.”

That’s strong stuff, that caffeine. I mean, there can’t be that much alcohol

The fruit-flavoured energy drink contains 12% alcohol, making it about three times as strong as a regular beer

well, OK, but there can’t be that much alcohol in one can

one 23.5oz (694ml) can

and it’s not as if a strong malt liquor is going to appeal to younger people

Four Loko is available in eight flavors: Uva Berry (Grape), Fruit Punch, Orange Blend, Watermelon, Blue Raspberry, Lemon Lime, Lemonade, and Cranberry Lemonade.

or inexperienced drinkers…

James has tried Four Loko and Joose and isn’t a huge fan. He says most people who drank it on campus were “inexperienced drinkers” who saw it, at around $1.50, as an inexpensive way to get drunk.

So, to recap, the jokers behind Four Loko were selling a fruit-flavoured drink containing almost as much alcohol in one can as a litre of Special Brew, at $1.50 a throw, in a country where under-21s can’t buy alcohol. What was that, James?

“My friend had [a] little under three cans in one hour … He didn’t know what he was doing. He was a mess – he had no motor skills and no ability to communicate.”

James, your friend drank the equivalent of eight pints of Jaipur (or Dobber) – or nine 330ml cans of Gold Label – in an hour. Damn right he was a mess. (He also effectively washed that lot down with three cups of coffee – and all for a total cost of $4.50. Whatever else you can say about this stuff, it’s really cheap.)

But, as we’ve seen, the FDA has sprung into action, removing Four Loko from sale. And it’s not just the bottle-of-Buckie-inna-can merchants that the FDA have gone after. (Buckfast also contains caffeine, incidentally; presumably they don’t export.) New Century Brewing’s Moonshot ’69 has also got the cease-and-desist treatment. A 5% beer (without any fruit flavourings) brewed by a one-woman company, Moonshot doesn’t share a lot with Four Loko, but what they do have in common is caffeine: the FDA are getting involved because “caffeine was put directly in the [beer] as a food additive and was not naturally occurring, as it would be in a beer brewed with coffee”. Well, you can’t be too careful.

But at least Four Loko is off the shelves. Or rather, it was, for as long as it took them to take out the caffeine – which wasn’t very long. So kids who have reached the age of 21 thinking of alcohol as a forbidden pleasure can once more enjoy the freedom to get wrecked, for a couple of dollars, on a drink that comes in eight refreshing fruit flavours.

What this story says to me is that abstinence and over-indulgence are two sides of the same coin. Each one feeds off the other, and neither of them represents a psychologically healthy attitude to booze. Where alcohol is concerned, “little and often” has to be the best policy – for the mind as well as the body.


One Comment

  1. Posted 7 January, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Bang goes any chance of selling Buckfast Tonic Wine in the US, then…

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