The media has been all abuzz this week over the safety of alcoholic energy drinks--particularly one called Four Loko, which contains 12 percent alcohol and as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Michigan and Oklahoma have banned the beverages, as have several college campuses, and under pressure from the attorney generals in 18 states, the FDA is starting a review.
At Central Washington University, nine college freshmen were hospitalized with near-lethal blood alcohol levels after an October incident that involved drinking Four Loko. NPR looked at the police reports where officers described finding female freshmen unable to talk or sit up, lying on mattresses in a basement. One student almost died due to alcohol poisoning--a 135-pound woman could reach such levels of toxicity after just two beverages.
The danger with these drinks, health experts say, is that overindulging in alcohol tends to put people to sleep--that's the body's safety mechanism to keep you from drinking more--but the caffeine makes people keep drinking beyond their limits. Recent studies have shown that drinkers who mix caffeine and alcohol are four times more likely to try to drive home.
With all this in mind, The Hot Dish picked up a can of fruit punch-flavored Four Loko and one of a competing brand, Joose. Instead of heading to a frat party, our team of Official Hot Dish Taste Testers took them home and started sampling, notebook in hand, in case we blacked out and couldn't remember what happened.[jump]
Four Loko Four Loko, made by Four Brewing Company and served in a $2.59, 23.5-ounce camo-covered can, is light pink and smells of cherry cough syrup. The first sips had the sweetness of a wine cooler and packed a solid alcohol sting. But after the carbonated fizziness faded, Four Loko had a harsh, bitter aftertaste, reinforcing the idea that this is a beverage to be drunk quickly.
Joose Joose is produced by the United Brands Company--interestingly, both beverages say they are brewed in La Crosse, Wisconsin--and served in a 23.5-ounce can with various skull and hellion graphics for $2.19. It has a deeper, carmine color and a lighter odor, like that of cherry Jolly Ranchers. The alcohol in Joose, also 12 percent by volume, seemed more masked by an unpleasantly sour, citrus flavor.
St. Paul rap group F.Y.I.'s "Four Loko"
The Winner: Four Loko If there can be a winner in this category, the Hot Dish would say it's Four Loko, with serious reservations. These drinks are not conducive to the lifestyles of responsible adults who are too busy to be taken out of commission: You can't drink it at night when the caffeine will keep you awake, but you can't drink it in the morning, because you can't be drunk at work.
Notably, the danger in these alcopops seems to stem largely from their packaging: Though one can contains about the same volume and alcohol content as a bottle of wine, it looks like a single serving. While none of our testers consumed more than half a can, they found the drinks quick to buzz, but, at those doses, the caffeine had no real effect.