In the morning, news broke that the Food and Drug Administration had told companies marketing caffeinated alcoholic beverages to remove the caffeine or face legal consequences.
That evening, Weber Street Liquor sold 17 cases of Four Loko, the most-hyped and -publicized target of the FDA's ire. The people who bought them, says Weber Street employee Pip Shepard, looked as though they were students at Colorado College, just a couple blocks away.
"They said that they had read about the FDA report and didn't want to get caught without it," Shepard says. "They said that they weren't going to abuse it, like drink it all at once — they were stockpiling."
He says the drink, which Weber Street Liquor sells in 23.5-ounce cans for $2.69, has been popular among the college crowd, but it was most certainly the hype last week that cleared his shelves. Until then, he says, the store probably sold five cases a week.
Four Loko comes in a number of flavors, geared toward those who like their drinks sweet — Grape, Blue Raspberry, etc. — and is a potent blend of alcohol and caffeine, as well as popular energy-drink ingredients taurine and guarana. The alcohol content may differ state by state (from 6 to 12 percent), but in Colorado one 23.5-ounce Four Loko contains roughly the same amount of alcohol as a six-pack of Bud Light and the caffeine equivalent of 12 ounces of coffee.
The FDA move came after a year of deliberating over the safety of mixing caffeine with alcohol, and after a number of states banned the caffeinated malt beverages. In one state, Washington, nine students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after binge drinking Four Loko at a party.
Phusion Projects, the maker of Four Loko, says it will comply with the FDA's demands and "reformulate its products to remove caffeine, guarana and taurine nationwide," according to a statement on the company's website. "We have repeatedly contended — and still believe, as do many people throughout the country — that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced."
"The problem is that it makes you wide-awake drunk," says Shepard. However, he sees the FDA and states' reactions as a bit too hype-fueled. He points out that he and his friends have basically achieved the same pairing of caffeine and alcohol by putting Baileys in their coffee.
Another store close to CC, Coaltrain Wine and Spirits on Uintah Street, pulled the drink from its shelves after the FDA raised its alarm. Jim Little, one of the store's co-owners, says he wanted to be "socially responsible."
"We are next to a college campus," he says, adding, "I am sure that we could make an extra hundred dollars. And I am sure that there is some hype to it, but if there is any truth to the danger, it's not worth taking that chance."
Here's Shepard's take: "We all know how to binge-drink; this isn't just a college-kid thing. They can still buy energy drinks and vodka, and go home and mix it themselves. This is just one of those times in life when things get blown out of proportion."
Shepard's sure that his store will try to order more cases of the original Four Loko. But, he says, "I bet when our distributor comes around, there won't be a single can left in the warehouse."
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