Last year the world of irresponsible drinking was rocked by Four Loko, a beverage containing both alcohol and caffeine! This deadly combination was labelled “blackout in a can”, “cocaine in a can”, “a legalized speedball”, “The Human Suplex Machine”, “The Dog-Faced Gremlin”, and other scary monikers by the press, leading to several state-level bans and a suspension of production in late 2010. Clearly, this was a threat of cosmic proportions!
Don’t misunderstand, I am not making light of the many documented cases of alcohol poisoning and hospitalizations that stemmed from Four Loko. But college students drinking themselves sick is a problem that neither began nor ended with Four Loko, and some of the media coverage was hilariously fear-mongering. Having had consumed up to Eight Loko (two cans) in an evening, I can attest to its intoxicating powers, but “cocaine in a can”? Really?
The talking points regarding Four Loko claim it has as much alcohol as anywhere between three and six beers, and multiple cups of coffee/energy drinks/sodas. A can of pre-Prohibition Four Loko allegedly contained 135mg of caffeine, which may sound like a lot, but let’s put that into perspective:
|Dunkin Donuts Coffee||8.9|
|Coca Cola Classic||2.9|
Granted, Four Loko comes in a size considerably larger than many of those beverages, but a 20 oz bottle of any Mountain Dew variety contains over 90mg of caffeine – roughly 2/3 of a Four Loko. Sixteen ounce cans of popular energy drinks like Monster, Red Bull or Rockstar contain more caffeine than a can of Four Loko. A tall Starbucks coffee out-caffeines a can of Four Loko, never mind a Venti Starbucks, which is the equivalent of three Four Lokos. And if you want to mainline caffeine, one Five Hour Energy Shot contains 138mg of caffeine, and a tablet of No-Doz has 200mg. Clearly, the caffeine in Four Loko is significant, but it’s hardly a heroic dose in the modern landscape. Many “cups of coffee” figures cite a six ounce cup of coffee, which I don’t think is a standard serving size. A standard coffee mug holds about eight ounces, though admittedly many people add sugar or dairy, or do not fill the mug all the way up. Regardless, many coffee conveyances in modern society encourage serving sizes significantly over six ounces, which may be a Public Health Threat for another day, but skews many of the figures regarding Four Loko.
As for the alcohol content, sure, Four Loko is 12% ABV, which is a lot. But many people seem to think that all beers are 3.2-4% alcohol. If we accept the 3.2 beer comparison, one can of Four Loko contains 2.82oz of alcohol, versus .38 ounces in a twelve ounce can of 3.2 beer. A can of Four Loko is equivalent to 7.4 cans of 3.2 beer, but how many people are really drinking 3.2 beer?
|Beverage||# of 12 oz = One Four Loko|
|Samuel Adams Boston Lager||4.9|
|Pabst Blue Ribbon||4.7|
|Sierra Nevada Pale Ale||4.1|
Of course, the risk with something like Four Loko is that the perceived serving of “one” Four Loko is as much as several servings of these other drinks. By way of another comparison, a can of Four Loko contains the same amount of alcohol as a little over seven ounces of your average 80 proof liquor, or 4.7 shots worth. It’s possible that this skews inexperienced drinkers’ concepts of “how much” they had to drink, whereas having several empty cans (or trips to a keg or bottle) are a more noticeable yardstick of how much you’ve had to drink. But “one can” of Four Loko is a larger standard unit than anything discussed above. One can of Four Loko has less alcohol than most forty ounce bottles of beer/malt liquor on the market, but there’s little outcry as to how “one forty is equivalent to several beers”.
Regardless, it’s understandable why drinkers, particularly inexperienced teens, will fall prey to not judging their safe levels of Lokoness. But I am not here to address these vulnerable youth: I want to talk to people who can handle their liquor, and for whatever demented reason are nostalgic for their halcyon Four Loko experiences of mid-to-late 2010. I wish to offer an alternative: The Gentleman’s Cocktail.
The Gentleman’s Cocktail was a staple of my college days, and couldn’t be a simpler drink: simply mix fortified wine and a citrus soft drink in equal quantities. Despite the elegant name, this is a Brute Force drink, but in recent taste tests is far more palatable to the general public than Four Loko. Granted, it doesn’t quite pack the wallop of a Four Loko — assuming that you’re using 18% ABV wine and Mountain Dew, it’s only going to contain 75% of the alcohol and 40% of the caffeine. If you’re really looking for the exact content of Four Loko, feel free to mix and match ingredients and concentrations, but the Gentleman’s Cocktail is significantly less gag-inducing, so why not just enjoy a slightly diluted beverage?
[[Full disclosure: for the GC I consumed while composing this post, I used the new-to-me "Bling Bling Blue Raspberry" MD 20/20, kindly provided by my brother. Like some fortified wines, it's a mere 13% ABV, meaning that I am essentially drinking Two Loko, not a full Four Loko. I'm fine with that. But read those labels!]]
The Gentleman’s Cocktail is economical, too. Assuming that a can of Four Loko would cost you around $3, that’s a little over a dollar per ounce of pure alcohol. By comparison, a 750mL bottle of fortified wine is likely to also run $3, but provides over four and a half ounces of alcohol, providing you pure booze at less than sixty-seven cents an ounce. That gives you some walking-around money to use to buy the mixer, some caffeine pills, a cup of coffee, or some self-respect.
And despite what Ian and Jessica may argue, the Gentleman’s Cocktail is a more fitting name for this drink than “Quantity MD^2″. That name is needlessly limiting: by no means should you feel obligated to use the brand names it implies (Mountain Dew and MD 20/20) as many fine Gentleman’s Cocktails have been made using Night Train, Wild Irish Rose, Cisco, Citrus Drop, Moon Mist, Mountain Lightning, even “Little Hugs” or other “quarter waters” if you’re not looking for further stimulation. I long assumed that the general populace wasn’t frugal/desperate enough to embrace the GC, but given the outpouring of support for caffeinated Four Loko, it appears I was mistaken.
Suggested pairings for a Gentleman’s Cocktail include illegally obtained Gumby’s Pizza, off-season fireworks, playing a Tony Hawk Pro Skater game, listening to Ladytron’s Commodore Rock EP, and playing with butterfly knives. Please enjoy responsibly, if such a thing is truly possible.