A Chemist's Descent Into Four Loko Fueled Madness

Four Loko: Dan Brown's chosen elixir.
I should've known not to go anywhere near Four Loko the moment I tried to buy it. The AM-PM gas station on Delridge stocked SEVEN flavors of this deadly brew. That in itself was a bad sign: seven is a number of power. Foreboding swirled about me on this October evening, doom dripping from a starlit sky. Seven heads on the dragon of Revelation: seven seals and seven trumpets. Seven points on the Star of Babylon: wicked city, wicked star. Too much eschatology was going on; I felt trapped in a Dan Brown novel.

Yet I had no choice; duty called. I picked up all seven flavors of Four Loko: Fruit Punch, Orange Blend, Lemonade, Lemon- Lime, Watermelon, Blue Raspberry, and Loko Uva. These magical elixirs clocked in at 12% ABV, and cost $2.59 for each 24-ounce can. Keeping in mind that a bottle of wine is roughly 25 ounces, and sports the same alcohol content, I could roughly assume that what I was purchasing was basically a half case of wine. Unfortunately, Chateau Mouton Rothschild doesn't come in blue.

I hauled my purchase up to the counter. The cashier patiently scanned all of the cans. A woman in line behind me quickly took notice of my dreadful crop. "You don't drink all of that," she warned. "That shit's been on the news. Don't let me see you on the news tomorrow." I quickly assured her that I wasn't, in fact, going to drink all of the cans of Four Loko.

Then the cashier had to put his two cents in. "Don't drink ANY of it," he told me.

"Now wait a second," I said, "You just SOLD THAT SHIT TO ME."

The cashier shrugged. I left. I threw the Four Loko onto the floor on the passenger side of my car and took off.

The cans rolled around on the floorboards, sloshing heavily. The Southwest Precinct of the Seattle Police Department is next door to the Delridge AM- PM. I was driving. I was sky high. I soon realized that if I were pulled over by the police, my creativity would be stretched thin trying to explain what, exactly, I was doing. So I pulled over and sequestered the alcoholic horde in the truck.

When I got home, I giddily unwrapped this prize. Lined up on the kitchen counter, the cans cut a garish spectrum, from Fruit Punch to Loko Uva, a spectrum of fucked- uppedness. I cracked each one open in its turn, and began the taste test.

Here is a convenient bullet- pointed list of the seven Four Loko flavors I tried:

• Fruit Punch: tastes like Hawaiian Punch, feels like you got punched by a Hawaiian.

• Orange Blend: like the prototypical "orange soda" flavor, but synthetic, like if Minute Maid soda had been developed by Nazi scientists.

• Lemonade: surprisingly good, considering that this product is actively trying to KILL CHILDREN.

• Lemon- Lime Flavor: like the waste runoff from the Sprite plant.

• Watermelon Flavor: like melted Jolly Ranchers--Jolly Ranchers that were melted in HELL.

• Blue Raspberry Flavor: not too bad actually, like an Otter Pop with the thin burn of illegal drag- racing fuel in the finish.

• Loko Uva: grape soda mixed with Sterno.

Being a chemist by trade, I didn't stop at a mere taste test. Four Loko is more than just an alcoholic beverage--it's also a performance- enhancing drug. With extracts of guarana, taurine, and caffeine, Four Loko is like Red Bull mixed with cotton candy mixed with Mad Dog 20/20 mixed with SATANIC RITUAL. A molecular gastronomist could have created this shit. In fact, if Grant Achatz had developed Four Loko, it would command $200 per can, and yuppies would be lined up around the block to get some. But Grant Achatz DIDN'T invent Four Loko; some chump did. The line between fine dining and convenience store bullshit continues to blur.

So I wanted to see how wired, and how drunk, a whole can of Four Loko could make me. To this end, I chugged a half can each of the flavors that seemed least likely to make me murder several children: Lemonade and Blue Raspberry. Being drunk wasn't the problem: The buzz I got was roughly equivalent to maybe a pitcher of PBR. This amount of alcohol is easily processed, even by livers that resemble a gas station toilet brush. No, the problem is the caffeine. Within minutes the room started to spin, and my eyeballs felt like flies were crawling lazily across them, like one of those starving African kids that Sally Struthers pimps relentlessly.

Soon I noticed other things: everything looked too crisp, but not in a good way, like how news anchors' faces look on a high-definition television. My dogs kept eyeing me with concerned glances. What the fuck was in this thing?


Taurine, AKA 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, is the major constituent of BILE. That certainly makes sense: the finishing note of note of the Four Loko flavors is puke. At least it tastes the same going down AND coming back up. But taurine also has a use in the lab: sulfonic acid, if anyone cares, can be used to extract selenomethionine from a wide variety of plant matrices, including yeast. But who the fuck cares about the selenomethionine content of yeast? Answer: yeast manufacturers. They grow the yeast in a medium which contains 3000 parts per million selenite (a form of the element selenium). The yeast metabolizes the selenite in the growing medium to the amino acid selenomethionine. Then the selenium- enriched yeast is baked into bread. Then you eat some bread, and you get lots of selenomethionine in your diet. And selenomethionine is absorbed very efficiently by the human body.

Why do you need selenium in your diet? Selenium is a component of glutathione peroxidase, a major antioxidant. So when the chumps on the infomercials talk about antioxidants being "a Pacman for cancer," or any number of other dumbass comparisons those idiots are bound to make, you can think to yourself: "I should bake some bread! Using selenium enriched yeast! Pacman for cancer, hurrah!" I'm sure the ancient Egyptians had Four Loko in mind, and its hefty taurine content, when they invented bread.

So if you want to find out the selenium content of the yeast you use at home, you can probably extract it using Four Loko; 500mg of yeast dissolved in 5mL of Four Loko and extracted for six hours at 85 degrees Celcius should do it. But good luck finding an ICP-MS operator who'll run your fucking Four Loko extracts.

Four Loko compels its consumer to spontaneously construct weird shrines.
I digress. After I finished my back-of-the-envelope taurine calculations, the shakes came on. I felt nauseous and sugary, like a crack- addled pixie. Strange ideas began streaming through my head. It wasn't altogether unpleasant, though I'd trade a glass of Basil Hayden's on the rocks and a Lorazepam for Four Loko ANY DAY. I constructed a demonic tableau in honor of Four Loko. It didn't help that I kept listening to Morbid Angel. But everyone knows that summoning demons isn't wise; you could end up shirtless, wearing nothing but an apron at Burning Beast. And I didn't want that.

So I stopped drinking. That didn't mean I was ready to go to bed, so in the true Halloween spirit I played Castlevania and streamed Paranormal Activity on Netflix. By the time I was done with all of that, I was tired enough to go to bed, but too scared. So I hid in the closet until dawn.

And THAT, college kids, is what Four Loko does to you. Beware!

Rating: 2 unsettling experiences out of 10

Four Loko is available at the Delridge AM-PM, 7301 Delridge Way SW

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