Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2010. The FDA took my baby away.
Legal Speedballs has gone from sipping a perfectly low-key Irish coffee at a classy sandwich joint to pounding Jagerbombs at the Hard Rock Cafe, but there is one diabolical venue that this column has saved for very last. With all the public-health arguments that Four Loko Classic's prohibition has brought about in organized debate and profane message-board comments alike, very few people seem to comment on how incredibly easy it is to combine caffeine and alcohol without the need of a trained professional. That is why the final installment of Legal Speedballs will take place in none other than your OWN HOME (well, my home, but work with me here). Armed with nothing but ingredients from the respectably proximal SoDo Liquor Outlet and SoDo Shell Station, I've conducted a few experiments of my own lazy volition and subjected myself to them in the interest of science.
DISCLAIMER: All three of the following were consumed on separate nights, so please don't go all Ellensburg on us.Suspect #1: Fall of Western Civilization Cocktail
1 Lemon-Lime 5-Hour Energy
3 oz. Plymouth Gin
1 oz. Agave Nectar
4 tsp. Dole Orange Strawberry Banana juice
An extremely liberal amount of Fee Brothers bitters
For some misguided reason, I thought that substituting fresh lemon juice with an astringent vitamin supplement in one of my favorite cocktails would result in something at least drinkable. This was proven conclusively false. I considered giving it another shot, maybe cutting out the agave and trying to balance the drink's bleary, manic sweetness with Campari or Cynar, but that would've meant taking another 5-Hour Energy. As self-destructive as this entire exercise is, I really didn't feel like finding out what taking 16000% of your daily recommended value of Vitamin B12 felt like. Instead, I just kept pouring on bitters until the drink turned brown.
Seeing how expensive 5-Hour Energy is and how godawfully unpleasant this drink is, it's hard to imagine people abusing this particular car wreck of a drink. However, the idea of mixing hard alcohol with supercharged, increasingly omnipresent supplements can't be ignored on account of my shitty bartending skills. Either way, after the fact I was most certainly the "wide-awake drunk" that certain media outlets seem to find so much more reprehensible than the half-asleep ones. However, all I really managed to wreak havoc on was my apartment's dishes.
Threat to Society: Two out of Four Loko
Suspect #2: Sparksburst
1 16 oz. can of Sparks
Atomic Energy Bites have a smell I can only describe as "vaguely chemical, with a hint of artificial flavoring." I went with the solid green rectangles that I only found out were marketed as "Lemon-Lime" after throwing the headachingly busy packaging in the garbage. For the Sparks, I went with the Blackberry Ultraviolet. I guess my train of thought at the time was that even if this experiment went south, at least I'd have really cool-looking vomit.
I warmed the bites with my hand, gave the Mutant Starbursts a hearty chew, then chased them with a full can of Sparks. Yeah, this one was pretty guileless, but also probably the most accurate amount of effort and creativity you're going to see at your average news-making CWU rager.
Maybe it was just the sheer tongue-overpowering awfulness of Atomic Energy Bites, but the Sparks hardly seemed to have any taste at all. Realizing I'd never had a Sparks post-decaffeination, it really seemed like the brand had shifted their focus to making the most easily chugged beverage ever to make it past 5% ABV. Hey, at least there isn't any caffeine in it?
Threat to Society: Three out of Four Loko.
Suspect #3: Recaf Four Loko
1 24 oz. can of "New" Four Loko
1 300 mg tablet of No-Doz
For my most straightforward experiment, I sought to restore Phusion Projects' superstar to its former notoriety using only one tab of No-Doz, a very large glass, and a bar spoon. The only hiccup to the recreation was that No-Doz usually only comes in 200 mg tablets. Compared to Four Loko's reported caffeine content, this meant the low-tech replacement would actually have about 65 mg more of the "alertness aid" than the original Loko's nutritional facts of doom. Then again, it's not like I'm a legitimate brewer open to regulation, I'm just a dumb 20-something who saw a quick and 100% legal fix to a perceived injustice. So let's get buzzin'!
I went for Four Loko's defanged Blue Raspberry flavor this time, because that's always been my favorite flavor of drinks that are little more than syrup and food coloring. Compared to the energy chews, there was at least a hint of raspberry in the sticky mass, at least if you could get past the strong rubbery undertone. Anyone who has the tenacity to say that Four Loko draws in a younger audience for its "fruity" taste needs to have a drill put through their frontal lobe, because the malt beverage tastes about as close to fruit as plastic model grapes.
The horrible purple tinge of Sparks UV practically looked like an expertly poured glass of Creme de Violette compared to Loko's color: the kind of exaggerated blue usually reserved for overcrowded water parks in order to drown out the inevitable piss yellow. Actually consuming this started as a cruel balancing act of drinking fast enough not to taste too much but metered enough to not have it all rush back out. Luckily(?), somewhere around ounce 16, sense of taste became a fairly indecipherable concept and the drink became something depressingly sippable.
Threat to Society: (When I finished drinking this one, the scale exploded.)
Conclusion: One of the lynchpin quotes that Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna hung his indictment of Four Loko upon went like this: "We can look around over the last couple of years and see something has changed, something is different. What we are seeing now is striking."
The usage of "something" and "what we are seeing" without a clear antecedent is ambiguity so dense one would think it would have to be intentional. After all, what is this striking change we are seeing? Alcohol-induced comas? A sharp increase in drunk driving? Widespread youth violence spurred by brightly colored cans? There are no clear statistics or studies that link Four Loko to any sustainable increase of alcohol abuse in this country, only fearmongering anecdotes that are stretching themselves increasingly thin.
Proponents of the Loko ban will say that it's naive to compare the mixed drinks we know and love with the crazed beast in a can, but then what of the relative low-caffeine craft beer Moonshot, an oft-forgotten brew puzzlingly banned by the FDA alongside Four Loko? Even though Moonshot's 4% ABV (less than a Coors Light) and 69 mg of caffeine (less than your average 12 oz. of iced tea) easily compares to the danger of some of the weakest Irish coffees ever served, the drink still isn't allowed to sit on the same shelf as high-gravity bruisers like Pitbull and Evil Eye.
History may show that time was simply drawing "strikingly" near to election season, and local incumbents haven't had a "striking" amount of victories as of late. Why not pick on a few smaller-scale breweries, snag a few headlines, and call it a day?
In banning a drink whose primary ingredients are two of the most easily acquired drugs in the nation, one has to be skeptical of any possible benefit as well as cognizant of the deleterious effect of hammering legitimate businesses with short-sighted legislation during a crippling economic downturn. Although the hype machine would have you believe that it has made backpat-worthy strides in combating a sexy new threat to our nation's health, what it's mostly done is tantamount to banning ill-conceived microwavable peanut butter and jelly sandwich facsimiles like Smucker's Crustables.
Certainly, you've taken a step against products that sound disgusting, distasteful, and tacky--but what you haven't done is prevent anyone from eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
With my liver now thoroughly laid to waste, this will be the final installment of Legal Speedballs. But don't fret! Every time a door closes on an irrationally maligned product, a new batshit window into mass hysteria opens . . . Maybe next Seattle Weekly will let me report on the hippest new Seattle haunts to inject bath salts into your tear ducts.