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Do you remember where you were when the FDA declared Four Loko, the malt-liquor-meets-energy-drink created by three University of Ohio alumni in 2005, a “public health concern”? Were you one of the many, in the weeks prior to the FDA’s official ruling that Four Loko remove caffeine from its ingredients, to resort to black-market-purchasing of the drink that kept you up all night and made you life of the party? Be honest with me: Have you ever spent more than double the $2.50 market price for a can of Four Loko in or around 2010, knowing that the government was getting ready to swipe the fun right from out under you? Have you ever spent triple the price? Quadruple?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. In the late ‘00s, Four Loko was a friend and foe of the excited partier. Like Sparks before it, the drink’s appeal was that it would not only get you toasty but it would also keep you alive through boring conversations, the bad parts of the playlist, and second locations. When it was gone, it left a 23.5-ounce hole in its stead and many lackluster bootleg ideas for staying up all night to replace it (ahem). But thanks to a forthcoming book out with powerHouse Books, the party can keep going past midnight again. Energy: Cocktails to Get You UP is your guide to all the best bodega-style alcoholic stimulants you need, and its accompanying photos take the kitschy appeal of everything from André Champagne to 5-Hour Energy to aesthetically pleasing new heights.
The Cut caught up with Steph Russ, mixologist, publicist, and boozy-energy-drink aficionado, about what inspired her to create this volume of lively cocktail recipes with friend and photographer Pete Deevakul, why we should take the pretension out of boozing, and what our comedown tomorrow will look like.
Where did you get the idea to start making amped-up cocktails?
My friends and I were really into ready-made alcoholic energy drinks — Sparks, Joose, Four Loko — mainly because they were strong and cheap. When Four Loko was regulated I decided to start making my own recipes because a lot of people I knew weren’t ready to live without that maniacal Four Loko feeling. I’ve never been the type to be sluggish or home in bed by 11 so I guess that just wasn’t an option.
The recipes are also funny to me. I wanted to bring a sense of humor and playfulness to mixology.
Who is the target drinker of an energized cocktail?
Each drink in Energy has its own world and its own target audience, but in general the target drinker of an energized cocktail is anyone who wants to extend the life of their party — the bartender off at 3 a.m. and trying to play catch-up, the pre-gamer trying to last all night without overspending, the DJ with the 4 a.m. set, the 20-something looking for a laugh, etc.
You say that you’re passionate about “creating positive social experiences.” What does that look like to you?
I think that’s a fancy way of saying I’m an extrovert that likes to see people come together and have fun. I was active in the experimental music and performance community while studying at UNC–Chapel Hill. I’ve participated in a lot of performance art and poetry events over the past few years in L.A. and host frequent pop-up bars around the country.
What is so appealing about buying alcohol at the bodega? Why should more people get their cocktails from the corner store?
Energy is, in part, a rebellion against mixology that is pretentious and inaccessible. I included a lot of gas-station and convenience-store ingredients for purposes of accessibility. Most of the ingredients in Energy are available and enjoyed in all parts of the country at relatively low cost.
Which of the cocktails in the book is your favorite?
There are a lot of recipes in the book that are tied to sentimental memories for me so it’s hard to pick one. Based on taste, I really enjoy the Dark Crystal (Jäger + root beer + Stōk). We used to make a caffeine-free version of this drink at a club I worked at called Nightlight in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I added Stōk to the mix, which brings a nice almost chocolately flavor to the drink.
What were your feelings when Four Loko was regulated?
If you can’t find Four Loko you should pick up a copy of Energy: Cocktails to Get You UP and do it yourself. Four Loko was such a good product. It was incredibly effective and cheap. I was ultimately undeterred when it was regulated because I knew there was no turning back. For me and a lot of people my age Four Loko came at time when we were already bound to experiment with alcohol consumption and explore our limits. I know a lot of people who still want access to the feeling that alcoholic energy drinks provided and in that respect, no, I don’t think we will be the same.
How does the casual energy drink cocktail drinker fall asleep at the end of a long night?
Well, I think the purpose of drinking energized cocktails is to not sleep for an extended period of time. Your best bet is to just wait it out. You can also try a natural sleep aid like valerian root. I’ve actually started writing a book of come-down cocktails so stayed tuned for that!
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Energy: Cocktails to Get You UP will release on December 8 through powerHouse Books, with a coinciding release party at Elvis Guesthouse on December 10 at 8 p.m.