Starter Booze

Photo: Danny Kim

Four Loko—a concoction of malt liquor, caffeine, sugar, and artificial fruit flavoring in a garishly designed can, all promising one wicked hangover—has swept the nation’s underage drinkers. One 23.5-ounce can is roughly equal to five beers and two cups of coffee, resulting in predictable mayhem. Michigan, Utah, Washington, and Oklahoma have banned it, and distributors will stop delivering it in New York on December 10. Introduced in 2008, it’s not the first to attempt to crack the doesn’t-taste-like-beer market.

Alcohol by Volume: 4.8%
Years Sold: 1994–2008
Coors debuted the lightly carbonated, clear malt beverage to huge sales that tailed off almost immediately. Became a punch line connoting effeminacy or oddness, most notably for David Letterman. Hung around until 2008, through iterations including the supposedly manlier Zima XXX (which featured higher alcohol content and flavors like Hard Punch), before it was put to bed.


Alcohol by Volume: 4.7%
Years Sold: 1995–2003
An alcoholic lemonade launched by Bass in the U.K. to huge sales—roughly 2.5 million bottles a week. Later, sales dropped precipitously, perhaps partly as a result of a government crackdown on advertising deemed to encourage underage drinking.

Alcohol by Volume: 6%
Years Sold: 1996–present
In the greater story of the alco-pop, St. Ides Special Brew—an offshoot of the “high-gravity malt liquor” St. Ides, whose flavors include Mixed Fruit—is a footnote. And that footnote reads: “The only flavored adult beverage ever promoted by 2Pac.”

Alcohol by Volume: 5%
Years Sold: 1999–present
Sells well, even if ads promoting it as a drink for regular dudes who wear flannel shirts and work in warehouses have met with little success: It’s number three on’s “Top 10 Drinks Real Men Don’t Order,” for example.

Alcohol by Volume: 6%
Years Sold: 2002–present
Sparks created the “energy beer” genre, eventually inspiring Bud Extra, Tilt, Joose, and, of course, Four Loko. But after public pressure, brewer MillerCoors took the caffeine out in 2008. (On the efficacy of caffeine and alcohol combined: In Scotland, something called Buckfast Tonic Wine reportedly accounts for less than 1 percent of alcohol sales, but 43 percent of those surveyed at one of the region’s juvenile institutions said they drank it before committing their crimes.)

Alcohol by Volume: 12%
Years Sold: 2008–present
It’s already found a home in America’s youth culture: College kids host Four Loko parties, regional rappers release Four Loko tribute songs, and it’s banned on certain campuses. Read about the fun on “Drank two Four Lokos, literally woke up facedown in a ditch.”

Starter Booze