Today we are saddened by the impending and likely irreversible demise of Four Loko. In order to comply with increasing government pressure from the Food and Drug Administration, Phusion Projects LLC — the manufacturer of the popular intoxicant — will remove three of the drink’s main ingredients: guarana, taurine and most importantly, caffeine. This change will effectively leave us with some sort of ambiguously flavored malt beverage, so for all intents and purposes, Four Loko is dead. Let us reflect back on its short but meaningful life.
Loko was born in 2005 to Chris Hunter, Jason Freedman and Jeff Wright. The three then — recent Ohio State University graduates, demonstrating the best of the American entrepreneurial spirit, began selling a caffeinated malt beverage — originally named “Four” — on campus. The drink was truly one by and for college students. Loko satisfied college-aged students’s competing desires to be both awake and very, very drunk. Over the next few years, Loko built up a following, first in the Midwest, and then across the nation, finally crossing the Atlantic in 2008.
The drink’s influence on college drinking culture was immense and very understandable. No longer did partiers fear traveling to alcohol scarce environments. Four Lokos could be easily transported in either a pocket or a bag, and just one or two would provide hours of sustenance. The beverage also did much to bridge the income gap. At around $3 per can, both wealthy and impoverished students were put on equal footing.
As more and more students began to accept Loko into their lives, these initiates became increasingly visible on college campuses, including that of our own beloved College of William and Mary. The drink was noted for its ability to transform one from sober to intoxicated in less than five minutes. The drink, however, came with a terrible curse. While most students retire around 3:00 a.m. on the weekend, Loko initiates are immune to sleep and instead become a sort of walking dead. Zombies is the only fitting metaphor, for these creatures, who by all rights should have passed out long ago, rise again and slowly stumble around making incoherent sounds. They no longer rely on higher brain functions and are driven instead only by a desire to drink. They wish to prey on the living by denying them sleep, and, in large numbers, they can completely destroy dorm rooms. Students accepted this curse in exchange for the magic elixir, but others were less forgiving.
A coalition of school administrators and parents aligned against Four Loko. In response to several unfortunate incidents that involved Four Loko, several states and college campuses began to prohibit the sale of the beverage. These concerns soon gained national attention, and the FDA and U.S. Senate eventually sealed the fate of Loko. For once, it seems sober heads have actually prevailed.
Whether you hate or fear the Loko, are a confirmed “Loko 4 Lyfer,” or, like most, have a complicated relationship with the drink — characterized by brief moments of intense desire and passion followed by prolonged periods of regret — we all recognize the profound influence Four Loko has had on our lives. It is with these feelings that we must finally say goodbye to our companion. Our livers, hearts, and dignity may be better off, but we will always feel an emptiness — likely somewhere in the wallet region — that was once filled by Four Loko.
Loko is survived by Phusion Projects, which claims it will be fine, but whether it can recover from such a loss is anyone’s guess. Special condolences to shareholders — and especially to Kim’s gas station on Richmond Road, which will likely see at least a 50 percent drop in customers.
Memorial services will be held the Friday and Saturday immediately preceding the last day of sales.