I tried to hide it behind my beer. But there's no hiding a giant, garish yellow can with "Four Loko" splashed across it, and the guy behind the counter couldn't help but smirk.
"Usually, we have to card people who buy these," he said, chuckling at his wit.controversy over the high-alcohol drink known on college campuses as "blackout in a can," and was curious to see what all the fuss was about.
Packing 12 percent alcohol and a solid jolt of caffeine into a 23-ounce container, the potent, low-cost malt beverage has become extremely popular among young drinkers.
But after alarming incidents in Washington and New Jersey where a number of students who drank Four Loko were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning, college administrators across the country have warned students to abstain. Last week, alcohol regulators in Michigan banned the drink altogether.
The company says the drink is safe if consumed responsibly, but specialists say Four Loko is dangerous because the caffeine masks the effects of the alcohol, which can cause students to become dangerously drunk without realizing it. What's more, its fruit flavors hide its strength, making it easier for young drinkers to drink faster.
So as I cracked open my lemonade-flavored Four Loko in my living room on a recent evening, somehow resisting the Long Trail Ale beside it on the refrigerator shelf, I hoped that with Four Loko's risks, its candy-like taste would at least make it easier to choke down.
I was quickly disappointed.
Sickly sweet with a metallic aftertaste, Four Loko is a dreadful concoction, an acidic swill of artificial flavors chased by a sting of malt. I had looked forward to the chance to drink on the job, so to speak, while I watched a football game.
But within minutes I wondered what I had done to deserve this. From the first gulp to the merciful last, I grimaced in disgust. I owed my forsaken Long Trail an apology.
But if Four Loko is an affront to all worthy alcoholic beverages, it does contain a good bit of alcohol, the rough equivalent of two generous glasses of wine. It's strong enough to take effect after just a few sips, and, if guzzled, would clearly pack a wallop. Especially for inexperienced drinkers.
And at just $2.75 a can, the price is clearly right. While it's certainly not designed to be savored, it won't leave you shortchanged.
Four Loko also has a striking amount of caffeine, enough to rival at least a couple of cups of strong coffee. For someone unmoved by the caffeinated alcoholic beverage craze, the experience was a little jarring.
I quickly found myself flipping the channel even more than usual, frenetically shuttling between the Celtics and the Eagles-Colts game while subjecting my puzzled wife to a torrent of incisive commentary about the action. Needless to say, Four Loko is now forbidden in our household.
By the time I crunched the empty can in weary relief, a long slog of an hour after the first sip, my head was pounding and my mind was racing. I realized that college students should shun Four Loko not only because it's risky, but also because it assumes they have no taste.
E-mail Peter Schworm at email@example.com
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