Albuquerque store owners that sell the malt-liquor-infused energy drink Four Loko are surprised that several state bans and a series of bad press have spurned curiosity about the drink.
“Everybody loves it,” Quarters Liquors’ manager Mike Walterscheid said.
Four Loko is sold in a 24-ounce can. It has 12 percent alcohol by volume. Guarana and taurine are added to give the drink its caffeine boost, which is equal to two cups of coffee.
Recently, the Four Loko’s maker agreed to stop shipping its product to New York. Utah, Oklahoma, Michigan and Washington. Ramapo College, in New Jersey, banned the substance after 17 students were hospitalized with alcohol poisoning after consuming too much of the caffeinated, alcoholic drink.
A University of Florida study found that students who mixed caffeine and alcohol thought they were capable of driving more often than those who drank non-caffeinated alcoholic drinks.
UNM student John Buric said he tried Four Loko after a friend brought a case over to his house.
“It tasted like an energy drink with basically no taste of alcohol,” he said. “I like it. It comes in good size can. It has a high amount of alcohol, and it’s cheap.”
Not only that, but recent news and an impending federal ban spiked curiosity and increased sales at the Yale Boulevard Quarters.
“We get a lot of students, but older people are checking it out,” Walterscheid said. “We had a 50-year-old guy come in the other day to buy one because he saw a news story and wanted to try one. People will do things they know are bad for them.”
The Quarters sells eight different Four Loko flavors. On Tuesday afternoon, one-third of the rack was empty.
Student Cohen Mangin said moderation is the key to avoiding problems.
“It’s only bad for you if you act stupid,” he said.
Ron Rioux, 52, walked out of the Quarters with two Budweiser tall cans. He said he has no desire to try Four Loko
“Based on what I know about it, I would support a ban,” he said.
Walterscheid said he is surprised about the brand’s sales, especially since he cannot stand the taste.
“When they put the energy and the vitamins, it messes with the flavor,” he said. “I bought one and only lasted through one drink. I threw away more than half of the can.”
Down the hill at Stadium Liquors on Avenida Caesar Chavez and Broadway Boulevard, Four Loko sales are steady.
“Maybe we sell two cases a week,” said Troy Garcia, Stadium Liquors store manager. “I think people don’t buy it because of the price. We have other malt liquors that are 12 percent and cheaper.”
Stadium sells a 24-ounce can of Four Loko for $2.40. The store has a malt-liquor freezer in front of the counter that holds 10 different brands, sold between $1.79-$2.39. The freezer is popular. In half an hour, more than 20 customers walked in and grabbed one or two cans, paid exact change and walked out.
“We have regulars come in each day,” Garcia said. “They go out to collect change and come back, but we won’t serve them if they’ve been here more than twice.”
Garcia said it is difficult to control malt-liquor energy drink sales because the drink is classified as beer, making it easier to distribute.
“Unless you make a law that says beer has to be a certain alcohol
content,” he said. “But I don’t know how you would regulate that.”
If New Mexico were to adopt a tax on malt-liquor energy drinks, Walterscheid said his customers would determine if he would continue selling the cans.
“We’d probably continue selling them if there was a demand,” he said.
Carla Aargon was on her way into Stadium Liquors to buy her friend a Four Loko. She said she is not interested in trying the drink, though.
“I’ve seen my friend drink it, and she’s 40 years old. It really boosts her energy,” she said. “It’s scary. You already have so much energy when you drink that adding caffeine doesn’t mix.”
Walterscheid said promoting responsible drinking is better than banning the product.
“It’s not the product itself — people abuse it. Like, there is a Four Loko challenge where you have to drink four cans in 40 minutes. That’s dumb,” Walterscheid said. You wouldn’t try to drink a fifth of vodka in 30 minutes.”
Mangin agreed a ban would prompt people to find alternatives to make whatever drink they want.
“I’ve been mixing my own version of Four Loko for years,” he said. “My mom taught me, actually. One night I drank 22 beers and an entire bottle of Smirnoff vodka mixed with Amp energy drink. I threw up a lot that night.”