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Who Is the Four Loko Fan in 2020?

Four Loko Hard Seltzer points to the ideological rift between hard seltzer and malt liquors of the past

As we look toward the future of intoxicants, we seem to be forgetting our past. Not so long ago, your alcohol choices were simple: beer, wine, liquor… and malt beverages designed to slap you into oblivion in five sips flat, formulated solely on the belief that all chaos is good, and good chaos is cheap. I’m talking, of course, about Four Loko, a beverage that many have turned away from in favor of “healthier,” “purer” options like White Claw. But to think any of those low-carb, low-sugar, drink-all-day-and-only-feel-a-mild-buzz hard seltzers on the market are superior to Four Loko is ultimately classist.

Four Loko’s prime era of mayhem, when it still contained caffeine, was before my time, so maybe that colors my view. I hit 21 in 2017, an age of diet-centric moderation — where everything has 100 calories or less and only five percent alcohol — that still persists today. It’s fine, but it’s boring. A greater sin than being boring, though, is thinking something is better because it’s boring. Given that most hard seltzers cost more than Four Loko yet contain less than half as much alcohol per ounce, this seems to be the logic supported by consumers today.

Earlier this year, Four Loko entered the hard seltzer market themselves with two flavors, Sour Mango and Black Cherry. Both contain an admirable 12 percent alcohol in a big-ass 23.5-ounce can. Sadly, the release of these products came with less than a whimper. I didn’t even know they were available until months after they’d been on the market. Worse, they were difficult to find: I have at least 22 liquor stores within a two-mile radius of my apartment, yet I could only locate one store, three and a half miles away, that definitely carried them.

But I will make that journey again for another round of Four Loko seltzers. Neither are particularly seltzer-like. Instead, they taste like fruity soda, and probably contain a similar amount of sugar as other Four Loko varieties. That’s ultimately the only thing that separates Four Loko from other hard seltzers — drinking one Four Loko seltzer is likely the caloric and intoxicating equivalent of drinking five White Claws. Beyond the sugar and the carbs that come with it, there’s not much of a benefit. If anything, White Claw is just a watered-down, more expensive reimagining of Four Loko — after all, both are ultimately just malt beverages

I like regular hard seltzers, and I’m happy to drink them. But there’s something life-affirming about getting full-on blasted from a massive camouflage can of fruit-flavored jet fuel for $3. Malt liquor is the people’s drink, and White Claws aren’t inherently better than Four Loko just because they cost more and come in minimalist white cans.