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I Whipped Up a Batch of Bathtub Four Loko, and I May Never Sleep Again

I’ve always felt a twinge of jealousy that the original Four Loko was banned before I reached drinking age. Nevermind that, though — I figured out how to make a homemade version in my own kitchen

It’s the week of Fourth of July. And while we appreciate you being here, we really hope it’s from some stretch of sand or some body of water relaxing enough that your problems can be put on the same kind of ice as the booze in the cooler next to you. If not, throw on your shades anyway, and join us for our weeklong package, “Life’s a Beach,” a celebration of all things sand, sun and summer. Of course, if you’re already on vacation, you’re welcome, too — just be sure to reapply another layer of sunscreen, as these pieces burn bright. Read all of them here.

I used to resent the fact that the original formula of caffeinated Four Loko was taken off shelves before my time. Removed from the market by December 2010 and replaced with a non-caffeinated version, I was 14 and still well-behaved enough to have no interest in it. As an adult, though, I often felt like something was stolen from me — who does the government think they are to tell me I can’t black out while also fully caffeinated? What was it like to have that experience — 14 percent alcohol and two cups of coffee’s worth of caffeine — all in one tallboy can? What splendors of the drunken experience did I miss out on?

Today, I can tell you that these desires were misguided. Foolish. Downright dumb. Because today, I decided to DIY myself an OG Four Loko. And today, I deeply regret that decision. 

There are several recipes online for concocting a beverage as similar as possible to the original Four Loko, which had an unspecified but estimated 156 milligrams of caffeine per 23.5-ounce can. All of these recipes go the analog route, concocting each element of the Four Loko from scratch. One popular Gizmodo recipe calls for using malt liquor like Steel Reserve or Olde English, vodka, Kool Aid and an effervescent caffeine tablet called Berocca with an unholy 260 milligrams of caffeine. The recipe also suggests adding an extra tablespoon of sugar, just to match the contents of the original. Last year, Katie Way at VICE tried out three different potential DIY recipes, too: a Lime-A-Rita tallboy with 5-Hour Energy; a Bang Energy with Smirnoff Ice; and a Red Bull and vodka with some added juice. All of these are solid contenders for a Four Loko replacement in that they hit the core elements of alcohol and caffeine

But the Gizmodo formula, in particular, requires far too much work. It detracts from the essential, unspoken element of the original Four Loko — the ease of drinking all this horror, in one can, in one purchase. Doesn’t putting together a mixed drink with multiple ingredients defeat the purpose? I wanted to keep my process as simple and as close to the original Four Loko as possible, so I decided to combine nothing more than one can of today’s non-caffeinated Four Loko, plus one caffeine ingredient. 

At my local Walgreens, I purchased some 5-Hour Energy and a tube of Nuun caffeinated tablets. At home, I had a little squirt bottle of the caffeine variety of Buoy, a drink additive. The 5-Hour Energy has 200 milligrams of caffeine, the Nuun has 80 milligrams per tablet and the Buoy has 30 milligrams per squirt. Next, I went to my local bodega and bought a can of Blue Razz Four Loko, plus a Peach flavor in case this somehow wasn’t enough. 

Good God, was the Blue Razz enough. I decided to split the can into three glasses, saving just a bit as a control. In each, I added a portion of my three caffeine products. I didn’t add a ton of each, because I don’t want to die — at least not on a Thursday night. So, I added one little squirt of Buoy to one, a third of a tablet of Nuun to another and a dash of 5-Hour Energy to the third. 

After one sip of the Buoy version, my heart was racing. But you know what? It tasted pretty good. The tablet of the Nuun legitimately took 10 minutes to dissolve in the battery acid of the Four Loko, so I went to the 5-Hour next. Also pretty good! When the Nuun eventually dissolved, I tried that, too. Honestly, still pretty good, but not as good as the other two. The Nuun was enough to change the color of the beverage, and in turn, the flavor. With both the Buoy and the 5-Hour, you could barely detect a difference from the uncaffeinated one. With the Nuun, there was just a slight extra chemical-y flavor. Still totally viable, but not totally the same.

If I had to pick one to drink again, I’d pick the Buoy. I like that it’s just a teensy squirt into the glass, rather than the addition of a decent amount more liquid like the 5-Hour. Regardless of what’s in either of them — which, I am too drunk now to investigate — the Buoy just feels better in my soul.

As I mentioned, I’m still buzzed from this taste test. I have not finished the Four Loko, though I may end up doing that. I do fear I won’t sleep tonight, at least not well. Moments after I took my first sip and experienced that racing heart, I felt a gurgling in my stomach. The lining wasn’t happy with its new visitor. Some of that has passed, but I do still feel a slight sourness. 

More than that, though, a strange sense of unease has come upon me, as though I have ventured down a path not intended for humans just yet. Have I crossed God? Perhaps. But I have not crossed the law. No matter what they say, no matter how many Four Lokos they took off the market, taking the currently available Four Loko and adding caffeine yourself is perfectly legal. And still, I understand completely why this is no longer sold in stores. It should not be. Let only those of us stupid enough to put it together ourselves enjoy such a beverage. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go lay down for a few hours with my eyes fully open.