The inventors of Four Loko have finally broken their silence! In a long interview with The Fix that you really must read, the trio of Jeff Wright, Jaisen Freeman and Chris Hunter open up about the entire three-act tragedy of the caffeinated alcoholic beverage, from its early days as a Sparks knock-off, to its brisk success and immediate backlash, to its rebirth as a watered-down, non-caffeinated malt liquor.
On being inspired by the alcohol-and-caffeine mix of Red Bull and vodka:
“This is a great idea,” [Hunter] said, sounding like a Mark Zuckerberg mixol ogist. “This is the evolution—but we can do it better.” ... W here public health advocates saw trouble, Hunter, Freeman, and Wright saw a potential goldmine. “We couldn't go wrong with this thing,” Freeman recalls. “This was our billion-dollar idea.”
On attempting to prove to the FDA that the "energy beer" was safe:
“Historically the data was there,” says Freeman. “Just look at the history: Irish coffee, Jack and Coke, Red Bull and vodka. You pull all the data, compile it into a nice big report, and get four independent scientists to say, ‘We agree.’”
On the Four Loko backlash:
"Unfortunately we were pegged the bad guys,” says Wright. “We tried to keep a low profile, but we couldn’t stay out of the news. You’ve spent five years of your life, you’ve got 70 employees, selling a perfectly legal product, and all of a sudden you’re under all this scrutiny. It’s extremely stressful.”
On the safety, or lack thereof, of Four Loko:
“We drank our product, we know it’s like any other alcohol,” says Hunter. “If you consume something responsibly you’re fine, if you don’t you’re not fine, and I don’t care if that’s Bud Light, Smirnoff vodka or Four Loko.”
On rising again after the FDA banned alcoholic energy drinks:
“We all had this big sit-down,” he says. “And we discussed the situation. We thought, 'Hey, do we just walk away?' We’re not rich, but we made a little bit of money here. Do we just screw our customers and our employees? That conversation lasted about two seconds. We all agreed to keep going on. Everything we made, we’re all in again.”
Read the whole thing at The Fix! It's a treat.