A little bit of opinion and then some news about this whole Four Loko thing.
We’ve all heard the recent news about Four Loko, the highly alcoholic, caffeinated beverage-of-choice for people looking for a shortcut to inebriation. In case you’ve been living in a proverbial cave, here’s what happened. A bunch of college kids got wasted, not using beer bongs and Schlitz Malt Liquor, but using something called Four Loko. Some of these kids, including some underage drinkers, ended up in the hospital. That’s a drag, really it is; however, those college students did much more than simply get sick and wasted at a party. They let the cat out of the bag.
You see, until that party in Roslyn, nobody knew that college kids like to get wasted. It was a well kept secret that many coeds are on a mission to find the shortest route to hammertown. Furthermore, nobody knew that there were very strong, caffeinated alcoholic beverages on the market. Somehow the fact that these candy-flavored potent potables were available at every convenience store in the entire state eluded the authorities. In the wake of the Rosyln Affair, the State Liquor Control Board (no doubt pressured by people who get elected for a living) issued an emergency ban on caffeinated alcoholic drinks.
Washington is not alone. New York issued a similar ban. The FDA is launching an investigation. Blah, blah, blah.
I’m not saying that this was a ridiculous, politically motivated knee-jerk reaction, but… No wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying. If you want to impose a ban on caffeine-laced, high-alcohol, low-cost, candy-flavored alcoholic beverages that’s fine, but do it with purpose and thought. Don’t do it just because Bambi came home from a frat party in a shopping cart. That kind of stuff happened long before Four Loko ever hit the market and it will happen long after Four Loko is gone.
When the state issued the ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages, local beer lovers and brewers immediately worried about what it meant for the craft beer biz. Heather McClung, President of the Washington Brewers Guild, talked to the person behind the rule-making about the impact of the ban. Heather issued a statement to calm our fears, saying, “The ruling does not apply to beer brewed with coffee. That means that our favorite winter warmers are protected, as well as beer brewed with tea.”
Today I learned that the Brewers Association is petitioning the federal government to get involved. They’re asking the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to conduct rule-making surrounding this issue. That’s a good thing, I suppose. Well, I guess it’s better than a bunch of half-cocked, knee jerk reactions. Uhg, like the Feds don’t have anything better to do than get all up in our business about this non-issue.
Here’s the press release from the Brewers Association.
Boulder, CO • November 16, 2010—The Brewers Association announces today that it will formally petition the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to conduct rulemaking on alcoholic energy drinks.
The petition seeks to disallow synthetic and pure caffeine additions to alcohol beverages, but allow incidental caffeine from ingredients that have a long tradition in brewing, such as coffee, chocolate and tea. The petition seeks to clarify that coffee, chocolate, herbs, spices, seeds and fruit are ingredients that should remain available to brewers to make beers for responsible enjoyment by beer drinkers.
Certain alcoholic energy drinks have received significant negative attention from state attorneys general, public health groups and concerned citizens. Many states are taking action this fall before the federal government has responded, leaving a patchwork of different regulatory wording, all with the same intention. The goal of this federal petition is to provide a clear and consistent national standard to assist state-based rulemaking under the 21st Amendment. This standard would remove the products of concern from shelves without creating unintended damage to the hundreds of craft brewers who, for many years, have been using traditional ingredients like coffee, tea and chocolate to responsibly craft interesting and flavorful beers.
Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian stated, “Responsible brewers have successfully used coffee, chocolate and tea to add interesting flavor and complexity to their beers for decades. In fact, the Aztecs brewed a corn, honey and chili-based beer that contained cocoa. Many craft brewers build on these traditions today using coffee, tea and chocolate. On the other hand, the addition of artificial caffeine not from a natural ingredient source has no heritage or tradition in brewing. We support a ban on the direct addition of caffeine.” The Brewers Association invites TTB to open up public comment and rulemaking on whether these products are appropriate for responsible consumption.