There’s no doubt that hard seltzer is literally everywhere these days. You can look at the statistics showing the category’s meteoric rise over the last few years or you can just go to pretty much any bar anywhere. Most bars, if they want to make money, will have any one of the following: hard seltzer on tap (not common, but it’s out there), hard seltzer made by a local craft brewery (because of course craft breweries are getting in on it), or, the most likely option: A cooler full of the Claw (or one of the other major brands). Usually, though, it’s the Claw. This is a fact just as much as the Kansas City Chiefs – who are from Missouri – just won the Super Bowl.
That said, just because a company can make a hard seltzer does not mean it should. That’s where a brand like Four Loko comes in. Yes, that Four Loko. The one that got you incomprehensibly drunk in college. If you’re of a certain age, it also filled you with a caffeinated rage that may have caused you to punch holes in walls, break dorm furniture, or go on a rampage calling yourself Godzilla through your campus’s central quad.
Aren’t you glad social media was still an infant at that time? Anyway.
One of the latest companies to come out with a hard seltzer is indeed Four Loko (Bud and other companies are unveiling theirs this year as well). It originally started as an internet joke, with Four Loko posting an image of a Blue Razz-flavored can and calling out every other company out there. The blue raspberry didn’t come to fruition, but then when it did come time to release this beast of alcohol to the public, Four Loko decided on one flavor, Black Cherry, and as if you’d expect anything else from the company that made a product that effectively barred you from understanding what the phrase “bad decisions” means, it is 12% alcohol by volume (the original mockup boasted 14%). Take a moment to let that settle in.
Most hard seltzers, in an effort to appeal to the health-conscious (or those looking for something they can drink for a solid eight hours with only minor regrets the next day) come in between 4 and 6% ABV. But, Four Loko. Oh, Four Loko. Four Loko Hard Seltzer is the equivalent of a high school bully, which looked at every other brand, laughed, then stuffed them into lockers. White Claw may be the captain of the football team, but Four Loko’ll be damned if they’re going to get shown up.
While sitting at a local neighborhood bar one day, happily sipping a gin and soda (don’t @ me on that one), The manager came by holding this can of surely imminent destruction.
“Five dollars and it’s yours,” he said.
Never one to back down, I, of course, told him to crack that sucker open. You can’t know what you don’t like if you don’t try it, right?
This might be one of those cases where you can look at an item and your brain goes, “No, do not do that.” Maybe it was the gin I’d already had, or the overwhelming urge to not back down from what was clearly a challenge, but I ignored that voice in my head.
(Remember that I did this for you, dear readers.)
You can barely smell it when you crack the can – vague notes of childhood cherry medicine, but that’s it – so I asked for a glass. The first thing you notice on pouring your Four Loko Hard Seltzer into a glass (something you should not do) is the color. It is clear. I’m not sure why I expected it to be anything else, but even considering that spirits like vodka, gin, and any unaged spirit are clear, this still seemed unsettling (take a moment and look at a bear without fur … it’s like seeing one for the first time).
Back to the nose. The black cherry swells once released from its cylindrical cage. Not real blackberry, of course, but the one that makes you wonder how much power food additive companies really have in the world.
Using everything I learned from years of taste-testing beer, wine, and spirits, I did what I knew I needed to do. I sniffed, swirled, sniffed, and sipped. Shockingly, no new notes came out after swirling. Maybe it was the fact I was using a rocks glass, or maybe it’s because it’s Four Loko. I’m going with the latter.
First sip down, one is left with what can easily be called way too much Four Loko left. But I had bought it and I was not giving up. Quitting is for losers, after all.
The first sip isn’t a doozy, it was actually – and this is not something I admit lightly – not terrible. The black cherry is just a hair short of overwhelming, falling somewhere between cherry hard candies and cough medicine, but for people who like that flavor, they’d probably like this.
One sip down. Great. Only roughly 23 ounces left because, of course, why would Four Loko deliver anything in a normal-sized can? One can of Four Loko (any of the flavors) is 23.5 fluid ounces, or 695 mL. A standard wine bottle is 750 mL. A good number of wines also hover around the 12% ABV range. Have you ever consumed a bottle of wine in one sitting? Think about that. (And if you have, feel free to send an invite this way.)
First sip down, one is left with what can easily be called way too much Four Loko left. But I had bought it and I was not giving up. Quitting is for losers, after all. The second sip was still not terrible – my palate was acclimating. This isn’t so bad, I told myself. It reminded me of how people told me there would be a wall when running a marathon. What I wasn’t thinking about was the fact that I laughed at that, too, until I hit the wall and spent 8 miles wanting to amputate my own Biofreeze-slathered leg at the knee.
It’s the third and fourth and fifth and … and … and … sips/drinks that really start to get to you. The alcohol flavor is not masked (not that I expected it to be). It is merely couched by faux cherry flavors. You start to feel the alcohol at the back of your throat near your nostrils the first time you try and take a larger swig – you’ve got a lot to go, after all.
Have you ever woken up at 3 a.m., hungover, your mouth somewhere between cottony and bile-soaked? That regret? Taking a large gulp of this seltzer is like living through that over and over.
Once your palate becomes flooded with the full flavor profile of the seltzer (which, again, cherry medicine, sugar, and alcohol) your brain starts to finally react. Maybe yours will react sooner. Mine didn’t, and I’d like to think that it was a defense mechanism – Maybe if I pretend this isn’t happening, this idiot will stop.
Have you ever been picked last for a sport as a child in gym class? Drinking a Four Loko Hard Seltzer is like that. You don’t want it, you don’t like it, but it’s how life works. That sadness? It’s there with every flavor particle. Or, perhaps more appropriately, have you ever woken up at 3 a.m., hungover, your mouth somewhere between cottony and bile-soaked? That regret? It’s there in spades. Taking a large gulp of this seltzer is like living through that over and over, a la Groundhog Day. We’re not talking about the newest iteration of the movie featuring Jeep, either.
The finish, if you can call it that, hits you at the back of your mouth, right in front of where your ears would be. It’s sharp when it shouldn’t be, and it lingers. If this were a nice bourbon, the length of the finish would be lauded. Here, it’s like you did something wrong at work and your boss keeps his or her eye on you for the next week, even when you’re doing literally nothing wrong in that whole time.
Finally – finally – I was nearing the end. My stomach was full. The burps were already coming up, thick and fast. I imagined them as purple bubbles, flying back to whatever evil hell kingdom they came from. The buzz is real at this point. The buzz makes me want taters tots, a different drink, too. Jack and Coke. Another gin. Hell, a shot of Fireball seems more appealing at this point, but no, I’m almost there.
The last sip arrives. The last sip tastes like heaven because at that point, I knew it was over. There would be no more Four Loko Hard Seltzer, maybe ever (barring another challenge, of course). What was I left with after drinking an entire can of Four Loko Hard Seltzer? A buzz, for sure. Some of that aforementioned regret, too. The question of how bad my hangover would be (it wasn’t as bad as I thought, because I did eat greasy, bad-for-me food shortly thereafter). Finally, I was left with a wonderful thirst for something dry, or a tongue scraper to purge my tongue.
The point of Four Loko Hard Seltzer is clear – it was created because they could and they give no fucks. The end. They gave us the original Four Loko, after all, a beverage so loaded with caffeine and alcohol lawsuits were taken out to make them change the formula. Four Loko occupies a very specific segment of the populace’s money. No more, no less. This is the brand’s way of maintaining street cred with that segment while still expanding its product line, for better or worse. If you are an adult with a job, an apartment, and bills should you drink this? No. I’d rather suggest multiple shots in a row of Malört (and if you’re from Chicago, we can find something else for you).
If you really want to try it yourself … don’t. But if that word of warning isn’t enough, they have a locator, available here.