Asia

Four Loko comes to China

By  | 
four Loko

Image: tmall

If you came of drinking age in the late 2000s you might remember Four Loko. It was a beverage that combined caffeine, alcohol, and a pungent imitation fruit flavor to create something so infamous for the epic blackouts it produced among imbibers that it was forced to change its formula after a series of lawsuits.

But, while Four Loko’s heyday in America may have long since passed, it has found new life in China.

Young people in China, where the drinking age is 18, have embraced the love/hate relationship Four Loko inspires among drinkers, but the drink has quickly raised the same kinds of concerns that have long surrounded it in America.

Four Loko is produced by a Chicago-based company called Phusion Projects and though the company has begun selling its products in China, they claim that much of the Four Loko being consumed in the country is actually not coming from them.

The most popular brand of Four Loko in China is often reported as something called “Four Loko 888,” and its slick marketing campaign touts some of its more unsavory characteristics. The ads feature American models partying with the drink, though some show images of people passed out with a can of Four Loko near at hand.

Yet, Phusion Projects has stated that while it does operate in China, it doesn’t produce anything called “Four Loko 888.”

The drink, which is known among some of its fans in China as Shi Shin Jiu, or “Lose virginity liquor,” has quickly become a favorite target of China’s renowned counterfeiting industry.

Four Loko has also developed a special relationship with the internet, where it is distributed on Chinese retailing sites like Alibaba. In addition, many Chinese internet users have taken to a spreading online craze where people live stream themselves binging on Four Loko, with predictable results.

Due to the fact that much of the drink’s distribution seems to take place online, it has proved difficult for authorities to regulate. This has many people in China understandably upset about the fact that a drink that is regulated in many countries is enjoying such wide and unchecked popularity in their nation.

The drink is also bringing up questions about whether China has a drinking problem. Chinese culture has long given the imbibing of alcohol an important place in many social situations.

The ability to drink large quantities of liquid, or at least the willingness to do so, is an important part of Chinese drinking culture. Toasts are frequent at any formal gathering and everyone is expected to drain their glass.

For a drink with an alcohol content in one can equivalent to a six pack of Budweiser, the Chinese reverence for drinking is producing a dangerous cocktail.

The tendency of drinkers of Four Loko to black out after drinking such a strong beverage has led some Chinese internet users to name it things like “Hookup tool” and tout its ability to “trick girls.” And three women were recently robbed after passing out following a Four Loko binge at a Karaoke bar.

These sorts of incidents have led to increasing clamor for the drink to be banned, meaning that Four Loko may not get the second life in China its fans had hoped for.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.