If you are of a certain age, you probably remember the chaotic season of Four Loko. (Or, more likely, you don’t remember it.) Cans of the caffeine-packed malt beverage were everywhere in the mid-2000s, giving drinkers an alcoholic buzz and an energy boost that often masked dangerous levels of intoxication.
These so-called “energy beers” — which also included Sparks, Tilt, Bud Extra and Joose — were so popular and wreaked so much havoc on college campuses, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Trade Commission all stepped in. In 2010, they labeled the drinks a “public health concern,” instructed manufacturers to remove stimulants (what the agencies called “unsafe food additives”) from their products and stop marketing them to young people.
Companies either complied, took their products overseas or discontinued their drinks altogether. And the domestic public health campaign seemed to have done some good; while you can still order a Red Bull-vodka at a bar, old cans of Sparks are not a booming product on the black market, according to my extensive research.
But a decade later, a very of-its-time beverage is sneaking its way into this sector of the market: X-treme seltzers. Because, like the malt beverages of the 2000s, which drinkers apparently needed to have jacked up with caffeine so they didn’t bore of them, the regular ole hard seltzer brands of today believe they need to upgrade their offerings to keep their loyal customers interested and draw in new ones.
First up is White Claw Surge, not to be confused with the 1990s-era, caffeine-loaded Surge soda from Coca-Cola. There is no caffeine in White Claw Surge! But there is more alcohol than a regular White Claw. These high-ABV seltzers — available now in Blood Orange and Cranberry — contain 8 percent booze, compared to the 5 percent ABV of old-school Claws. (That new level is similar to that of a strong IPA.) WC Surge is only available in 16-ounce tallboys, compared to the typical 12-ounce can of regular Claws.
And then there’s Bang Mixx Hard Seltzer, which probably IS supposed to be confused with Bang’s energy drink popular with the TikTok crowd. In fact, Mixx is available in some of the same flavors as the heart-pumping version: Mango Bango, Pina Colada, Purple Kiddles, Frose Rose, Strawberry Blast, Lemon Drop and Key Lime Pie. But Mixx does not contain caffeine and is not marketed at children, so don’t get it twisted! They do supposedly contain electrolytes, though.
There’s also Truly Extra Hard Seltzer, which started rolling out last month. Like White Claw, it has upgraded its ABV to 8 percent and its can size to 16 ounces. It is available in Blue Raspberry and Peach Mango flavors.
PBR is even in on the action. It recently released an 8 percent ABV Stronger Seltzer, which comes in Lime and Wild Berry. Natural Light has its 8 percent ABV Natty Daddy Lemonade, which only comes in 25-ounce cans. And Bud Light has a Platinum Seltzer now, offering 8 percent ABV drinks in Citrus, Blood Orange and Wild Berry flavors.
Perhaps the most eye-narrowing entry into this sector, though, is Four Loko. “Hard seltzer ran so we can fly,” the long-dormant brand’s new tagline says. And boy do they ever, offering 24-ounce cans of 14 percent ABV booze juice. They come in more than a dozen flavors: Electric Lemonade, Black, Red, Gold, Fruit Punch, Watermelon, Peach, Strawberry Lemonade, Grape, Sour Blue Razz, Sour Apple, Sour Grape, Black Cherry Hard Seltzer (12 percent ABV) and Sour Mango Hard Seltzer (12 percent ABV).
And while the brand name is the same and the cans look the same as the original, the 2021 version of Four Loko does not contain any stimulants! Nothing to be confused or concerned about here. It’s just another colorful addition to the fruity beverage lineup of the Summer of X-Treme Seltzers, which is perfectly safe and totally fine! (Let’s just hope the FDA, CDC and FTC don’t start sniffing around.)
Alyson Sheppard is Lagniappe’s resident hangover specialist. Find her on Twitter: @amshep.
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