While reading Grub Street’s charming and educational “Oral History of Four Loko In New York,” published Monday, I will admit I felt a little wistful. Do you remember 2008? I do, just barely, and if I push my brain hard enough I can see little flashes of a happier time through the haze that has since descended over all my pre-2016 memories. I’m voting for Barack Obama! I’m watching True Blood! I’m listening (and, full disclosure, probably crying to) Viva La Vida in my car, on a CD! And, of course, I’m watching people drink Four Loko while grumbling, “Sparks was better.”
I never much cared for the drink, which was released to a public thirsty for energizing booze in 2005 and whose sales peaked in 2010, but have vivid memories of the hideous fluorescent cans being stacked tall and wide inside the refrigerators of friends who planned to have people over Thursday night for pregaming before heading to bars on 6th Street in downtown Austin, TX. Just looking at one of these cans flares up all of my senses. I suddenly smell an opened bottle of Southern Comfort. I see my friend Drew pointing at me and giving a thumbs up. (He loved to point!) I taste fake pineapple. I hear MGMT. But, more than anything, I feel. I feel a deep and mournful love for Sparks, the superior (and oft-forgotten) alcoholic energy drink.
Sparks burst onto the scene in 2002, before I could legally consume alcohol, and (by the time I was of age) was a preferred choice for cheap, multi-purpose boozing. It tasted good, got you drunk, and kept you awake! What could go wrong, besides everything? But then, Sparks removed the caffeine from its formula due to legal pressure. The thrill was gone (as were the nights I’d drink two cans and worry about my heart exploding).I moved on to less terrifying drinks, like, you know, beer. Everyone around me stopped drinking Sparks, what with its lack of caffeine, until a new can rode into town. His name was Four Loko, and he was nothing like my old friend.
Sparks had a chic (dare I say elegant) battery-themed can, but Four Loko’s deafening neon, camo scribblings were designed to be a warning to everyone in the general vicinity. And while Sparks had the subtle sour-sweetness of a Red Bull, Four Loko tasted like someone screaming the name of a fruit while pissing on Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor core. And then, of course, there was the origin story. Sparks was created by a family-owned alcohol brand known for malt liquor beverages, but Four Loko was created by three dudes who saw Sparks and thought Let’s do that but also let’s be insane.
I never had a good time drinking Four Loko, but will always get a little misty eyed thinking of the days when everyone around me was constantly guzzling from its cans. To return to the prime of Four Loko is to return to a time when anything—no, everything—was possible. If you feel the same—and even if you, like me, were more of a Sparks person—reading Grub Street’s oral history might just make you shed a tear.