China’s internet users have found a new way to consume the alcoholic drink Four Loko—live-streaming their struggle to finish a can.
The name brand that US regulators famously warned in 2010 could be a health concern, prompting the manufacturer to change its formula, recently popped up in China through wholesalers, and went viral after four young women reportedly got robbed in a karaoke bar after consuming the beverage. Across the country, curious Chinese are stocking up on cans and filming taste tests.
On Bilibili, a Chinese streaming video website, seven people in their twenties participated in a test to each consume one 695ml, 12% ABV can of Four Loko. The test was separated into three stages, in which participants reported their feelings after drinking 150 ml, 300 ml, and the can’s remainder, all within 30 minutes.
After the first glass, some said the beverage tasted like an ordinary fruit drink, but with the warming sensation of alcohol. One girl said she felt sleepy, while others’ faces quickly turned red.
The video was viewed over 5,000 times (link in Chinese).
Four Loko manufacturer Phusion Projects told Quartz it stopped adding caffeine to any of the drinks it makes in 2010. The combination of a stimulant with a highly alcoholic beverage was what got the beverage in trouble in the US in the first place, and Phusion pledged not to sell caffeinated alcohol in the US again. But some vendors on Chinese e-commerce sites like Taobao are marketing the drink as caffeinated—leading to confusion among consumers. Four Loko declined to comment about its product’s popularity in China.
Some drinkers in China claim that Four Loko is able to best even those with honed drinking skills.
“My alcohol tolerance is two liters of beer, but Four Loko’s after-effect is really strong and I kept throwing up,” said Qin Mo (video, link in Chinese), a university student majoring in German. 18,000 viewers have watched her drinking Four Loko so far.
Several Four Loko drinkers on Weibo, China’s Twitter-esque social media site, told Quartz that they can buy the beverage online and in grocery stores in China. Weibo user Gona Anna (link in Chinese, registration required) spent 110 yuan ($16.48) to buy a can at a supermarket in Sanlitun, a shopping center in China’s capital Beijing, whereas the Tmall Four Loko flagship store (link in Chinese) prices cans at 64 yuan ($9.58) each.
Yagel Yu, a Chinese student studying computer science in Maryland, bought his for much cheaper in the US—one can cost him $4.99. He racked up 70,000 views broadcasting himself burping gleefully and headbanging to dance music (link in Chinese) after drinking one 695 ml can.
He doesn’t recall the aftermath as fondly. “I was lucky to not end up in hospital,” Yu says. “I was vomiting very badly.”