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Horny, hyper and happy

That's what most people want to feel when they drink alcohol, right? The unofficial slogan is what the makers of Four hope for.

Published: Friday, April 14, 2006

Updated: Saturday, October 17, 2009 15:10


Closing time might lose its significance with Four, a caffeinated alcoholic drink..

Four, which comes by the pint and in 24-packs, is in the midst of a product launch around Midwest college campuses this spring, most recently in the Village during the last two weeks. It's a berry-flavored malt liquor with a taste similar to Red Bull.

Pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks might look like an answer to all-night parties, but they raise questions about health risks.

Two Ball State University students, Mike Fraser and Rachael Minucciani intern with Phusion Projects, Inc. - makers of Four. The two hosted launch parties at Mo's Tavern in the Village and a tasting at Friendly Package Liquors as a part of their promotional campaign for the company.

"It's more sweet and subtle," Minucciani said, comparing Four to other alcoholic energy drinks.

"You can't taste the alcohol, so the girls like it; so if you want to, you can make the mixed drink," she said.

The drink is similar to other pre-mixed liquor energy drinks such as Sparks, Anheuser-Busch's Tilt and B-to-the-E, but the difference is wormwood. Wormwood is an active ingredient in the US-banned alcohol absinthe. It can also be found in vermouth, which is legal. The effects of wormwood as an aphrodisiac are questionable, said Dr. Kent Bullis, medical director of the Amelia T. Wood Student Health Center. In herbal medicine, it's commonly used to treat loss of appetite and other digestion problems.

Three Ohio State University alumni, Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright and Jaisen Freeman, teamed up to make the drink. After a year of waiting for approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the three began devoting their time to promoting it. Actually, that's basically all they're doing.

"They really don't have any back up plan," Minucciani said, "They expect this to be huge."

Hunter has experience working for a spirits maker, while Wright managed accounts for an industrial medical supply company and Freeman works for a global bank firm in Chicago.

In Indiana, Four has a six percent alcohol content in its 16 ounce can, which is the equivalent of two shots of hard liquor, Bullis said. Alcohol content varies from state-to-state. Some states allow higher alcohol contents than six percent. The company isn't sure how it will handle the five states that have restrictions for lower alcohol content.

If alcohol plus energy drink stimulants aren't enough, Four and B-to-the-E suggests mixing in hard liquor. Some Four mixes use variousflavored vodka (one mix is called an "F-Bomb"). The Four Panty Dropper has gin and peach schnapps and another mix combines Four with an Alabama Slammer. B-to-the-E has similar mixes with names that play with the letter B.

Fraser suggests fans of Four should try their own mixes. He's nameed a few of his own, ranging from Fourgasm to Fourplay and other suggestive names.

David Pearson, a researcher in the Human Performance Laboratory, says people should take caution with drinks such as Four, especially if mixing them with hard liquor. He said he was not aware of any research completed on the effects of alcohol and "stimulant" drinks (drinks such as Red Bull). He bases his opinions on anecdotal evidence from studies done on the effects of alcohol on the body and the effects of energy drinks.

Pearson is somewhat split on his opinion about the drink. He doesn't want to see somebody's livelihood gone because he doesn't like people drinking it. However, he wants to know who holds the responsibility for encouraging consumers to mix hard liquor with a malt liquor energy drink.

But if he faults anything the most, it's the marketing.

"These products are marketed to make you an alert drunk," he said.

He said the intent is to have drinkers stay at bars longer to drink more alcohol. The natural response to reaching your limit on alcohol is to feel sleepy, which the stimulants in Four would counter.

"The danger lies in the fact that you could be legally drunk when you decide to drink these later in the evening, which can lead to alcohol poisoning," he said.

Mixing alcohol with caffeine, whether it was Four, Jagrmeister and Red Bull or Jack Daniels and Coke, can negatively affect the respiratory and cardiovascular system, he said.

Bullis and other physicians were not thrilled to see hard liquor sold beside energy drinks at bars years ago. However, Pearson said companies who want to make energy drinks mixed with alcohol argue that people have drunk Coke with whiskey and rum for years.

Phusion Projects recommends not drinking more than four cans of Four a day, Minucciani said. However, that guideline is not on the drink's Web site or any of its promotional material. Competitors do not offer any guidelines on their sites, either.

"It's not a drink where you're suppose to drink a six-pack. That's why they're sold singularly," Minucciani said. "You're suppose to get one or two and mix it."

People could believe they can drink more of Four without consequences because the alcohol taste is hidden, she said.

It's foolish to suggest drinking no more than four cans of Four in a day because most people don't drink alcohol as refreshments from breakfast to bed, Pearson said.

"They know damn well that people will drink these things in the evening," he said. ":Four will lead to six, to eight, and once you get started, it kind of primes the pump and gets you going."

Ryan Sloan, a 2005 Ball State alumnus, drank Four while at Mo's Tavern, and said he drank about four cans while at the bars during a promotional event. After trying it, he said he would cut drinking Four down to one or two cans each night he drinks.

"It has a lot of sugar, which makes it hard to consume large quantities," he said. He added that he prefers it straight, but is considering to try it with vodka.

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