Alcoholics Go To Meetings

Stewie's ElixirIt was in the news recently that the manufacturers of the drink Four Loko had pre-empted action by the FDA with an announcement that they were removing caffeine and other stimulants from the drink.

The current Four Loko contains 12% alcohol in states where it’s permitted (6% in other parts of the USA, 8% in Europe), plus caffeine, taurine and guarana. In each 700 ml can, there’s about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, plus, obviously, 84 ml of alcohol. Students call it “blackout in a can”, apparently.

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to four manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages citing that the caffeine added to their drinks is an “unsafe food additive” and said that further action, including seizure of their products, may occur under federal law.

The FDA’s action was based on recent American research which suggested that people who combined alcohol with energy drinks were likely to drink more, and to appear more intoxicated and to behave more recklessly. Sounds great to me!

It occurred to me that in the true scientific spirit (so to speak), I could try inventing and testing my own blackout. It would be simple to supply the alcohol content with vodka, which is 40% alcohol by volume in the proper stuff. The real creativity would be in beating Four Loko’s modest caffeine content.

I’ll drink an occasional double or triple espresso, say 100 ml of coffee at maybe 1000 mg/l of caffeine. That would be 100 milligrams of caffeine, of course. Instant or filter brewed coffee is typically lower in caffeine, probably under 500 mg/l, but you do drink more, say 250 ml, so the end result isn’t that much different. I’m going to say that 100 mg of caffeine is equivalent to a “strong coffee”.

Common energy drinks, at least in our UK market, also contain about that much per can. One can of Red Bull, for example, has just 80mg. Relentless and Rock Star, with the bigger can sizes, contain double that much. But come on, it’s still only two cups of coffee. I do that every morning.

The largest dose per serving that I’ve been able to find (on the Internet; I’m not traipsing round the shops) is Spike Shooter, with 300 mg in a can, but that’s only equivalent to three or four cups of coffee. Short of attempting some sort of distillation process, it’s clear that energy drinks just aren’t going to geive the kick I’m looking for.

So that takes me back to… well, why not coffee? Instant coffee is pure soluble solids of coffee, or at least that’s what it says on the jar. If you put one heaped teaspoon into your mug to make a normal-strength coffee, then maybe five or six would make a real energy drink to mix with the alcohol. If that much instant coffee will dissolve.

I don’t envisage drinking it hot, but it’s probably best to dissolve the coffee in hot water and then cool it in the fridge. I don’t normally have sugar, even in espresso, but I have the feeling that sugar and possibly even creamer would be necessary to balance the bite of the alcohol. A single measure of spirits is 35 ml (in Scotland and Northern Ireland) meaning that a single vodka contains 14 ml of alcohol. To match Four Loko, you’d need six measures in 700 ml of the coffee liquid. (Call that two extra-large wine glasses.)

Incidentally, our own national drink, Buckfast, contains 112 ml of alcohol and about 300 mg of caffeine per bottle, so regardless of how my experiments turn out, the monks have probably beaten me to it.


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