Even as their product was being blamed for everything from teen binge drinking and a slew of date rapes to an atrocious gay-bashing incident and even the deaths of multiple college students, Four Loko founders Jeff Wright
, Jaisen Freeman
and Chris Hunter
mostly skirted the press. But addiction-and-recovery website The Fix
has finally popped open the can on the story of the notorious caffeinated malt beverage, snagging the first in-depth interview with the Chicago-based trio.
In the 5,100-word (!) piece by Time Out New York food writer Jay Cheshes,
the three guys talk about it all, from their early beginnings (they
were frat boys who had a "billion-dollar idea" of adding a fourth
ingredient--wormwood--to the recipe for Sparks, the original energy
beer) to the barrage of lawsuits that may cost them millions of dollars
to their new ventures.
Hunter, on his initial feelings toward the product:
"I actually didn't think it would sell. I thought it was too big of a package, but that's what the distributors and retailers were asking for."
After the FDA demanded the immediate withdrawal of all alcoholic energy drinks, the company had to decide what to do. According to Freeman:
"We all had this big sit-down, and we discussed the situition. We thought, 'Hey, do we just walk away?' We're not rich, but we made a little bit of money here. Do we just screw our customers and our employees? That conversation lasted about two seconds. We all agreed to keep going on. Everything we made, we're all in again."
Freeman, on mixing caffeine with alcohol:
"We figured that caffeine and alcohol have been around for hundreds of years. It's still around. Belvedere IX has caffeine in it. There are craft brews with coffee, with chocolate, Kahlua, Bailey's, all the vodkas . . . Patron XO with coffee in it. If caffeine and alcohol were the issue, we figured all of caffeine and alcohol would go away."
Freeman says that he was swarmed by the press at the height of the Four Loko scandal:
"I had news stations showing up at my condo, telling my doorman that they were my friends. Everyone was out there just looking for a juicy story. We wanted to be sure the message was controlled."
Freeman, on the future of their company, Phusion Projects:
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"We've got lot of things in the pipeline we think are even bigger than Loko. We want to be a beverage company, not a Four Loko company."