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Four Loko Is Really Popular In China And Everything Is Terrible

The main selling point? The claim that the drink is "banned in the US."

Last updated on August 30, 2016, at 4:00 p.m. ET

Posted on August 25, 2016, at 6:15 p.m. ET

Remember Four Loko, the controversial caffeinated alcoholic beverage that destroyed the brain cells and livers of a generation? Well, for better or worse, it's alive and well across the globe in China.

The "Four" in the name for the malt alcohol concoction from hell refers to four ingredients: caffeine, alcohol, the Brazilian stimulant guarana, and the animal-derived stimulant taurine.Phusion Projects, the drink's manufacturer, decided to halt the production and sale of its caffeinated version in 2010 after a series of incidents where the drink was consumed resulted in a series of injuries and deaths. (You can still buy non-caffeinated versions — also stripped of the other stimulants in the original formula — in 48 states of the US, Canada, China, and Latin American countries, in case you were actually still interested in drinking it for some reason.)
world.taobao.com

The "Four" in the name for the malt alcohol concoction from hell refers to four ingredients: caffeine, alcohol, the Brazilian stimulant guarana, and the animal-derived stimulant taurine.

Phusion Projects, the drink's manufacturer, decided to halt the production and sale of its caffeinated version in 2010 after a series of incidents where the drink was consumed resulted in a series of injuries and deaths. (You can still buy non-caffeinated versions — also stripped of the other stimulants in the original formula — in 48 states of the US, Canada, China, and Latin American countries, in case you were actually still interested in drinking it for some reason.)

Some important context needs to be addressed up front: Although the official drinking age in China is 18, alcohol is very accessible to Chinese teens, as ID is not required for them to purchase it.

Wang Zhao / AFP / Getty Images

So not only is the fruit-flavored monstrosity available, it's ~really popular~ in China — over the past month, tens of thousands of cans of the 12–14% ABV drink have been sold on Taobao, just one of several online retailers in the country.

The other online retailers include JD.com, a major competitor of Taobao, and Nuomi.com, a Groupon-like site.
weibo.com

The other online retailers include JD.com, a major competitor of Taobao, and Nuomi.com, a Groupon-like site.

Chinese sellers and buyers like to refer to Four Loko as "blackout drink," "hookup tool," and "lose your virginity alcohol."

The drink has a full store on Tmall, where branded products are sold as verified by Taobao.

The version available in China is decaffeinated, according to the Tmall description. But Quartz reports that some of the other Taobao retailers are selling the caffeinated version.
fourloko.world.tmall.com

The version available in China is decaffeinated, according to the Tmall description. But Quartz reports that some of the other Taobao retailers are selling the caffeinated version.

An verified Weibo page has been promoting the line of products since December 2013.

It also opened a tasting shop in the remote Chinese city of Nanning.
weibo.com

It also opened a tasting shop in the remote Chinese city of Nanning.

The brand is apparently trying to launch in China directly, too: Its official website has a China portal. (A Chinese-language page pops up upon clicking "Asia.")

After "taking China by storm," as the company declared on its website, a China-exclusive product is under production. "Four Loko 888" will "not be available even in the US," in order to protect the Chinese market that's "flooded with counterfeits."

Phusion reached out to BuzzFeed News after this article was published to make very clear that the online shops selling their product are unauthorized and in no way do they endorse the advertising methods or claims about their product. They later clarified as well that they are not actually producing a product called "Four Loko 888."
weibo.com

Phusion reached out to BuzzFeed News after this article was published to make very clear that the online shops selling their product are unauthorized and in no way do they endorse the advertising methods or claims about their product. They later clarified as well that they are not actually producing a product called "Four Loko 888."

It's still not clear just who's distributing Four Loko in China, though, as companies based in Guangdong, Guangxi, and Shenyang all claim that they are the official distributor.

And to make things more complicated, besides fourloko.com, there's another so-called official website, four-loko.cn — which, again, Phusion disavows.
four-loko.cn

And to make things more complicated, besides fourloko.com, there's another so-called official website, four-loko.cn — which, again, Phusion disavows.

But all of the "official" distributors are fighting the stigma that comes with what many Chinese people now believe is Four Loko's status as a banned alcohol in the US.

The online descriptions of the alcohol across the Chinese internet often skip the bits about its controversy back in the US, simply stating that the drink has always been popular in the US, even after it adjusted its ingredients and made the alcohol decaffeinated.But the official Weibo page and "official" websites have been making efforts to stop the "rumors" from spreading. On one of the sites, a news clip from SinoVision, a major US-based Chinese-language TV channel, claims that Four Loko was "only ordered to be taken off shelf" in 2010 to change its formula. "Many internet users are using the 'caffeine' bit to speculate maliciously," read the article.
four-loko.cn

The online descriptions of the alcohol across the Chinese internet often skip the bits about its controversy back in the US, simply stating that the drink has always been popular in the US, even after it adjusted its ingredients and made the alcohol decaffeinated.

But the official Weibo page and "official" websites have been making efforts to stop the "rumors" from spreading. On one of the sites, a news clip from SinoVision, a major US-based Chinese-language TV channel, claims that Four Loko was "only ordered to be taken off shelf" in 2010 to change its formula. "Many internet users are using the 'caffeine' bit to speculate maliciously," read the article.

Unofficial distributors in northwest China actually invited media for a "high-end" tasting in June to help facilitate the brand being more acceptable to the general public.

But seeing as how this is one of the pictures some of the Taobao retailers are distributing along with the description of the alcohol, they have a long way to go.

(It's not really NSFW, but this girl's dignity has been left far behind.)
world.taobao.com

(It's not really NSFW, but this girl's dignity has been left far behind.)

Nor is the attitude of consumers like this guy. "The alcohol is not as strong as expected," wrote a Chinese customer after purchasing five different flavors. "But this alcohol is enough to trick girls."

While many internet users expressed curiosity over Four Loko for its ban in the US, some asked Chinese customs officials, "Why have other countries banned [the drink] and our country is still selling them? How do they get in?"

Great. Question.
weibo.com

Great. Question.

CORRECTION

Four Loko altered its product to remove caffeine and other stimulants in 2010. An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that it did so in 2014.

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