Never personally tried Four Loko, but I'm the alumni advisor for my fraternity and this drink has become pretty huge on campus in the last year. It comes in an extra-large can (16 - 22 oz), and contains 12% alcochol, so it's the equivalent to 3-4 beers plus at least a cup of coffee's worth of caffeine. The problems are that it's ultra cheap ($2.75/can), and that it's clearly not designed to be a beverage that you sip slowly (hence the nasty flavor). It's meant to be chugged or at least consumed in the same amount of time that it would take to drink a beer.
You can't really compare Four Loko to wine since wine is more expensive, and is usually consumed more slowly (and wine doesn't contain caffeine). Red Bull and vodka is another bad comparison, since that also costs a lot more, and people don't usually mix 4 shots of vodka with 2 cans of Red Bull to make a single drink. Cost is really the biggest reason that Four Loko is so popular - it really is just about the cheapest way possible to get drunk quickly. I've seen guys using Four Loko to play Beiruit and other drinking games, and that is what worries me - they're going to get fucked up far worse doing that than they would if they were drinking the usual watered down piss-flavored beer. And that, I suppose for them, is the point.
College kids are always going to get drunk on cheap alcohol, sometimes to the point of passing out and/or requiring medical attention. 9 kids getting hospitalized in Washington state isn't nearly enough evidence to show that Four Loko is by itself increasing the rate at which this happens, so I'm hesitant to buy into the panic that seems to be gripping the media and many campus administrators right now. Educating kids and teaching them that there's a fine line between being pleasantly sloshed and puking/passed out, and that that line is different for everyone, is always going to be more effective than banning a particular beverage.
23.5oz, actually. I'm, er, actually looking at a can right now. Happy Veteran's Day, all? (No work for us who work in academia).
As a frame of reference, I've sipped at the can since 6:30, and it's 9:00 now - still feel the buzz. No doubt this drink is potent, but unless it's abused, it's fine. It seems ridiculous to say "Hey, cheap alcohol is worse than expensive alcohol!" Then it becomes a matter of only the rich are allowed to get plastered... which is kind of elitist. There will always be some kind of cheap alcohol - but Four Loko is probably the most efficient right now, since as said it's about 4 beers and a red bull in one can. Sure, you could spend 12.99 on an 18 rack and 10.00 on some energy drinks and mix them... or spend $10 on 4 Four Loko and get the same effect for about half the price. In the same way that I don't blame Wal-Mart for offering cheaper unhealthy products for the lowest price, I don't blame Four Loko for offering cheap booze for cheap prices.
Now, all that said if I had more than one Four Loko, or mixed it with something else, the night would go from "Mmmm... mellow" to "OMG PUKE FEST." But that's the thing - I know my limits. Would underage drinkers? Doubtful. But should we ban a product due to illegal abuse? I say no. It seems like the American public in general and the government in particular says yes though, so my libertarian views get shuffled aside by the majority.
Edit: On a side note, watching Glee while buzzed is awesome. I was out there with my roommates, and they agreed. Edited, Nov 10th 2010 9:12pm by LockeColeMA