Chi-based Malt Liquor Energy Drink Maker Investigated

State AG Madigan going after 12.5% alcohol by volume energy drinks

By Steve Bryant
|  Monday, Aug 24, 2009  |  Updated 12:33 PM CDT
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Phusion Projects

Chicago-based Phusion Projects, makers of Four Loko and Four Max, is being investigated by the Illinois State Attorney General for misleading marketing.

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Buzzkill!

State Attorneys General Lisa Madigan, along with AGs from 24 other states, are investigating two Chicago-based drink makers over misleading marketing of their caffeinated malt liquor beverages, says the Trib.

The drinks in questions are Four Loko and Four Maxed, which are made by local company Phusion Projects. After Coors de-juiced its product Sparks in December, both Four products are tops in the drink-a-lotta-beer-and-vibrate-through-the-walls market.

Madigan is "actively investigating Phusion" as part of the multistate effort, according to a spokeswoman.

"The Attorney General continues to have significant conerns about alocholic energy drinks and manufacturers' inappropriate marketing toward teens," the spokeswoman said.

Chris Hunter, a founding partner of Phusion Projects (and MySpace user! Nice day beard!), had no comment on the investigation, saying "We're letting our products speak for themselves."

If by "speaking for themselves" you mean "hyper-caffeinated chattering about beer pong," sure.

Hunter founded Phusion with Univ. of Ohio college pals a few years back after being inspired by the drinking habits of hobos. Or, as Hunter told CollegeDrinker.com:

I was going to a stand-up comedy show in Chicago and it was a BYOB place. My wife - girlfriend at the time - ran into the store to buy some alcohol and she came out and said, “Man, I wish they had RedBull and vodka pre-mixed.” I used to sell vodka, and so I was in the alcohol industry already. When I was working out in California there was another product that was only out in that area and it wasn’t being marketed very well. When I asked about it in a store they said “well, mostly bums drink it.” That was their take on it. And I guess regardless, whoever buys it… as long as people buy it… But I thought, you know, people like me - 21 to 27 year old people, college students or recent college grads - people who go out a lot, they would love this stuff. So I thought they were missing part of their target if they were just selling it to bums.

What an incredible ... boozenessman.

Three of Four's primary ingredients are pretty standard -- caffeine, the stimulant guarana and an amino acid called taurine -- but the fourth ingredient, wormwood oil, is a key ingredient in absinthe. Hunter told CollegeDrinker.com that his beverages contained wormwood oil, but it's unclear whether the ingredient is still present in the drinks.

The drinks pack a punch. Four Loko, sold in 23.5ounce cans, has up to 12 percent alcohol by volume, while Four Maxed has 10 percent.

Neither are sold in Chicago. Phusion pulled the brands from the shelves after poor sales.

Guess Chicagoans already know how to Chi one on. Zing?

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