17 November 2010

Four Loko removes caffeine; will your coffee stout be the next victim? UPDATED

UPDATE II:  The Washington Post Maryland Politics blog and Baltimore Sun Maryland Politics blog report that Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has called for a ban in Maryland against the caffeinated alcoholic drinks:
Franchot's office has released a joint letter from the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association saying the two trade organizations have asked its members to voluntarily halt distribution of caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
"In order to act in the quickest manner, a voluntary action was needed and that is why I called for it at this morning's Board of Public Works meeting," Franchot said in a statement. "In this case, legislative action would simply have taken too long and put too many more lives at risk."
The comments to these blogs state the obvious, of course.

UPDATE I:  The Food & Drug Administration  today formally warned four companies that the caffeine added to their malt alcoholic beverages is an “unsafe food additive” and said that further action, including seizure of their products, is possible under federal law.
The companies receiving warning letters and their products are:
• Charge Beverages Corp.: Core High Gravity HG, Core High Gravity HG Orange, and Lemon Lime Core Spiked
• New Century Brewing Co., LLC: Moonshot
• Phusion Projects, LLC (doing business as Drink Four Brewing Co.): Four Loko
• United Brands Company Inc.: Joose and Max

Of these, only Moonshot comes close to resembling a conventional beer in its packaging and presentation; though recently "reformulated," it still received very negative reviews on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer.

Now, nobody at this point seems to be targeting craft beers using tea or coffee (or other additives such as chicory) as an adjunct.  The concern, however, should be that an overzealous regulator on a state or local level could use the federal action as a guideline or excuse to act against, say, a coffee stout or tea-laced beer (such as an example of the latter recently brewed at the Pratt Street Ale House).  The FDA itself leaves the door open to further enforcement in its "Q&A" on the subject:

At this time, the FDA is sending Warning Letters to four manufacturers of alcoholic malt beverages to which caffeine has been directly added as an ingredient.  Other alcoholic beverages containing added caffeine may be subject to agency action in the future if the available scientific data and information indicate that the use of caffeine in those products is not GRAS.  A manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that its products, including the ingredients of its products, are safe for their intended use and are otherwise in compliance with the law.
Original Post:
Phusion Projects, the manufacturer of the popular but controversial caffeinated alcohol drink Four Loko, said late Tuesday it will remove the caffeine from its products, pulling the blend off the market just as the Food and Drug Administration was poised to ban it and other such caffeinated malt beverages.

Phusion Projects said in a statement posted on its website that the company will remove caffeine and two other ingredients from its products going forward.
In a statement, Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright and Jaisen Freeman, Phusion’s three co-founders and current managing partners said:
“We have repeatedly contended – and still believe, as do many people throughout the country – that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced.  
“In addition, if our products were unsafe, we would not have expected the federal agency responsible for approving alcoholic beverage formulas – the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) – to have approved them.   Yet, all of our product formulas and packaging were reviewed and approved by the TTB before being offered to consumers.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has supported such a ban, reported Tuesday on his website that the Food and Drug Administration plans to ban caffeinated alcoholic drinks like Four Loko and Joose as an "unsafe food additive to alcoholic beverages."

More from the Washington Post here.

Meanwhile, the Brewers Association, the craft-beer alliance of brewers, announced late yesterday that it will formally petition the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to conduct rulemaking on alcoholic energy drinks:

The petition seeks to disallow synthetic and pure caffeine additions to alcohol beverages, but allow incidental caffeine from ingredients that have a long tradition in brewing, such as coffee, chocolate and tea. The petition seeks to clarify that coffee, chocolate, herbs, spices, seeds and fruit are ingredients that should remain available to brewers to make beers for responsible enjoyment by beer drinkers.
Certain alcoholic energy drinks have received significant negative attention from state attorneys general, public health groups and concerned citizens. Many states are taking action this fall before the federal government has responded, leaving a patchwork of different regulatory wording, all with the same intention. The goal of this federal petition is to provide a clear and consistent national standard to assist state-based rulemaking under the 21st Amendment. This standard would remove the products of concern from shelves without creating unintended damage to the hundreds of craft brewers who, for many years, have been using traditional ingredients like coffee, tea and chocolate to responsibly craft interesting and flavorful beers.
Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian stated, "Responsible brewers have successfully used coffee, chocolate and tea to add interesting flavor and complexity to their beers for decades. In fact, the Aztecs brewed a corn, honey and chili-based beer that contained cocoa. Many craft brewers build on these traditions today using coffee, tea and chocolate. On the other hand, the addition of artificial caffeine not from a natural ingredient source has no heritage or tradition in brewing. We support a ban on the direct addition of caffeine." The Brewers Association invites TTB to open up public comment and rulemaking on whether these products are appropriate for responsible consumption.


Warren Rose said...

You have not been very "Original" lately!

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Better than the guy with the copycat name, I should point out..........