Best Beverage Scandals

Four Lokogate 2010. It's the kind of controversy that makes even a sensible person (like myself) lunge for one of the last remaing original cans in the bodega beer aisle. The recent buzz about cult favorite 'alcopop' Four Loko — and whether or not it would get to keep its buzz — has been prolific.

Stories about its rise to college kid black-out drink fame. Videos of people chugging it. Universities start to prohibit it, then the FDA moves to ban it. Too late, the company announces its decision to remove the offending caffeine. Mourning already? Don't worry, there's a make-your-own-at-home video circulating.

All this fuss and hype makes it hard to believe there was ever a big beverage scandal prior to it. But really, the concept is nothing new. Moonshine or absinthe, anyone? Check out the stories below for a little controversial refreshment refresher.


New Coke

Often referred to as one of the biggest marketing blunders of all time. In 1985, Coca-Cola, succumbing to peer pressure from rival Pepsi, decided to reformulate its recipe for the first time in almost a century. Long story short: People freaked out. Literally — there were reports of consumers hoarding original cans and forming associations like the Old Cola Drinkers of America. As a response, and in a national breaking news-worthy press conference, the company pulled the plug on the new recipe just three months after it was introduced.


Red Bull Cola

Although still widely available, the sister product of popular energy drink, Red Bull, was caught up in a scandal in 2009 after German food scientists discovered trace amounts of cocaine in batches. As a result, it is now banned in several Geman states and Taiwan.


Liquid Smoking

Supposedly, this Dutch-manufactured drink was created to help people with cigarette cravings, particularly in places where smoking is banned. Still, you just can't put a name like "liquid smoking" on a can and not expect some kind of reaction. The "smoking alternative" was marketed as having a calming effect, but concerns were not only that its health claims were unsubstantiated but also that it would actually encourage smoking.



People referring to Four Loko as "liquid cocaine" might recall this not-so-subtly outrageous energy drink. With label lettering that mimics scattered powder, and original motto, "the legal alternative" — it was only a matter of time before people took issue with this one. It was brought court by law students for being immoral in 2006, and again in 2009 by outraged Oklahoma Democratic representative Mike Shelton. Remarkably, although the drink was pulled from the market in 2007, after addressing FDA marketing concerns it made a triumphant return in 2008. Cocaine is still available online and in all U.S. states except for Texas.



Another no-duh controversy-sparking beverage. Unapologetically packaged to look like the contraband drug, the drink was offered in rock form, complete with a fake credit card and mirror that could be used to break it up into a powder. The substance (measured is grams, no less) essentially equaled drinking three cups of coffee. Not surprisingly, it had many up in arms about the glamorization of cocaine, and the FDA issued the company a warning on January 31st, 2008.


Pimp Juice

Pop song turned energy drink controversy. The beverage, inspired by a Nelly song by the same name, incensed several cultural and womens groups for being derogatory and degrading.


Vitamin Water

The popular sports drink company took some heat in 2009 when the NCAA held a press conference to announce that six of its flavors contained "impermissable substances" that could lead to athletes getting suspended. The beverages reportedly had unacceptably high levels of caffeine, prompting The Center for Drug Free Sport to suggest posting the offending flavors in NCAA locker rooms.



Alcohol-laced energy drinks aren't the only pot-stirrers. This past summer, the fermented tea beverage, lauded by devotees for its many alleged health benefits, had some raising their eyebrows. Countering claims that it boosts the immune system and improves gastrointestinal health were concerns that homemade versions harbored dangerous bacteria and could lead to lactic acidosis. Commercial versions are deemed more safe, but the lesson for home-brewers seems to be proceed with caution.