One of the ways I make myself useful here at Serious Eats is by reviewing wacky new booze that publicists send me, which these days means I drink a lot of "premium malt beverages." You may know them as PMBs, or "Four Loko and all that other stuff like Four Loko." They're those 24-ounce cans of 12% ABV fake fruit juice, and they serve as the modern heirs to the MD 20/20s and Night Trains of our misspent youths.
These things used to be caffeinated, but I guess alert drunks are more dangerous, so when someone finally thought of the children!, premium malt beverages were reformulated without the pep. Cans costs about two bucks each, and if you drink one fast enough, it will get you fairly ripped. Chugging a can of Four Loko—or a Loko-alike—is not a pleasant undertaking, but if you want to get drunk for $2, I will concede that the oversized cans of PMB are the best way to go about it. The second best way to go about it is to dump a packet of Kool-Aid into a bottle of rubbing alcohol. The third best way is to buy a drunk guy for $2, kill him, and drink his blood.
So as I was saying, premium malt beverages fill a certain kind of void in a certain kind of life. If you have access to such luxuries as a roof and a refrigerator and a five-dollar bill, you probably don't want much to do with PMBs, but they would come in very handy for the small gang of desperadoes who drink in Radcliffe Yard. Isn't that a great name for a place to get publicly intoxicated? But it can't be a good place to alternate swigs from jugs of Old Thompson and Coke, because there is no good place to mix a drink in your mouth. Yet that's what these guys do. They pass around the whiskey and the Coke, and woe be the partygoer who messes up the rotation and ends up with consecutive swigs of Coke. This is not the most ruly of mobs, but I still feel like I need to intervene for their own sake and for the sake of dignified public drinking. So I must figure out who the leader is and tell him that if you don't have a glass to pour your drink into—and why would you?—then you're better off with something that comes preassembled.
But should that something be established category leader Four Loko, or Gila Brewing's plucky upstart, Crunk Juce? (Assuming, of course, that it must be something with an intentionally misspelled name: Premium malt beverages are for people who party hard and spell harder! There's also one called Mad Ballr.) Crunk Juce sent me cans of their watermelon, grape, and fruit punch flavors along with the Four Loko version of each. Bold move, and a very wise one.
Crunk Juce is a lot better than Four Loko, which is not to say that Crunk Juce is good, but to be fair, that wasn't the question. The question was "If this category of alcohol insists on existing, which brand is the best?" I'm not qualified to name a definitive winner among all brands, but I do declare that Crunk Juce tastes better than Four Loko across the board.
Best in show goes to the CJ fruit punch. It was very subtle, as these things go, and if I were drinking a premium malt beverage in a high school cafeteria and trying to pass it off as a big can of iced tea, this is the one I'd go with, because it doesn't make the whole room smell like bad booze the second you crack it open. (The Crunk Juce literature assures me that their target market is NOT underage. Sure, who am I to argue? So let's say you're a teacher looking to sneak a buzz in the cafeteria.)
The Crunk watermelon was less successful, but I can see people liking it. I wouldn't drink a full one, but there are certain circumstances under which I'd respect a man who did. The Four Loko watermelon was ghastly. It smelled like watermelon Bubblicious, which was promising, but then it had to go and taste like gasoline.
Both grape versions sucked, but Crunk less so. It was a little more bitter, with a darker fruit taste. Not good, but not painfully sweet, either.
In conclusion: If you like Four Loko, you're nuts. And you'll love Crunk Juce.
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