What Was the Four Loko of 1708?

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Byline: Design by Michael Picon

It's perhaps the most cynical blend in the history of American drinking, but Four Loko and its skull-buzzing cousins are far from the first to stir public loathing. David Wondrich, the James Beard Award-winning author of Punch, on a few pioneers:

Rum Punch One part each lime juice and sugar to four parts each strong (100-proof-plus) rum and water

Even before America's official founding, rum punch sparked what would become a recurrent national concern: it's too easy to drink. And people drank way too much of it. In 1708, English poet Ebenezer Cooke arrived here to find "a herd of Planters"--colonists--"on the ground, overwhelmed with Punch." Massachusetts later banned rum entirely. But the scourge survived. During the late 1800s, Savannah's Chatham Artillery Punch laid out the head of the Navy for two days--and President Chester Arthur for three.

Mint Julep Cognac with mint, a tablespoon of sugar syrup

Immensely popular in pre-Civil War America, the mint julep and its sibling, the cock-tail, got the masses drunk--and suffered the social consequences. It was soon verboten for all but the criminal classes, as writer Robert Montgomery Bird records in his 1837 novel Sheppard Lee: cock-tails and juleps are "fit only for bullies," a character says. "Gentlemen never drink any thing but wine."

Absinthe High-proof alcohol distilled with wormwood and other herbs and lightly sweetened

With alleged psychoactive properties, absinthe fueled a hysteria that consumed turn-of-the-20th-century America, culminating with the drink's own special prohibition in 1912. …