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Should Moonshot 69 be Spared from the “Four Loko” Law?

If you’ve seen the movie Beer Wars, then you know who Rhonda Kallman is.  She’s the former Sam Adams executive who started her own beer company called Moonshot 69, which she calls a “premium beer with caffeine.”  Her product fell victim to the ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages that was enacted to keep stupid college kids from killing themselves with Four Loko and the other “date rape in a can” drinks.

The question is does Moonshot 69 deserve a reprieve from this law, or should it be lumped in with all the other caffeinated malt beverages?  Rhonda thinks her product is in a different class altogether.  Here’s the text of a letter I came across over on BeerAdvocate

Dear Loyal Beer Lover,

As you may already know, New Century Brewing Company has ceased production of Moonshot ’69 per order of the federal Food and Drug Administration.

On November 17, 2010, the FDA sent warning letters to four companies that produce caffeinated malt beverages. Three of the companies were notorious for their high caffeine, high sugar, high alcohol “energy drinks” sold in 23.5 oz cans and marketed to minors. The fourth company was New Century Brewing Co.

Moonshot ’69, my all malt, craft-brewed pilsner beer, bears absolutely no resemblance to the products that brought about the FDA’s ban. For years, Moonshot ’69 was enjoyed by adult beer lovers without incident. I stand by my product and my formula. Moonshot ’69 is a great-tasting beer with 5% alcohol by volume and just 69 milligrams of caffeine – equal to about a half cup of coffee – sold in standard 12 oz longneck bottles. I take pride in my marketing techniques and the responsibility of my loyal customers.

The practice of enjoying alcohol and caffeine together is nothing new. We have all enjoyed a rum and Coke, espresso martini, Irish coffee, or beer flavored with tea leaves. It is important to find an acceptable level of caffeine that all beer producers can adhere to. I agree that over-sized containers full of sugar, fruit flavoring, high amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, with 12% alcohol by volume are dangerous products that the public and our regulators should be concerned about. However, Moonshot ’69 is a beer for beer drinkers that has been enjoyed since 2004.

I have been producing and marketing craft-brewed beer for 25 years. I co-founded Samuel Adams, America’s #1 selling craft beer, and later founded Edison Light Beer, America’s first craft-brewed light beer. I know beer drinkers and I know what they like. After all, I am one! With your help, we can defend the rights of beer enthusiasts and craft brewers across the country. I appreciate you taking the time to learn about this debacle and I ask you to please join the movement to bring Moonshot back! Sign the petition at  http://www.moonshotbeer.com , join our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter!

Thanks for your support.

Cheers!

Rhonda Kallman

Founder and CEO
New Century Brewing Co.

I guess it’s a fair argument, but I’ll be honest – I thought Moonshot 69 was a silly gimmick beer when I watched Beer Wars.  It seems like less of a craft beer and more like a marketing ploy, almost like something a macro-brewer would create (less the all-malt recipe, of course – rice it up, baby!).  To me, it seems as if Moonshot 69 was created to exploit the craft beer market, not serve it.

That said, I’m sorry to see Rhonda’s years of hard work get destroyed by a firestorm not of her making, but unfortunately this kind of thing happens in business all the time – the rules change and some companies are left holding the bag.  I guess I’d feel worse if the product weren’t so silly, but the world of craft beer probably won’t miss Moonshot 69.

But enough about me – what do you think?  Should Moonshot 69 get a pass and be allowed to once again sell their mildly caffeinated pilsners to thirsty, drowsy bar patrons?  Or is this what happens when you put all of your eggs into a basket woven of gimmicks?  Let us know below.

Also, if you’d like to support Rhonda and Moonshot 69, here’s a link to an online petition.  Power to the people!

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Categories: Beer

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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25 Comments on “Should Moonshot 69 be Spared from the “Four Loko” Law?”

  1. January 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Given the low amount of caffeine at standard alcohol content, his beer is certainly nothing that could be called dangerous. But does caffeine really have to be added to a beer? The cited examples like rum+coke are silly because they are combinations of two different drinks with their own tastes that blend togther in the mix. But this is totally different from a beer that is artificially spiced up with caffeine.

    • January 25, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

      “his beer” is supposed to read “this beer”. Sorry

    • January 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

      I agree on all counts. What does the caffeine add to the beer? Nothing. Coffee stouts = good; caffeinated beers = silly.

      That’s why I can’t seem to get worked up enough to care if Moonshot makes it or not – I think it’s a silly idea and can’t say that I’ll miss it.

  2. January 25, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    I won’t miss it, but then again I never tried it either.

    I think outright bans are stupid, and I’m wondering if this kind of blanket ban a good thing? What if the government said all beers over 6% ABV were dangerous and banned them? What stops them from putting any two random ingredients together and (like hops and water) and banning products based on its misuse by stupid kids?

    I’m not well-versed on the 4-Loco thing, but isn’t that an enforcement issue? Who is selling the stuff to minors? Not sure if the blame should lie with the manufacturer here no matter how crappy the product may be.

    • January 25, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

      I agree that it’s a failure of enforcement, but that won’t stop the FDA from saying this is a dangerous product and pull it – that’s why they are there. In the case of Four Loko and the like, it was deemed that the addition of a caffeine to a high ABV beverage was leading to a public health problem (mostly college kids suffering from alcohol poisoning because the caffeine suspended the effects of the alcohol until they were way too hammered).

      It’s scary to think the government can ban anything it likes, but I wouldn’t worry about beer. It has a long established history of being mostly benign and there’s a big lobby behind it. Look at cigarettes – they’re still around and they kill you.

  3. Evan
    January 25, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    I couldn’t care less about this piece of crap beer. What worries me however, is that this could eventually spread to ban some coffee bean stouts that I’ve grown to really enjoy.

    • January 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

      Coffee stouts will be okay, as they don’t have an appreciable amount of caffeine, and one can convincingly argue that the coffee adds flavor and complexity to the flavor. It’s there for to make the beer taste better, not just for the kick.

      I think this is where Moonshot suffers – it’s hard to say there’s any reason for the caffeine to be there flavor-wise. It’s more like a bar fight in a bottle.

  4. January 25, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    This whole fake crisis was annoying and contrived; we can’t have Four Loko, which, while disgusting in taste, has about as much caffeine as coffee and is equivalent to drinking a few light beers in alcohol content, but Captain Morgan can advertise that rum and cola is the best idea EVER? No one blacked out from Four Loko that wasn’t going to find some other way to black out. The ban was a stupid solution to something that wasn’t a problem.

    But the comments here reflect a reality of Moonshot, which is that craft beer drinkers haven’t taken to it. They find it gimmicky or (secondhand) not particularly flavorful. I signed her petition, but I’m afraid Ms. Kallman’s biggest issue isn’t legislation, but a misreading of craft beer drinkers. Still, it should be her right to fight for market share.

    • January 25, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

      Well said. I haven’t tasted Moonshot, but it’s the kind of thing I’d avoid on principle as a beer geek. I think the FDA is doing what the market would do, it’s just accelerating the process.

  5. Matt
    January 25, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    There should be a fourth option that none of these beverages should be outlawed in the knee-jerk fashion that just occurred. Social hysteria and media blitzes can kill anything. If mainstream media ran stories that Levi jeans could *possibly* use a dye that caused teenagers to kill themselves because many of the suicide “victims” had Levis on, they would be successful and Levi could be killed in a matter of days.

    I agree with your assessment of Moonshot 69. It’s a gimmick through and through and it was completely out of place in the documentary. She was all flash, little substance. I like your take that she is taking advantage of the craft beer market, not helping it. In the documentary it was clear her struggles weren’t due to the tiered distribution model; It was just a lame product.

    So, no she shouldn’t be victim to this overreaction and neither should the other drinks. If the FDA has clear studies that show this combination of alcohol and caffeine causes specific, harmful physiological reactions then by all means it should be regulated.

    • January 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

      The FDA said in a press release that:

      there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.

      Experts have raised concerns that caffeine can mask some of the sensory cues individuals might normally rely on to determine their level of intoxication. The FDA said peer-reviewed studies suggest that the consumption of beverages containing added caffeine and alcohol is associated with risky behaviors that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations.

      So it’s the three-beers worth of booze that’s masked by the caffeine that is the perceived danger. I think some people just couldn’t manage their Four Loko buzzes, and the FDA took action in light of public (you know, the media) outcry. Legislators tend to hop on the media bandwagon when young adults are at risk, even if it’s because they are idiots.

      And while Levi’s don’t lead to suicide, but I believe it’s been shown that the regular wearing of Wranglers can lead to sexting, especially for NFL quarterbacks. 😉

      • Matt
        January 25, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

        No doubt about Wranglers. Hopefully Obama addresses this huge concern in his State of the Union tonight.

        Regarding the quote you put up I see “raised concerns”, “studies suggest” … those aren’t the specific results tied to the product I feel are necessary to completely trash a business and open up insurance companies to millions of dollars in litigation because somebody’s dumb kids couldn’t control themselves.

        • January 25, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

          In the case of Four Loko, it’s the alcohol AND the caffeine that make it dangerous.

          In the case of NFL quarterbacks, it’s the Wranglers AND the Crocs that cause trouble. I hope Obama doesn’t miss this nuance during his speech.

  6. January 26, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    I am not going to miss this drink at all because I’ve never even heard of it… and now that I have, it doesn’t appeal to me…

    Should it be banned like Four Loko?

    I don’t think banning drinks like these would stop college kids from ordering Red Bull Vodkas or some other combination of high alcoholic beverages mixed with high caffeine ones…

    • January 26, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

      True, but in that case, they’re the ones concoting the drinks. You can put fire and gasoline together too if you like, but the consequences are all your own.

  7. January 26, 2011 at 2:18 am #

    Pardon my ignorance about the ban in question, but I’m from Europe 😉 This ban is about products combining alcohol and caffeine, right? But I guess it still would allow you to order a can of Red Bull and a shot of vodka in a bar so you can mix it yourself. So the whole point of the ban is pretty dubious to me.

  8. January 26, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    @Oliver – that’s why the ban is stupid!

    OK, so we have ‘evidence’ that caffeine and alcohol in these products create a public health concern. As Matt pondered, I wonder what evidence they are using? What studies? Who funded the studies? Its not like the FDA isn’t influenced by lobbies.

    Again, couldn’t the concern over public health be applied to straight beer? I’d bet a testicle that more people die because of plain ‘ol beer misuse than from these stupid caffinated drinks.

    Again, what is to stop them from banning anything? I’m sorry, didn’t the 21st Amendment prohibit the banning of alcoholic drinks @ the Federal level? (Oh, I forgot that the FDA was a law-imposing body not accountable to the Constitution or will of the people.)

    Here’s my take. If the product sucks, nobody will buy it and the free market will kill it. If people abuse it, how about enforcing the laws? Drive drunk? Lose your license. Sell to underage people? Lose your liquor license. Pass out and have to go to the E.R.? Pay the bill when it comes.

    Why is there such a rush to ban stuff, when it is really accountability that is needed.

    • January 26, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

      The FDA put out a warning letter, but the bans all happened at the state level. I think their “evidence” was the 23 kids hospitalized in a single weekend from my Alma Mater (way to make me proud, Ramapo!). It was happening all over, because kids couldn’t seem to manage their Four Loko buzzes properly. The caffeine masked the effects of the alcohol long enough so they drank way too much and then blacked out. Consequently, Sharpie sales were up on campuses where Four Loko was most popular. 😉

      The government can ban anything they like. Look at Prohibition. It could come back if the 21 Amendment is repealed. Or look at marijuana, the hipper cousin of our beloved hop is an all-natural substance that is far better for the body than alcohol, and it typically mellows folks out, unlike booze which leads to all sorts of violence. But it’s illegal, because they say so.

      I’m all for market forces determining the fate of products, but in the case of Four Loko, the perception was that most of their market were underage drinkers who were misusing the product to the point of hospitalization. Like it or not, alcohol is a legally controlled substance, and states have the right to pull products from the shelves that they think do more harm than good. In the case of Four Loko, I think that was an easy (and a fashionable) call for lawmakers to make.

  9. January 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    I think The Man needs to chill. Punish the law violators like you are supposed to, and chill.

    Perception? Shouldn’t some actual research be used before legal businesses are dismantled? I’m just wondering what part of the slippery slope this represents now that perception can be the basis for Law. I don’t know. Think of Moonshot what you will, but I haven’t heard of anyone binging on the product, yet they are now kaput as well.

    I perceive that the FDA should worry more about getting new treatments for diseases approved (or again – get the F out of the way) and not worry about stupid kids so much and their horrible caffeinated drinks.

    But, now that this danger to mankind has been removed, I’m sure these kids will never binge drink again and we’ll all be better off. Baaaaaa. (Sheep sound.) Oh, except for the Moonshot lady and her business, she’s not better off now, and that sucks.

    Thanks FDA!

    • Don
      January 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

      See Scott, what you don’t know is that Jim, deep down in his liberal heart still thinks the government is here to protect us from all manner of evil, whether it is terrorists that might strike in the US or dumbass college kids that don’t know how to drink right. Where you and I believe much more in personal responsability, which is something that Jim thinks some people don’t have the capacity for and so should be protected from their own dumbass decisions. BTW if you want some Four Loco I can send it to you. Idaho believes people should make their own choices. 😉

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