Spirit of the Law

|

A new lawsuit demands that California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control reclassify sweet malt beverages such as Mike's Hard Lemonade and Zima as distilled spirits instead of beer. The San Jose Mercury-News reports that such a move would force the state to "limit their sales, tax them at a higher rate and prohibit the drinks from being advertised on television." (Does California restrict TV ads for alcohol? Nationally, there is no legal ban on TV commercials for liquor, just an industry tradition that has gone by the boards in recent years.) Presumably the argument for calling malt beverages distilled spirits is that most of the alcohol in these drinks typically comes from the distilled ethanol base of added flavorings, rather than the wort fermentation that produces the alcohol in beer. Still, the strength of "alcopops" is similar to that of beer (around 5 percent, vs. 40 percent or so for distilled spirits), so similar regulatory treatment makes sense from that perspective.

The real objection of the activists who filed the suit is not to the origin of the ethanol but to the taste, which they think makes these products dangerously appealing to minors. According to this line of thinking, it is unconscionable to produce an alcoholic beverage that teenagers like, even if there is a substantial market for it among adults. Rather than say this directly, critics of "alcopops" pretend they're worried about deceptive marketing:

Former San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne, a lawyer with Public Law Group, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the youth advocates, said that by allowing the beverages to be sold as beer all over California, the state is contributing to underage drinking.

Some of the drinks, she said, have been positioned in stores next to Snapple bottles.

"Parents may even be inadvertently buying these drinks for their youngsters,"' she said, "not realizing that in fact these are distilled spirits.''

Even if parents are too stupid to realize that products with names like Mike's Hard Lemonade, Bacardi Silver, and Jack Daniel's Country Cocktails might contain alcohol--despite hints such as "5.2% ALC/VOL" and the surgeon general's warning--they probably will realize their error pretty quickly, once their youngsters start stumbling around, slurring their words, and crashing their tricycles.

[Thanks to Geoff Segal for the tip.]

NEXT: "Impediments to Journalism"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. A new lawsuit demands that California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control reclassify sweet malt beverages such as Mike's Hard Lemonade and Zima as distilled spirits instead of beer.

    I thought "distilled spirits" referred to the way the drinks were actually produced. . . you know, distilled, rather than fermented?

  2. ...they probably will realize their error pretty quickly, once their youngsters start stumbling around, slurring their words, and crashing their tricycles.

    So that's why my kids can't read. Shit.

  3. they probably will realize their error pretty quickly, once their youngsters start stumbling around, slurring their words, and crashing their tricycles.

    And then be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of minors.

    But seriously, where are these stores that sell Mike's Hard Lemonade "in stores next to snapple bottles" ? Personally, ( I know its anecdotal ) I have never seen "snapple" or gatorade or even just regular soda sharing a cooler with Zima or Hard Cider or whatever.

    And wouldn't the ID check tip you off that what you purchased for little billy might be something other than a fruity beverage?

  4. I don't know where you live, but in my experience they only ID when you look under 30 or so, or at popular bars/nightclubs where they ID everyone, including senior citizens.

    The whole "Gee, those moronic soccer moms might accidently buy it for their kids" argument makes no sense in this context. Reclassifying them doesn't stop stupid human error.

    There are three reasons for this proposed new rule change. More taxes, more taxes, more taxes. Everything else is a smokescreen.

  5. ""Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink"

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nb20050806a1.htm

    On the topic, I would like to believe that this is all about taxes, but as it's coming from an activist group instead of the government, it seems like it's just another case of people being nosy. At least it's for the children, so we can be assured of its success.

  6. As an occasional drinker of candy-flavored booze (who furthermore loathes the taste of things like beer and straight-up whiskey), I am fed up with these people who want to turn every single adult pleasure into something miserable, to avoid the chance that children might want to imitate them.

    I'm just waiting for some do-gooder asshole to require that all condoms be made out of barbed wire--you know, for the children! You don't want them getting the idea that sex might be fun, do you?

  7. But seriously, where are these stores that sell Mike's Hard Lemonade "in stores next to snapple bottles" ? Personally, ( I know its anecdotal ) I have never seen "snapple" or gatorade or even just regular soda sharing a cooler with Zima or Hard Cider or whatever.

    I've seen it in groceries that only have one "chilled beverage" section. But usually the "malt beverages" are with the beer in a cooler someplace else.

    That said, will this apply to wine coolers too? I mean, those are generally similar in alcohol content to malt liquor beverages and have been tasting good to people who don't like alcohol for dozens of years. And Zima has been around forever, hell, I remember comercials for that shit from the 80s when I was a kid.

    Oh well, one more reason not to live in California.

  8. If the ignorant soccer mom tripe were true, wouldn't the solution be more advertising. I mean I can't remember the last time I saw an ad for any alcoholic product that didn't contain some warning at the end about drinking responsibly.

  9. by allowing the beverages to be sold as beer all over California, the state is contributing to underage drinking.

    How's that? Does selling regular beer already contribute to underage drinking? Does Cali have a separate under 21 "beer" ID?

  10. I am fed up with these people who want to turn every single adult pleasure into something miserable, to avoid the chance that children might want to imitate them.

    I agree, and I'm further fed up with attempts to infantalize college students and young adults. Once people can vote the government should leave them alone. "Underage drinking" is only a construct of the completely retarded prohibitionist laws in this country. I didn't magically become more responsible at 12:01 AM March 3, 2003. In fact, I stood outside a bar with some friends (already drunk from beer consumed at their place) and declared that through some sort of transubstantiation I was now responsible enough to buy liquor.

  11. The "thinking" seems to be that any adult appropriate/ child inappropriate activity that children might emulate can't be allowed to exist at all, because kids might do it illegally.

    You can apply this to anything from video games to alcohol to internet porn. The only way to keep the world "safe" for people who are "children" until they're 21 (more like 25) is to severely restrict what people can do who are over 21.

    This and it's sister concept "Even one tragedy is too many, and must be prevented regardless of cost." are the impetus behind most of our nanny state laws.

  12. I am opposed to this legislation purely because like bad fashion, people out in bars drinking these malternatives readily identify themselves as idiots, and thus can be instantly culled from the potential mate list. That being said, much like the smoking ban I can't deny I'd appreciate the side effects of seeing these drinks less and less. Doesn't make it right, tho.

  13. "more like 25"

    What's limited till age 25? Being able to rent a car? That's dumb, but not as dumb as not being able to drink till 3 yrs after they can conscript you to get blown up in a foreign country.

    "I'm further fed up with attempts to infantalize college students and young adults."

    Yeah, I was watching Fox News this morning (that bastion of liberal thinking), and some dude- he wasn't even that old, maybe 42, was going off about Howard Stern's new show and how vulgar it is and how no one should be allowed to listen to it till they're "of drinking age." So apparently it's ok for 18 yr olds to go cap towelheads, but we can't let them hear about titties. Come on.

  14. What's limited till age 25? Being able to rent a car?

    I think the point was the despite being legally an adult at 18 and legally able to do everything at 21, our culture doesn't treat or view people as real adults until they're around 25 or so. I would say it's actually closer to 30.

    And as far as I know, that age limit on car rental is a product of the insurance companies not the government. You can usually rent a car below that age if you are willing to pay a premium.

  15. Wouldn't it be more accurate to reclassify Zima and Mike's as "girly drinks"? Arnold could do public service announcements.

  16. If we ban soccer, there will be no ignorant soccer moms to protect from themselves.

  17. I think that we should ban these fruity cocktails. They are a gateway drug. Kids discover these insidiously sweet, fruity alcohol drinks and then next thing you know they are shooting black tar heroin. We must protect the children!!

    Seriously, Zima got me away from wine and into beers. Now I drink barley wine instead.

  18. If we ban soccer, there will be no ignorant soccer moms to protect from themselves.

    They'd just find another organized kids activity to live vicariously through, and choke all the fun out of.

  19. Sens. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, and Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont, also pledged to push legislation to reclassify the beverages...

    See? There are still a few differences between Democrats and Republicans. Whenever I see food-police legislation being proposed by some nitwit busybody, it's usually (but not always) a Democrat holding the press conference.

  20. You can usually rent a car below that age if you are willing to pay a premium.

    $10/day in most cases, which isn't too bad.

    Now I drink barley wine instead.

    The FDA requires Barleywine sold in the US to be labeled "Barleywine Style Ale" because it technically isn't wine. Good to know that the government is always and everywhere retarded.

  21. Hmm. Now I'm starting to wonder why I feel weird after I have a couple of those ice teas from Long Island. Is there alcohol in those?

  22. I'm just waiting for some do-gooder asshole to require that all condoms be made out of barbed wire

    I'm pretty sure there's already a website somewhere on the internet where you can buy those...

  23. "The real objection of the activists who filed the suit is not to the origin of the ethanol but to the taste, which they think makes these products dangerously appealing to minors."

    Those "candy-flavored boozes" (nice one Jennifer) have always seemed to me like variously colored antacids crushed up and mixed with cheap vodka. If I were a three year old, I'd still go for the Kentucky bourbon and copious amounts of beer to wash it down with.

  24. OLDE FOTRAN 800 BABY!!

    QR
    #t(@
    @R
    @S
    RSQ
    @K@
    #KQ7
    RSQ@
    @%GC(7Q/
    #@K%C6QKCCC6@
    (@%CC3%C3CC%CCCC6Q
    GCCC%C3CC66CCCsCCC@
    sQ3C6CCCC%CCC3CCCCC%C7
    @6%CCCCCOC6CsCCC66O%s@
    GsCCC36CC6CC6%%CC%CC%@
    GC36C3s%CCCCsCC%C%C%CsG
    sCCC666CCCCC6%CC%CCsRG%#7
    C6%C63CRQGC3C77%7(t((t((7Q^
    sC3CC@C((t((7QG#K#@@@@@@@@G7Q
    S6CCO#(t((@%/%O@@@@@@O(//R@@sC
    QsCC6st(%@ CG @@s@
    @OCCC%((%R/C@ RC @@7@
    @OO3s@(((@/ (R/ @#R(
    @s3CCCQC(t%%GQRQQQ##QGCGC((7R
    GGCCCsCCCG36SGQKSSSGsss
    Gs6C6CCCCCCCCCCs6CC6CC3
    /@CCC3Cs3GSQQQ#QRGQS@@Q
    @3%C@@(@///%///((((
    @CCOR/(@(O%O%%((((((
    GCCs@%(@///%////(((C
    CCCCG@(@%%CQ%%%%O(/#C
    sC3C%CCGGQQ#QQGGG6CC#@
    @((%@#3CC3%C3CC%CCCCsQC((Q7
    #Qt((t((7%Q#R@QK@Q#QG37((t((7@
    %3((t(((((((t((t((t((t(tt((t(t((t@
    %7t((t((t((((tt((((((((t(tt(t((t(((#C

  25. Those "candy-flavored boozes" (nice one Jennifer) have always seemed to me like variously colored antacids crushed up and mixed with cheap vodka. If I were a three year old, I'd still go for the Kentucky bourbon and copious amounts of beer to wash it down with.

    Bleech.

    "Cask and Cream Chocolate Temptations Liqueur." Mmmmmm. Like a liquid candy bar, only you get a buzz.

  26. once their youngsters start stumbling around, slurring their words, and crashing their tricycles.

    Not really on-topic, but on the telly the other day I saw the story of a woman who's young son (maybe 5 or 6) was served milk or juice with booze in it at Applebee's or some such place. He took like one sip. It was a mildly funny story, until the mom started going on about the trauma of it all and her son now has nightmares about spinning and has to go to therapy and the therapist says he has post traumatic stress. Talk about angling for settlement money, sheesh.

  27. Those candy flavor drinks are so sweet and tasty that there is almost instantanious addition. It is the methamphetamine of alcohol.

  28. If we are really all that worried about children imitating the dangerous though otherwise legal activities of adults, then driving has got to go.

  29. So they're helpful to math-impaired kids, JimL?

  30. Timothy, when's the last time you saw real wine cooler in a store? Isn't all that stuff flavored malt liquor now?

  31. A few observations in no particular order.

    1 The nanny staters have been around on this topic for a while. As an 80's child growing up in Colorado, I remember the hullabaloo about a proposition to allow groceries and convenience stores to sell 3.2% alcohol beer. The commercial went something like.."if this new law passes, our children could end up handling beer in grocery stores. They won't even be old enough to drink it, yet they could be required to pack it into a customer's grocery sack." Oh, the horror!

    2. Despite this potential new law, California is one of the most convenient places I have ever lived for buying liquor. You can buy any and every kind of booze and wine right there in the Ralphs grocery store. It was so much easier than PA, where I live now.

    3. In PA, you can't buy anything in grocery stores. Wine and hard liquors are only available in the state monopolized package stores. Beer is only available by the case in special 'beer' stores. However, in an arrangement that aptly illustrates the total absurdity of the laws, you can go into a bar and buy up to two six-packs of beer 'to go'.

  32. If we are really all that worried about children imitating the dangerous though otherwise legal activities of adults, then driving has got to go.

    Stephen M,

    They are already tring that. It's called public transportation some of the time, and the Katrina victims can tell you some of the less-obvious downside. The rest of the time it is called man-made global warming, despite the evidence to the contrary.

    https://reason.com/9810/fe.baliunas.shtml

  33. 3. In PA, you can't buy anything in grocery stores. Wine and hard liquors are only available in the state monopolized package stores. Beer is only available by the case in special 'beer' stores. However, in an arrangement that aptly illustrates the total absurdity of the laws, you can go into a bar and buy up to two six-packs of beer 'to go'.

    A couple years back, PA tried an experiment with allowing a few grocery stores to sell beer. By all counts it was a success, as the grocery stores got more business, consumers had it easier, and no children got into any trouble because of it. Of course, activist groups still howled and raged about it and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that licensed beer distriutors had a hand in that. I don't know exactly what the final outcome was, but I know I still can't buy beer in the supermarket.

  34. "... said that by allowing the beverages to be sold as beer all over California, the state is contributing to underage drinking."

    Um, if that's true, doesn't that make an argument for stricter regulation of beer, as well? (If you accept the prohibitionist premise in the first place, which I don't).

    Or is it a tacit admission that maybe beer isn't that big of a deal and/or it is virtually impossible to keep "minors" from getting it.

    I think the folks that say this is all about taxes have it about right.

  35. I was sure I had something to say about this, but in the process of reading this thread I laughed so hard that I forgot what it was.
    "Girlie drinks"
    "math-impaired"
    "crashing their tricycles"

    Heh.

  36. Oh, and 'iced teas from Long Island'. Whoot!

  37. Is there a way to protect myself from laws which protect peiople with less than an 85 IQ for the real world? I don't know of anyone who would be stupid enough to buy hard lemonade for their kids with all the safeguards already in place as described by other posters.

    And if the parents ARE that stupid I bet those kids could really use a drink!!

  38. "Is there a way to protect myself from laws which protect peiople with less than an 85 IQ for the real world?"

    yes, but the downside is that you'll most likely die in a hail of bullets from cops while you're reloading. and all the stupid people you don't kill will point to you as an example of a regular olde gun nut.

  39. Timothy, when's the last time you saw real wine cooler in a store? Isn't all that stuff flavored malt liquor now?

    I've seen plenty of wine coolers, they also sell that Arbor Mist and Boones Farm stuff in the grocery, which I guess are technically wines but are chock full of sugar. Taste like candy...gross candy, but candy none-the-less.

  40. From the Public Law Group website:

    "beer is taxed at 20 cents a gallon compared to $3.30 a gallon for distilled spirits. Imposing the proper tax rate will raise the price and reduce alcopops' appeal to young people. It will also put an end to alcopops producers' $54 million a year tax dodge."

  41. Mac Daddy- in Ohio, the law used to require a 21 yr old to scan beer in supermarkets. If you bought a 12-pack and the cashier was 18, they were instructed to recoil in horror, as if the beer was a fresh steaming turd.

    PA has some odd laws concerning strip clubs. They can't sell beer, but they can charge a cover and "give" beer away. Liquor is BYOB, IIRC.

  42. PA has some odd laws concerning strip clubs. They can't sell beer, but they can charge a cover and "give" beer away. Liquor is BYOB, IIRC.

    I think that's just the fully nude clubs. I went to one in Pittsburgh that did the give-away deal with dreadful Iron City beer. You can also bring in your own. The two six packs from a bar think works great if you don't know about this in advance.

    The pasties and g-string clubs can serve alcohol. If I remember right, CT has similar laws.

  43. Rafuzo, drink choice is a very bad litmus test for a potential GF.

  44. Thomas Szasz sez:
    Why do children want to grow up? Because they experience their lives as constrained by immaturity and perceive adulthood as a condition of greater freedom and opportunity. But what is there today, in America, that very poor and very rich adolescents want to do but cannot do? Not much: they can "do" drugs, "have" sex, "make" babies, and "get" money (from their parents, crime, or the State). For such adolescents, adulthood becomes synonymous with responsibility rather than liberty. Is it any surprise that they remain adolescents?

  45. I don't know exactly what the final outcome was, but I know I still can't buy beer in the supermarket.

    And people keep saying Utah has the strictest liquor laws. At least here you can get your cold 3.2 beer at any grocery or convenience store.

    For harder stuff you have to go to the State monopoly stores. Our kids need hot lunches at school, ya know.

    PA has some odd laws concerning strip clubs. They can't sell beer, but they can charge a cover and "give" beer away. Liquor is BYOB, IIRC.

    The pasties and g-string clubs can serve alcohol. If I remember right, CT has similar laws.

    Utah is the same. Fully-nude clubs can only serve soft drinks.

    I didn't know PA and CT were part of "Red America".

  46. Zima: Instant headache in a bottle.

    I miss wine coolers made with wine.

  47. > In PA, you can't buy anything in grocery stores. Wine and hard liquors are only available in the state monopolized package stores.

    This is true in South Carolina as well, where the package stores are required to identify themselves by the display of large red dots. It seems like it would be very difficult for problem drinkers in the state to pass by a liquor store without wanting to stop, considering they are all adorned with a simple geometric shape in the most attention-getting of the primary colors.

  48. "It will also put an end to alcopops producers' $54 million a year tax dodge."

    Holy crap. Can anyone translate that from Newspeak to regular English?

  49. alcopop: propagandists' name for alcohol-containing beverages that taste and/ or are packaged like sodapop or other soft drinks in order to impugn the producers' motivations for selling said alcoholic beverage by implying that they are trying to make our children into teenage alcoholics, rather than simply expanding their customer base to include people who don't like the taste of beer or other traditional alcoholic beverages

  50. by the way Jennifer, in the name of The Kids in the Hall, I declare you a girl drink drunk

    in these condoms of barbed wire you envision, are the barbs on the inside or the outside?

  51. on the inside. Otherwise they're 'vile tools of the patriarchy' dontchaknow.

    Jake
    (who wishes he was joking)

  52. "It will also put an end to alcopops producers' $54 million a year tax dodge."

    Holy crap. Can anyone translate that from Newspeak to regular English?

    It means, "they're not paying the government enough money".

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.