Alcohol

The Kick of a (Really Weak) Cocktail

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On Friday The New York Times ran a surprisingly balanced story about the crusade against "alcopops," flavored malt beverages such as Mike's Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice that supposedly entice teenagers into drinking because they taste so darned good. In addition to noting (in the 16th paragraph) a 2003 Federal Trade Commission report that "found no evidence that the industry had intentionally focused on minors," the Times undermines the anti-alcopop thesis with some teenager-in-the-hallway interviews:

At McClatchy High School here in Sacramento, several students acknowledged that drinking was common but they described alcopops as the drink of last resort.

"Most high school students drink with a purpose: to get drunk," said Nina Hankard, 17, a senior. "Alcopops are not very effective unless you are a lightweight."

She and several other girls said teenagers prefer shots of whiskey or vodka, chased with soda.

Julia Jones, 17, said drinking a syrupy beverage seemed counterproductive.

"Personally, I want to get the drinking part over with," Ms. Jones said. "You want something fast. It's not about walking around, nursing a drink."

Ms. Hankard said her earliest experience with drinking involved an alcopop. But the drink was not exactly a stepping stone.

"Kids don't need a transfer drink," she said. "They are going to go to hard liquor anyway. It's not like we need to be trained."

This almost makes up for the lead, which describes the object of activists' ire as "flavored alcoholic beverages that look and taste like soda but offer the kick of a cocktail." Since a "cocktail" can have any alcohol content at all, ranging from zero for a Shirley Temple to nearly 50 percent for a dry martini, this is not, strictly speaking, false. But it is certainly misleading, since the alcohol content of flavored malt beverages is 5 percent or so, about the same as beer.

That is why the California proposal to classify and tax these drinks at the same rate as liquor makes no sense.  "If beer has alcohol in it, it's a distilled spirit," one supporter of the 1,550-percent tax hike tells the Times. "It doesn't matter what you start with. You look at the end product." Since all beer has alcohol in it, he presumably means added alcohol. But according to the manufacturers, any added alcohol in these products comes from flavorings; the main source of the alcohol, as with beer, is fermentation of grain, not distillation. In any event, as California Board of Equalization member Bill Leonard has pointed out, the legal standard under which flavored malt beverages count as liquor would apply to the vast majority of beer and wine sold in California. 

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  1. Julia Jones, 17, said drinking a syrupy beverage seemed counterproductive.
    Julia Jones is making a large gambel that her parents don’t read the New York Times.

  2. It’s been my experiance that teenagers go for hard liquor, not because they’re in a hurry to get drunk, but because they need a more compact form that they can conceal and transport without getting caught. Also, they have terrible taste in booze.

  3. The Islamo-fsacists have won. About 20 years ago.

  4. I saw a similar story about a product called Spykes(A 12% alcohol malt beverage that can be added to beer to make it taste like mango, lime chocolate, etc). They hammered the “marketing alcohol to children” while interviewing several high school parents and teacher who said that both that they’d never heard of Spykes and that it was “definitely being marketed to children(AKA late teens). They claim this even though the product in question is only sold in liquor stores and bars, where at least in theory, you must be 21 to even be inside.

  5. I liked Ms. Jones’ statement about wanting something fast… reminds me of Nick the Bartender – “We serve hard drinks here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need any characters around to give the joint atmosphere.”

  6. Proof? We don’t have no proof.
    We don’t need no stinking proof!

  7. Re: Hurting the Children. Fox News ran a story about the Cocaine energy drink and candy flavored drugs. The host referred to ‘drug dealers roping in your kids’ at least 6 times in the short piece. It seemed to me, and maybe I’m wrong, that she was scaring the hell out of a lot of parents about candy-flavored drugs, when IIRC, the issue was drug-flavored candy.

  8. I saw a similar story about a product called Spykes(A 12% alcohol malt beverage that can be added to beer to make it taste like mango, lime chocolate, etc). They hammered the “marketing alcohol to children” while interviewing several high school parents and teacher who said that both that they’d never heard of Spykes and that it was “definitely being marketed to children(AKA late teens). They claim this even though the product in question is only sold in liquor stores and bars, where at least in theory, you must be 21 to even be inside.
    They played a story on that at our local station too. It’s prom season, so it is only natural that all of these type of stories kick up in order to, in vain, prevent the “Prom queen dies tragicly” stories.

  9. This is exactly what I’ve been saying. Our culture of prohibition, promotes drug abuse. In this case, alcohol being prohibited to under 21. Now I’m all in favor of age limits. (I’d rather see it at 18, but thats a quibble.) The problem is how the law is taken as ethical authority.

    We can’t legalize (currently illegal) drugs because the only reason not to take drugs is they are illegal, and if that changed we would be ‘sending a message to the children’ that they should take drugs. And here we have the corollary, since it’s illegal it’s bad. We must never let our children drink until their 21’st birthday when they will wake up with the maturity to drink responsibly. The reason these teenagers drink irresponsibly must be because they’re too young. The need to get drunk fast can’t have anything to do with the need to avoid getting caught.

    So, alcopop isn’t a stepping-stone to hard liquor, but booze is still the first stepping-stone to hard drugs (many times over non-toxic marijuana).

  10. Hell, the best part of prom season is the “Prom queen dies tragically” story.

    Also, if the beverage in question is being marked to “kids,” why had none of the interviewed chillun ever heard of it?

  11. “If beer has alcohol in it, it’s a distilled spirit,” one supporter of the 1,550-percent tax hike tells the Times.

    I’ve got about 25 cases of homebrewed beer in my basement – beer that was naturally fermented by single-celled organisms, thus converting the sugar from the grains into alcohol and Co2, and had no part in any distillation process – that disagrees with this idiot’s statement. If beer is distilled, then it’s no longer beer. I’ve had distilled beer, and it’s like vodka.

    People this ignorant and uninformed should be rounded up and sent to camps.

    “In any event, as California Board of Equalization member Bill Leonard has pointed out, the legal standard under which flavored malt beverages count as liquor would apply to the vast majority of beer and wine sold in California.”

    Yeah, good luck imposing this crazy tax on wine and beer in California—the wine capitol of this country, and home to hundreds of craft breweries.

    I mean, the stupid laws against distilled stuff are ridiculous and inconsistent in the first place. My wife and I can legally brew 200 gallons of beer in our basement each year (in fact, I brewed 120 gallons during the second half of last year). 120 gallons is more than enough to kill me many, many times over, if drunk in quick enough succession. But if I were to, say, take a few gallons and distill it in a stovetop still, I’m suddenly breaking federal law. Makes perfect sense, right?

  12. She and several other girls said teenagers prefer shots of whiskey or vodka, chased with soda.

    “Personally, I want to get the drinking part over with,” Ms. Jones said. “You want something fast. It’s not about walking around, nursing a drink.”

    Exactly the kind of behavior that is promoted under a prohibitionist regime, in short. The nannies must be so proud.

  13. “Hell, the best part of prom season is the “Prom queen dies tragically” story.”

    actually, the best part was gettin the lil heifer dog-ass drunk and fuckin her brains out

  14. “If beer has alcohol in it, it’s a distilled spirit,” one supporter of the 1,550-percent tax hike tells the Times. “It doesn’t matter what you start with. You look at the end product.”

    Has this guy considered thinking about the actual words he’s saying? To ‘distill’ is to use heat to vaporize a low-alcohol solution, then differentially re-condensing the vapor in such a way that more water is lost than alcohol, thus strengthening the spirit to anywhere from 20% by volume to 95% by volume (passing 95% being chemically impossible by distillation). The definition of non-distilled spirits being alcoholic beverages where the alcohol is added by fermentation and which has not been through any distillation process.

    So yes, it does matter where the alcohol comes from, at least if you plan to use the term ‘distilled’.

    As for targetting, those beverages are targetted at people like my fiancee, who despite having gone through a shots stage, has now decided that she doesn’t like liquor if she can taste it, and so has restricted her drinking to wine, cider, fruity margarita-esque cocktails, and your various ‘cooler’ type beverages. Admittedly, the coolers are her last choice, but they’re definitely aimed at 20-somethings who don’t like wine or beer, and don’t want to mix their own cocktails, but still want to have a drink.

    Evan,

    Welcome to the world of federal tax revenuers. Australians are big homebrewers, and also big home-distillers. It’s a big part of their homebrew market.

  15. It’s prom season

    With prom season, Memorial Day weekend, the 4th, Labor Day weekend, Halloween, Thanksgiving weekend, New Years Eve, Valentines Day, and St Patrick’s Day nicely spread out through the year, there’s always an excuse to worry about teenagers getting drunk.

    A fact for which the fear-industrial complex is surely thankful (if not responsible).

  16. Oops, sorry for the shouting. Didn’t close my bold tag properly.

  17. I will fight against the crusade against Mike’s Hard Lemonade on one condition: they agree never to show their God awful ads with the condescending bottle of puke they sell as alcohol again.

  18. actually, the best part was gettin the lil heifer dog-ass drunk and fuckin her brains out
    What about fucking the brains out of the heifer ass while the prom queen dies in the front seat?

    With prom season, Memorial Day weekend, the 4th, Labor Day weekend, Halloween, Thanksgiving weekend, New Years Eve, Valentines Day, and St Patrick’s Day nicely spread out through the year, there’s always an excuse to worry about teenagers getting drunk.
    All of the other seasons usually have soft(?)news stories about people getting drunk in general, not just teenagers. (“Drive safe tonight folks; the SHPD is doing checkpoints!”) At least from what I’ve noticed, prom season is usually the one news cycle where the “don’t drink” cycle is all about the kids.

    I will fight against the crusade against Mike’s Hard Lemonade on one condition: they agree never to show their God awful ads with the condescending bottle of puke they sell as alcohol again.
    They haven’t shown the ads for years now. I bearly remember what they where about.

  19. Also, they have terrible taste in booze.

    Our teenage parties in the 1970s involved quarter-kegs of genessee cream ale and our go-to hard liquor of choice, apricot brandy.

  20. Well, for what it’s worth, the underage kids I bought for last night wanted two 6-packs of Blue Moon Summer Ale and one 6-pack of Alcho-pop.

  21. [name withheld],
    We know you’re lying because it said in the article that kids only drink hard liquor. Q.E.D.

    If I’m a high school kid, and I show up at a party with Mike’s Hard Lemonade, I’m either a) a huge loser, or b) doing it ironically.
    If cool kids start drinking it, that’s when you can get worried. But they won’t. Because it has 5% alcohol or less.

  22. hey lunch:

    “lunchstealer | April 16, 2007, 1:01pm”

    quote the bold statement, there!

  23. So, offhand, I remember the price of 750ml of vodka being about 10 bucks for the average 80 proof version, and the price of Mike’s hard lemonade at about 7 bucks for a six pack that’s about 5-10 proof.

    So the goal is to raise the tax and make it as expensive or more expensive than the lower end hard liquors. Won’t that just encourage the children to buy the cheaper stuff that they can get hammered with faster with fewer drinks?

    Of course, none of this matters as we must obviously ‘do something’ to ‘protect’ the little wankers from the evils of a slight buzz.

  24. Where were these chicks wehn I was in high school? Or even college..

    All the girls I knew drank that weak fruity shit.

  25. Mike’s Hard Lemonade was cool for about 5 seconds in 1997 before people realized that it is in fact fruit-flavored shit beer and not hard lemonade. Really it was just another version of a “wine cooler” that was marketed under a different name to coincide with the growing popularity of hard cider at the time.

    But of course hard cider is real. Seems to me that a real hard lemonade might actually be good.

  26. Our teenage parties in the 1970s involved quarter-kegs of genessee cream ale and our go-to hard liquor of choice, apricot brandy.

    Ah, Genny! When I go back upstate to visit the ‘rents, I down one after another in order to tolerate the isolation and boredom, but I never get drunk. It’s just a low, steady buzz.

    “Most high school students drink with a purpose: to get drunk,” said Nina Hankard, 17, a senior. “Alcopops are not very effective unless you are a lightweight.”

    You just KNOW they only talked to the cool kids. Average kids are either not drinking, or are sneaking (or given) an occasional beer from their parents.

  27. In my underage days, Mike’s was the chaser for the liquor. It works well in that context, and it’s nice mixed 50%50 with vodka in any case.

  28. Average kids are either not drinking, or are sneaking (or given) an occasional beer from their parents.

    Or, giving the finger to conformity entirely, and sniffing the Liquid Paper.

  29. Sheesh, that guy saying “alcohol equals distilled spirit” has obviously never had a gallon of unpasturized cider in his fridge that went fizzy…(the only way I used to be able to get hard cider here in the US.)

    Heck, if the kids want to get drunk, they can always start swigging from Mom’s vanilla bottle.

  30. “Our teenage parties in the 1970s involved quarter-kegs”

    Quarterkegs? Must have been small parties.

    Ortonville, Mi. 1971

  31. Holy shit, my cousin grew up in Ortonville (granted, far after 1971). I’m from Flint, myself.

  32. When I go back upstate to visit the ‘rents, I down one after another in order to tolerate the isolation and boredom.

    You kidding. I love upstate NY. From Buffalo to Syracuse and all across the finger lakes. Good times and noodle salad. In fact I’ll be in Rochester for the annual RIT spring Juggle-In in two weeks. My favorite event in my favorite city.

    It’s true what you say about Genessee Beer though. It’s little more than the Genessee river in a can. Of course I’ve seen people develop film in the Genesee.

  33. I gotta agree with Jackson above. Kids must have changed a lot in the last 20 years because when I was in high school in New Hampshire the girls mostly just drank wine coolers or spiked punch, the cooler girls might drink beer. No one drank much hard stuff straight, except for peppermint schnapps on the ski slope. The sweeter the beverage the more likely you could get the girls to drink it.

  34. I started drinking in high school. My choice of drink was pretty much guided by my older brother (he a senior, I a freshman). The first was a pint of cheap vodka and some OJ. After that I tried beer, but quickly developed a like for the “ice” varieties which contain more alcohol. Now as an adult, when I drink, I drink light beers so I can prolong the drinking part. It’s not much fun being exceptionally drunk because then I end up having to quit before everyone else (I’m in a band and if conditions are right, we can drink for as long as 12 hours; although it’s usually more like 6). If things are going too slow, you can always take a shot to catch up.

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