Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Bitter Taste

Yello's Hard LemonadeFruit flavored bottled alcoholic drinks were in the news in Maryland this week. At the last minute, Governor Martin “Rockstar” O’Malley declined to sign a bill that would have treated flavored malt-beverage drinks such as Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade like beer instead of distilled spirits. This law was pushed by the liquor industry to allow these sweet drinks to be sold wherever beer can be sold and to avoid the much stiffer taxes on hard liquor. It’s all rather arcane, but the Baltimore Sun summed it up pretty well:
If the bill is vetoed, he said, the drinks will be taxed at $1.50 a gallon, the same rate as spirits, instead of the 9 cents a gallon of beer.
Flavored malt beverages, or “alcopops” as opponents call them, are usually less than 5% alcohol, much like beer. Most liquor, like my favorite, Jack Daniels, is around 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. That means that the effective rate for booze is 3¢ an ounce of actual alcohol while a 3.5 beer is 2¢ per liquid ounce of alcohol. Sounds fair enough.

Since the Maryland Attorney General ruled that alcopops are distilled liquor, they should be taxed higher. The effective rate would then become 23¢ an ounce of actual alcohol. This amounts to a tax of about 14¢ a bottle for a sweet drink versus less than a penny for a beer.

That’s enough to get a hard lemonade drinker like me up into a Boston Twisted Tea Party level frenzy. It’s bad enough these drinks cost more than a six pack of beer for just four bottles, now the state wants to nick me for an extra dime on every bottle. I’m outraged.

Opponents of these drinks call them gateway drinks because no teenager has ever drunk a beer despite its bad taste. A rather alarmist editorial in the Washington Post ranted this way:
The drinks, known as "alcopops," "malternatives" and "flavored alcoholic beverages," are popular with young and underage drinkers. Dressed up to taste like lemonade, iced tea and various berry-flavored juices, they are designed to appeal to people who haven't yet developed a palate for booze itself. Wrapped in splashy, multicolored packaging and promoted by images of fresh-faced drinkers who in some instances look college-age, "alcopops" are a hit with entry-level drinkers, especially women (emphasis mine). They are, as Mr. O'Malley put it, "a gateway type of thing."

Now I’m being insulted. I’m a man (last time I checked) that has been drinking for the last 28 years of my life (don’t do the math, Dad) and have never really acquired the taste of beer. Sure, I’ll drink it if there isn’t anything else, but at picnics and other gatherings I like a nice sweet mild intoxicant.

They way to keep alcohol out of the hands of kids is not to make it harder, more annoying, and more expensive for legal adults to enjoy the drink of their preference. In the past twenty-five years, there has been a serious ratcheting down by what I call the No Fun Allowed Crowd. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have put into place serious restrictions that have arguably saved lives. On the other hand, I have an outraged teen-age son that has to register with Selective Service next month but can’t legally enjoy a refreshing fruity alcoholic malt beverage with his dad for three more years.

And that sucks. Like bitter, sour hard lemonade.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Are so called alcopops any different from beer?


Dave2 said...

I'm still waiting for a beer-flavored alcopop.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

That is ridiculous. Does that include wine coolers too?

btw, what the hell did Blogger do to the capchas? They're making them so goofy looking lately it takes me 3 tries just to figure out what they are!

yellojkt said...

I'm glad it's not just me. The captchas are nearly illegible. Someone really upped the character recognition of the spambots and now we have to pay the price.

2fs said...

"Are so-called 'alcopops' any different from beer?"

Yeah - they're way too sickly sweet to drink.

Nah I agree with you: it doesn't make sense to tax them any differently. And the "gateway drink" thing is ridiculous: teens have always tried to drink, no matter what the drink tastes like. And yes, a lot of teens prefer sweeter tastes to the more bitter or subtle tastes of the sorts of drinks more preferred by adults...but that doesn't mean they won't drink if such drinks are harder to obtain. They'll just mix them into their Mountain Dew like we did when we were younger.

trusty getto said...

Sorry, I can't answer the question. I only drink beer that you can't see through, and when that's not around, I switch over to whisky.

I like the "if you're responsible enough to shoot at people overseas, then you're probably responsible enough to suck down a cold one" argument. It doesn't address the tax issue, though . . .

Anonymous said...

The alcopops are pretty much in the "ecch" range for me. Even if I want a sweet alcoholic drink I'll make my own. Did you try the Hawaiian Punch I made at last year's pig roast?

That said, I don't think that the tax should be changed on them, given their relatively low alcohol content.

Mooselet said...

We're having this same debate over in Australia, with government raising the tax on these drinks in order to curb "binge drinking" by our teens, who can legally drink at 18 but often start much younger.

I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I like these drinks (hate, hate, HATE beer) and so I don't want to be penalised for others irresponsibility. On the other hand, aside from 5 fingers, these drinks are marketed toward a much younger set. I also think the sweet taste of these drinks allows those with no experience to go from sober to alcohol poisoning really quickly as the taste of the booze is practically non-existent.

In the end, I don't think higher taxes are the answer. Education of the younger set and a realization, at least in Oz, that if you promote a drinking culture then you shouldn't be surprised when the kids take you up on it.

yellojkt said...

I think mixed drinks are easier to drink too much of. A Long Island Iced Tea will knock you on your ass before you know it.

And I don't mind lagers, but I can't deal with chewy beers you need a knife and fork for.

marty mankins said...

Utah just banned the sale of so-called "alcopops" in the grocery stores. The ban will not take effect until later this year, but the legislature didn't waste anytime focusing on the "less than 1% of teens have purchased these illegally in the grocery stores" statistic.

This ruling basically told anyone over the age of 21: We ignored all of you and are now treating you like children, even though the majority of you are responsible adults that like a good tasting drink"

Another nail in the coffin here is the majority on the DABC are non-drinkers, as are at least 90% of the state legislature.

So people that don't drink make the laws and rules for those that do.

I agree with your stance on all of this frustration. It seems there is less and less trust for us drinking, responsible adults.