Refreshing malternatives/alcopops

I'm a fan of these drinks. And the alcohol content often exceeds 5%. Mike's Harder Lemonade is 8%. And I saw a margarita drink at 7/11 that had 12%! Drink responsibly.

"While wine receives far more attention in the press, soda-pop-flavored drinks made from malt make up the fastest-growing category of alcoholic beverages by far. Yes, the same malt used to make beer.

Without the hops that give beer its refreshing bitterness, "malternatives" (malt alternatives) or RTDs (ready-to-drink) are sweet, mostly carbonated beverages -- Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Silver, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Skyy Blue and Jim Beam Original Hard Cola, to name a few.

"We sell a lot of them," says Kirk Bakken, owner of Sake-Tini, a Napa bar and restaurant that attracts a young crowd. "They're popular with people new to drinking, and they're easy to drink."

"They're popular because they taste good," adds Darryl M. Roberts, the editor and publisher of Wine X, a Santa Rosa-based wine magazine for young adults.

The new drinks contain about the same amount of alcohol -- 5 percent -- as popular beers, and are priced like premium and imported beers.

Unlike beer, however, malternatives are rarely drunk with food. They're very popular at clubs. "You can screw the top back on, then get up and dance," notes Roberts. And they're refreshing.

Aimed at young drinkers who've grown up on Coca Cola and Sprite, the beverages inflame critics who claim they target underage drinkers. They call the drinks "alcopops" and have campaigned to counter the massive advertising efforts by the beer and liquor companies selling the malternatives.

Some people even contend that their real purpose is to promote their namesake spirits, which can't be advertised on television, though the malternatives can.

"The spirits companies get their brand names in front of young people. It's brilliant marketing," contends Roberts.

The drinks are inexpensive to make, take advantage of tax breaks for low- alcohol malt beverages and can be sold in many places where wine cannot, such as sporting events and at supermarkets in some states. Overseas, where laws vary, the beverages are generally mixes of spirits and flavors rather than being based on malt.

The malt beverages benefit from the marketing muscle of major beer and spirits companies, and that power is paying off.

New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp. expects sales to approach 100 million cases this year, up from 70 million in 2001. The malternatives now represent 3 percent of the U.S. beer market, he notes..."

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