Lynn M. Walding, Administrator
e - NEWS
June 6, 2003
Vodka is the most popular spirit in the
United States. New bottlings hit retailers’ shelves on a regular basis. How
do you decide which brand to buy?
Vodka is the most popular spirit in the United States. New bottlings hit retailers’ shelves on a regular basis. How do you decide which brand to buy?
Some vodka aficionados favor rye-based vodkas, others find that wheated vodkas are more to their taste, while still others shun anything made from grain, preferring potato vodkas. For another subset of vodka drinkers, the base ingredient doesn’t matter at all—but they will only buy vodkas made from pure glacial water or insist that their vodka be filtered through diamond dust.
Don’t recognize yourself in any of these profiles? That puts you in the majority. Even sophisticated vodka drinkers buy this clear, unflavored, yet still-mysterious spirit based on price, packaging or habit. To these people, the fine points of how vodkas are made don’t matter. But should they? Do these methods, in fact, make any significant difference in the way most people perceive their flavors?
We decided to take a look at vodkas new to the U. S. market since the beginning of last year. We asked the distillers of each vodka about the importance of their water sources, the base ingredients used and their filtration methods. Not surprisingly, these technicalities matter a great deal to the distillers themselves.
It Starts With Water
Why do vodka producers keep boasting that the water they use to make their spirit comes from ancient springs, glaciers and century-old wells? We thought these were little more than marketing ploys. After all, doesn’t distillation remove everything but H2O and alcohol? Apparently not. According to almost everyone we interviewed, certain aspects of the source water can make a big difference.
“The hardness of the water, caused mainly by the presence of calcium and magnesium, is relatively easy to alter by a number of methods, and soft water is important to the process,” says Pat Couteaux, master distiller of Shakers. Elements such as sulfur, iron and nitrates are very difficult to eliminate from water, so it’s important that these aren’t present in the source. Zinc, potassium and a few other minerals, however, are important to the fermentation process. In essence, the water shouldn’t be completely devoid of minerals—just the ones that would result in offensive tastes and odors.
Monsell Darville, vice president and group marketing director of Bacardi U.S.A., and a representative of Türi Estonian Vodka, agrees. “It is important to start with a very good, clean and odor-free water,” he says. “Compared to waters around the world, the water in Estonia is among the purest on the planet. [Although certain processes] can remove carbonates and other minerals, if there is a mustiness, or sulfur compounds that cause an off odor, the [processes] will not remove all of these smells.”
Water isn’t responsible for the character of individual vodkas, says Alexandre Gabriel, producer of Citadelle. What’s important is what isn’t in the water. “We distill our water to soften it,” he says. “If you start with bad-quality water, some of those elements will go through and alter the taste [of the vodka].” The source of the water, then, is very important indeed.
Spuds, Grains, Fruits
Since vodka comes out of the still at a very high proof—around 90 percent of the spirit is pure alcohol—you might think that its primary ingredient doesn’t matter very much. After all, pure alcohol is pure alcohol, right? But it isn’t that simple. Different kinds of vodka have their own individual characteristics. For example, potato vodkas seem to have a hint of sweetness not present in most grain-based vodkas, though no one seems to know why.
At St. George Spirits, in Alameda, California, distiller Lance Winters makes the very unusual Hangar One vodka from a base of both wheat and grapes, both of which are actually identifiable in this bottling. Winters claims that the raw material is, to all spirits, the most important factor. “Some flavor components have threshold values in the parts per million range [and] this was the rationale behind using the Viognier grape as part of our vodka,” he explains. “The wheat that predominates the vodka provides a clean, neutral backdrop onto which we layer the fine top-notes that aromatic white grapes provide.”
Darvill also believes that the base product is important and suggests that our palates be our best guides. His Türi vodka definitely has a rich spiciness that you might expect to come from a spirit made from 100-percent rye grain (think about the difference between rye bread and white bread). Though some distillers minimize the impact of the base ingredient on the final product, we tend to side with the majority on this point—the base product seems to be very important.
Diamonds, Charcoal, Sand, Chips
We have all heard vodka producers’ hype about their filtration process: “We filter our vodka through diamond dust/silver-birch charcoal/sand/oak chips,” and each company seems to have its own idea about which process yields the best results. Does the filtering agent really matter? The process of filtration suggests that there is an impurity in the vodka that needs to be strained out, which happens to be true of all vodkas. But it’s more true of some bottlings than others. Shakers vodka, for instance, is filtered through charcoals made from birch, coconuts and peat. This of course removes some of the character of the spirit. You might think that that is a bad thing, but Couteaux says that charcoal mixture was carefully selected to remove some elements and retain others: “We want to retain all the fruity esthers, and rid the vodka of all other characteristics,” he explains.
Representatives of Cîroc vodka pointed out that there are two types of filtration used in vodka production: “All vodkas must be filtered to make sure that it is crystal clear, known in the trade as a ‘light’ filtration. ‘Tight’ filtration, through media such as charcoal, can neutralize the character of the spirit. Cîroc is put through only a light filtration.”
Marko Karakasevik, apprentice to his father, Miles, who is the master distiller at Domaine Charbay distillery in Napa Valley, has his own views of why the subject of filtration is so hotly contested, says Karakasevic.
“All these vodkas that say they filter with diamonds or charcoal, are filtering because their distillation method is poor . . . it strips body and mouthfeel,” he says. “We lightly filter Charbay vodka to make sure it has a professional, brilliant appearance—it’s like putting a polish on.”
A vodka’s water, its base ingredient and filtration method are all important to its character. And some vodka producers seem to go to great lengths to individualize their products by differentiating their methods from those of other producers. That being said, though, the final word must come from the glass. Do you like spicy vodkas, fruity vodkas, sweeter vodkas, or vodkas with as little character as possible?
In the cocktail world—and let’s face it, most vodka ends up being mixed with other ingredients—vodka is viewed as a blank canvas onto which other flavors are painted. You aren’t likely to distinguish the nuances of a vodka’s filtration when it’s in a cosmopolitan. But if you like to sip your vodka neat, at room temperature, chilled in the freezer or in, say, a dry vodka martini, you might want to experiment with various bottlings until you find a style to suit your taste.
By Madelaine Jerousek - Register Staff Writer
Iowa college leaders would like to see an end to bar promotions that entice students with an abundance of cheap alcohol.
Advertisements for local bars' drink specials often blanket college newspapers, appear on bulletin boards, and show up in students' on- and off-campus mailboxes. The ads invite students to celebrate graduation, homecoming and sporting events with prizes, nickel pitchers and all-you-can drink specials.
Iowa alcohol awareness groups say promoting easy access to cheap alcohol encourages binge drinking and is irresponsible.
"Alcohol is nothing new on college campuses," said Lynn Walding, administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. "What's changed is the level of intoxication encouraged."
Walding said the marketing of drink specials shows the competition for young drinkers and underscores the need to review laws regarding promotions and drink specials.
He is trying to drum up support among Iowa college leaders for a statewide ban on all-you-can-drink liquor specials. He recently won the support of the Iowa Coordinating Council for Post-High School Education, a group of public and private college presidents, Iowa Board of Regents members and college trustees.
The college towns of Ames and Iowa City already have banned all-you-can-drink liquor buffets in which patrons pay one price to drink unlimited amounts of alcohol. Iowa City also has rules limiting certain kinds of promotions, such as contests involving drinking alcohol or awarding alcohol as a prize.
But city-by-city enactment of the ordinances only sends drinkers to nearby towns, Walding said, creating difficulties for small towns that often don't have the police force to deal with problems.
Alcohol awareness groups and university leaders say they are limited in the fight against binge drinking - often identified as one of the most serious concerns on campuses - without the voluntary help of bar owners or a statewide policy regulating promotions.
"If you don't have the collaboration of the community, you can't fight this problem," David Maxwell, Drake University's president, said last spring.
At Drake last school year, a downtown Des Moines bar slipped advertisements and coupons under the doors of every student in Stalnaker Residence Hall, where just 12 of 234 students are old enough to drink, Maxwell said.
The problem with promoting drink specials around college campuses is that more than half of the students on Iowa's college campuses are too young to drink legally and those who are old enough often don't know their limits, say alcohol awareness groups.
Some bar owners say they support changing laws regulating the promotion of liquor specials.
"Advertising gets out of control," said Lew Converse, who owns the College Street Billiard Club in Iowa City. "One bar will see one bar with a few more people and all of a sudden lower their prices."
Some campuses have established rules restricting who can advertise on campus. At Iowa State University, restrictions on distributing leaflets on campus have appeared to limit bar owners' reach to students, said Sara Kellogg, coordinator of ISU's substance abuse and violence prevention program.
At Buena Vista University, the Faculty Senate last year proposed banning bar or alcohol advertisements in all campus media. But the student newspaper resisted on the grounds that restrictions would limit freedom of speech and because about 30 percent of its advertising revenue comes from local bars, said newspaper adviser Jamii Claiborne.
Instead, the paper's staff developed an advertising policy requiring bar owners to place prominent disclaimers on advertisements urging students to "Drink responsibly" and "Have fun but be smart."
Jim Clayton, co-coordinator of the Stepping Up Project, an organization dedicated to fighting alcohol abuse at the University of Iowa, said his group will ask the same of the Daily Iowan, the campus newspaper, which receives about 15 percent to 20 percent of its advertising revenue from bars, according to the paper's publisher.
"Let's think for a moment who you're marketing to," Clayton said. "It's a publication that every student at the university gets for free . . . but we know more than half of people attending the school are not old enough to drink by virtue of their age."
Bill Casey, the Daily Iowan's publisher, said the group should target other kinds of university-related alcohol advertising, such as beer advertisements tied to sporting events.
"The first amendment protects advertising," he said. "We're not police. . . . We are going to take ads from any legitimate business."
College students say they don't pay that much attention to the promotions anyway.
"People go to the bars where their friends hang out, not because they're offering cheap drinks," said Willie Logan, 20, a U of I junior.
Isaac Melton, 21, a U of I senior, said he doubted students would change their drinking habits if bars limited specials. "It's not like you're going to sit at home and not go out just because no one's offering drink specials," he said.
Walding and the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission have recommended that a legislative committee be formed to review laws restricting promotions.
He expects the proposals to gain more momentum in the coming year with the recent backing of college and university leaders.
"We just think bars need to use more responsible ways to promote their business," Walding said.
The Iowa Coordinating Council for Post-High School Education voted unanimously to support six recommendations by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission intended to reduce college drinking:
By David Goetz - The Courier-Journal
Brown Forman's landmark Old Forester water tower is getting a new look that will match a real-life makeover of the brand's packaging.
A fortified advertising budget for Jack Daniel's and other liquor brands let Brown-Forman Corp. hit its profit goals last year, so the company has ordered more of the same for fiscal 2004.
On the heels of an 8 percent increase in worldwide advertising spending for the company's spirits brands in the fiscal year ended April 30, Brown-Forman is promising an even higher percentage increase this year.
The company has also started giving a new look to its oldest brand, Old Forester. As part of a $13 million overhaul begun last summer, Old Forester is getting a new bottle design. The changes are being made to the bottle-shaped landmark water tower that looms over the Louisville distillery, shrouded until an unveiling next month.
The volume of Jack Daniel's sold increased in 16 of the brand's 20 markets around the world, the company reported yesterday, and was up 4 percent overall. Southern Comfort, Brown-Forman's No. 2 brand, was up 1 percent.
And the increases came despite higher prices for both brands that contributed to higher profits, offsetting weakness in the company's wine and consumer goods businesses.
Brown-Forman said profit climbed 14 percent in its latest quarter. The Louisville producer of wines, spirits, fine china and luggage reported net income of $58.2 million, or 90 cents a share, for the fiscal fourth quarter ended April 30, compared with $51.2 million, or 75 cents a share, a year ago.
The mean estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call was for earnings of 91 cents a share in the latest period.
Total sales rose 8 percent to $571.4 million from $527.2 million. Sales of wine and spirits climbed 11 percent to $446.1 million, while sales of china, tableware and luggage fell slightly to $125.3 million from $125.7 million.
Chairman and Chief Executive Owsley Brown II called fiscal 2002 "a year of mixed fortunes," despite solid gains in whiskey sales.
Demand for Brown-Forman's top-selling Fetzer and No. 2 Bolla wine brands was flat and off 1 percent, respectively, while price competition slashed profit margins on wine.
And for the first time in eight years, the company saw a drop in direct-to-consumer sales of its Lennox china collectibles line, a recent mainstay of its consumer goods business.
With no clear idea of how or when conditions might change for either its wine or consumer brands, Brown-Forman estimated per-share earnings for fiscal 2004 would rise as much as 18 percent to $4.10 - $4.30.
The company was being conservative in those estimates, said Chief Financial Officer Phoebe Snow. "If they're at the bottom of that range, we'll be very disappointed in the results."
Half or more of the projected increase in per-share earnings for 2004 will come from a $560 million stock buy-back last March.
One spirits brand that will see more marketing support this year is Finlandia vodka. Brown-Forman upped its stake in Finlandia to 80 percent last fall and introduced it in several new markets.
But U.S. sales were weak as 100 new vodka brands entered the market, Brown said, so the company is stepping up its marketing, including a package re-design set for this year.
Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola, the company's headline malt beverage introduced last year, won't share in the marketing binge. The company has cut its proposed spending on advertising for the malt until it sees how the overall category fares this summer.
Hard Cola did well shortly after its September rollout , but sales faded and it ran into distribution problems as wholesalers and retailers took a second look at the market, which flattened after an initial surge to a 3 percent share of beer sales.
Distribution of Hard Cola has increased leading into the important summer season, said Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch, but not as much as the company hoped. Advertising for the brand will be on television, he said, but not as much as originally planned.
"We remain committed to Hard Cola, but we don't know what's going to happen this summer," Lynch said. "I think everybody in the marketplace is asking what's going to occur."
The sales tax on low-malt beer products was increased, disappointing beer drinkers.
However, Japanese breweries have introduced new low-malt beer products with emphasis on healthiness.
The new products are selling explosively in Japan. They are a real breakthrough in the beer market.
May 30, 2003
Visitors are warming up to this Swedish watering hole made entirely of ice.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - He has heard the jokes. Brother, has he heard the jokes. "It's, 'Hey, can I have some more ice cubes with my drink?' " says the bartender, "and I have to pretend I've never heard it before, you know?"
When you peddle drinks in the Ice Bar in Sweden's capital city, smiling -- or is it wincing? --at customers' lame ice-related humor is part of the job. So is working in temperatures that hover at minus-5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), serving up alcoholic refreshment in ice glasses to crowds swaddled in bar-issued parkas and mittens and boots, working behind a bar made entirely of ice, surrounded by solid-ice walls beneath a solid-ice ceiling.
But Juan Gonzales isn't complaining. The Nicaraguan-born man who moved to Sweden when he was still an infant -- he's 24 now -- has worked at Stockholm's hippest new nightspot for three months and likes it just fine.
The Ice Bar, which may soon expand to locations in other parts of the world, including the United States, is advertised as the only bar on the planet constructed entirely of ice, from the infrastructure -- walls, ceilings, tables, bar -- to the accoutrements: Drinks arrive in glasses made of ice. Ice sculptures are the only decor.
Customers from around the world stick to the place like a tongue on a frozen lamppost. The Ice Bar combines a cool, almost ethereal beauty -- all that crystalline context -- with the sci-fi, high-tech feel of an alien latitude. It could be Antarctica, in other words, or it could be Alpha Centauri.
The bar's exterior walls are glass, but the ice walls inside are clear enough to see through. This ice is some of the purest and most transparent in the world, explains bar host Elin Alvemark, a fresh-faced Stockholm native who greets guests at the door, because it is hacked out of the Torne River in northern Sweden It's the same river that gives up its ice to make the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi in the country's Lapland region above the Arctic Circle.
The Ice Hotel opened in 1989 and has been a great success; each year in the fall, a 50-room inn is built by ice artists and rented to travelers who want to catch 40 winks at 5 below -- before the structure melts in the spring. Marriages often are conducted at the Ice Hotel.
Evidence continues to show moderate alcohol consumption can be good for you
By Sandra Zaragoza, Staff Writer – Dallas Business Journal
GREATER METROPLEX -- Toasting someone's good health with a glass of red wine or a frosty mug of beer may be more appropriate than you think.
New research is adding to the evidence that alcoholic beverages -- consumed in moderation -- have healthy fringe benefits.
Physician and winemaker Dr. Bobby G. Smith is well-versed in the health merits of wine. Dr. Smith, who owns and operates La Buena Vida winery in Grapevine and practices medicine in Arlington, says wine is especially beneficial for cardiac patients as it helps break up blood clots and clear out arteries.
In addition, numerous studies have shown that wine contains antioxidants and chemical compounds that help in the prevention of ulcers, cancer, strokes and heart disease. Recently, researchers at the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Denmark determined the flavanoids carried in wine may protect against Alzheimer's disease and stroke-induced mental deterioration.
Now beer is vying for the same rosy limelight. Bulging bellies may be an undesirable side effect, but new data indicates that beer may be as good as, or even better than, wine at fending off certain ailments.
In her review of long-term studies involving beer, Professor Margo Denke, a researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, concludes that beer -- again in moderation -- has health benefits.
Because of its production process, which uses barley and hops, beer is rich in B compounds including folate and vitamins B6 and B12. Vitamin B compounds and folates help keep homocystein blood levels in check. Homocystein, an amino acid, has been linked to increased risk of heart disease.
Beer also contains polyphenols which reduce "bad" cholesterol and help prevent coronary heart disease. It contains about the same amount of polyphenol as red wine, but four to five times as much as white.
European and U.S. studies suggest beer also helps prevent strokes and hypertension.
Another researcher at UT Southwestern, Norman D. Kaplan, has researched the causes and treatment of hypertension -- high blood pressure -- for 40 years. He points to a study of 70,000 nurses who drank both wine, spirits and beer. The nurses who drank moderate amounts of beer demonstrated fewer cases of hypertension than did nurses who drank either wine or spirits.
Beer may give wine a run for its money in the health stakes. Literally. Because while the health benefits of beer and wine are similar, beer is cheaper.
"Beer is less costly than red wine, making it accessible to a broader spectrum of patients," said Dr. Grant Innes, author of a study of beer and wine drinkers reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
But knowing beer and wine have positive health effects is not a license to binge. Experts stress that alcohol isn't for everyone.
"Alcohol and addiction tend to run in 10% of the population," said Dr. Kenneth Wise, a psychologist and expert in alcoholism at Professional Psychology Services in Richardson.
Even social drinking, whether entertaining clients or at a holiday office party, poses concerns, Wise said.
"A lot of business gets done over a cocktail and over a meal," Wise said. "But in terms of doing business it's clear you have to watch how much you are drinking."
And for those who claim a glass of wine after work is a good way to relax, Dr. Smith adds a note of caution.
"I think that may be the first warning sign that they can't deal," he said. "If it takes one glass to transition from work to home, what's not to say two or three?"
Experts agree that drinking in moderation -- one drink per day for women and two for men -- is key for tapping into alcohol's healthy effects.
Voice of America
June 4, 2003
Listen to Ted Landphair's report (RealAudio)
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The United States is one of only four nations with a legal drinking age as high as 21. The others are Malaysia, South Korea, and Ukraine. As yet there's no organized campaign to lower the standard in the United States.
The current nationwide legal drinking age of 21 was set by the U.S. Congress in 1984, following a furious campaign led by activist groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Since then, any state that dared to lower the drinking age would face the loss of federal highway funds. That's a powerful hammer, since the federal government typically pays 90 percent of new highway costs.
Still, the idea of lowering the drinking age is bubbling of late.
In May 2003, veteran Washington Post reporter T.R Reid wrote an article that appeared on his newspaper's opinion page. It was titled, Let My Teenager Drink.
He described his working days in London, where the legal drinking age is 16. "My daughters were drinking safely, legally, and under close supervision in the friendly neighborhood pub two blocks from our home," Mr. Reid wrote. He added that, to his way of thinking, teen drinking is far more dangerous in the United States because young people who must drink secretly often do so to excess.
Whether one agrees with Mr. Reid or not, the fact is that a lot of American kids under 21 are consuming alcohol on a regular basis. Richard Keeling is a medical doctor who once ran college health services in Virginia and Wisconsin and now edits the Journal of American College Health. He says there is little dispute that drinking is at the core of almost every college health issue.
"It has tentacles that link it to cigarettes and other drugs and to virtually all of the sexual behaviors that cause risk," he said. "It's associated in studies with suicidal behavior. It's associated, not with just binge drinking and binge eating. Alcohol really is central to many of the problems that affect college students' lives."
Yet Dr. Keeling notes that young people view alcohol consumption as "a marker of maturity." It helps them connect with others, it's perceived as fun and "edgy," and, despite many efforts to curtail it, it's a venerable ritual of fraternity and sorority life. Getting drunk, which can loosen inhibitions for sex, is sometimes the whole point of parties.
"And as a withheld privilege, it has a certain extra allure or charm," said Dr. Keeling. "And getting it early is therefore of a lot of interest to students, which is why drinking under age is a very big behavior on college campuses."
Dr. Keeling adds that lecturing students about the evils of drink will have no effect so long as alcohol provides this powerful social bond.
"Students come to expect that drinking will produce for them what they see in the alcohol ads," he explained. "It'll make 'em sexy and beautiful and hot and charming and interesting and wealthy. And all of that will happen just because they picked a particular brand of beer." Abusive drinking takes place under the noses of school administrators, Richard Keeling points out. He says college presidents have told him they'd love to test the idea that rolling back the drinking age might create a less intense drinking atmosphere on campus, and make the community safer. But he says they would never dare suggest it.
"If you say, 'Why not?' they say, ''cause I'd last 36 hours in my job," said Dr. Keeling.
America's high legal drinking age has spawned a cottage industry of fake identity cards and a shadow system in which older friends, and even some parents, supply teens with beer and liquor.
"In many of the tragedies associated with college drinking, there is in fact a background of encouragement, where others were cheering on someone who was drinking or helping or forcing or facilitating someone's, say, having 21 shots of liquor on a 21 birthday, or being involved in some sort of competitive exercise with other college students to try to see who could get the most [alcohol] in, without vomiting," Dr. Keeling reminded.
All of which, T.R Reid argues in his newspaper column, just adds to the mystique of drinking. "It makes me glad," he wrote, "that my teenagers had the legal right to go down the street to that pub."
Alex Kornoknay Palicz, 21, argues that all the current drinking age does is encourage teens to "get drunk before the cops come."
Mr. Palicz is president of the National Youth Rights Association, an organization of about 3,000 young people with chapters in several U.S. states. He says his organization favors the European model, where moderate drinking, in the presence of adult role models, is introduced at a young age within most families.
"That is a safer way to handle it, and a more respectful way to handle it," he said. "And if you were to remove the rigid drinking age that we have now, it would also be more respectful of the rights of young people."
Alex Palicz of the National Youth Rights Association points to a survey, published two years ago by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in which 71 percent of American eighth graders, age 12 and 13, said they found it fairly easy or very easy to get their hands on alcohol. In short, says Mr. Palicz, America's high legal drinking age is not only a failure, it's counter-productive.
But Mothers Against Drunk Driving has produced a study showing that 20,000 fewer people age 18 to 20 have died on U.S. roads since the drinking age was raised 19 years ago. That's true, Mr. Palicz concedes, but he says the highway death toll among people aged 21 to 24 has increased in the same proportion.
"What that means is that when people are new at drinking, when they don't have the experience with drinking, they have problems with it, because they're new at it," he explained. "And that's the same for people who start drinking at 18 or who start drinking at 21. So there really haven't been any lives saved overall by raising the drinking age."
One might think that beer and liquor companies would be leading a charge against the 21-year drinking age, in hopes of snaring younger customers. But they have been mostly silent on the issue. Mr. Palicz says that's because their alcoholic products are more alluring to kids when they are contraband. In Europe by contrast, he says, a beer or glass of wine with a meal is no big deal.
But lowering the drinking age would be a foolhardy mistake, says Joseph Califano Jr., who was secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Carter Administration in the 1970s. Mr. Califano, who's now president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York, says anecdotal stories about safe and legal teenage drinking in homes and pubs ignore facts that are, well, sobering.
"British 15 and 16 year olds are twice as likely to binge drink and to have been drunk within the past month," he said. "If you lower the drinking age to 18, what you're really doing is lowering the drinking age to 16. When I was a young man growing up in Brooklyn, New York, the drinking age for beer was 18. There was no problem at age 15 or 16 getting beer under those circumstances. It is important for society to set some standards, especially when we know that alcohol is so implicated in the main causes of teen deaths and rapes, in racial incidents. And the standard is 21."
But what about the age discrimination argument? Young people who want the drinking age lowered complain bitterly that the right to drink is denied them even though they can vote at 18, can be drafted and die in military service, can drive and get married, and are barraged with offers of credit cards. Yes, says Joseph Califano, but buying and drinking alcohol is not a right.
"We have laws that protect kids from damaging toys, that say you can't get cigarettes till a certain age," explained Mr. Califano. "People do not have a right to purchase liquor. That's a bogus argument."
One might assume that, as those who strongly favor lowering the drinking age grow older and have more clout, support for change would reach a crescendo. But this logic overlooks the traditional pattern. Those young adults will soon enough have teenagers of their own. Then, they will not be so quick to demand that older teens should be free to drink whenever, and wherever, they please.
May 26, 2003
Letters seeking information were sent to Allied Domecq, Anheuser-Busch, Brown- Forman, Coors, Diageo, Jim Beam Brands, Miller Brewing Co. and the Mark Anthony Group, makers of Mike's Hard Lemonade, sources said last week.
The FTC has asked companies how they have followed recommendations the government agency made in its last report to Congress in 1999, sources said. Congress charged the FTC with preparing a six-month study on the issue in the February appropriations bill, and a draft report is expected to be sent to the five FTC commissioners in August.
The 1999 FTC recommendations included creating independent review boards to address public complaints, restricting advertising to media where more than 50 percent of the audience is 21 or older and developing a set of best practices. The best-practices recommendation advised prohibiting ads on TV shows or other media with the largest underage audiences, barring ads with significant underage appeal and restricting ads before movies with R and NC-17 ratings. The FTC did not return calls.
The FTC also contacted the Distilled Spirits Council and, according to sources, the Beer Institute. "We were invited by the FTC to provide information on our code of good practice, and we welcome the opportunity," said Lisa Hawkins, a Distilled Spirits Council rep. She declined to elaborate further. The Beer Institute did not return calls.
Caroline Coleman Bailey, a Gallo rep and Ernest Gallo's granddaughter, said a written response has been filed. "We belong to the California Wine Institute, and they have a code of conduct that we have always tried to adhere to," she said.
Wine Institute CEO John De Luca said he was puzzled Gallo was included. "I know of no intervening events that could possibly have prompted the FTC to send a letter," he said.
Brown-Forman, makers of the "malternative" beverage Jack Daniels Hard Cola, also confirmed it received a letter and sent a response. Philip Lynch, a company rep, said the FTC requested marketing materials dating from 1999 to 2002. "They are reviewing advertising for content and placement to ensure it is reaching the intended adult audience," Lynch said. "We are confident we will have done just that when they conclude this review."
Stephen Lambright, A-B general counsel, said the company had complied with the request. "We believe the [industry's voluntary marketing] code's policies, practices and processes—coupled with the numerous government and network regulations, standards and practices with which we comply—are effective in ensuring that beer marketing and advertising efforts are responsible and focused on the appropriate adult audiences."
Critics of alcohol advertising argue that it is more effective at reaching underage audiences than adult consumers, and recent studies have bolstered this argument. A September report by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University in Washington found that magazine readers aged 12-20 saw 54 percent more malternative ads, 45 percent more beer ads and 27 percent more distilled-spirit ads than those over 21. The Center also said the alcohol industry falls short of the best-practices guidelines the FTC established in 1999.
The Distilled Spirits Council has questioned those findings.
Another charge against the industry is that "alcopops" like Mike's Hard Lemonade target youth. The Center for Science in the Public Interest asked the FTC to investigate the marketing of these beverages, but last year the FTC concluded there was no basis for concern.
The liquor industry spent $1.7 billion on alcohol advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.
Dan Jaffe, evp of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, said that when the FTC began its study in March, "they said they did not have something independently to suggest anything had changed but would be able to say something definitive after the study. We will all hold our breath."