‘Alcopops’ Pitch Under Fire

Brewers call them “malternatives.” Critics, however, call them “alcopops.”

These sweet or fruity drinks?like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice?contain alcohol, and they have raised the ire of a Washington advocacy group, which is expected to release a report this week charging that the beverages are being marketed to underage drinkers.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest will also consider asking the Federal Trade Commission and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to investigate how the beverages are being marketed. It claims the drinks are being targeted to youths ages 14-18.

A representative for the group did not return calls by press time.

The drinks contain about 5 percent alcohol. Other examples of “alcopops” include Rick’s Spiked Lemonade, Doc Otis’ Hard Lemon malt beverage and Hooper’s Hooch Lemon Brew.

Brewers say the beverages are only intended for adults who like sweet drinks. “This is an industry attempt to try and capture some of that adult taste,” said Jeff Becker, vp of alcohol issues for the Beer Institute, a lobbying group for the beer industry. “There is cider and hard cider. There is lemonade and hard lemonade. Everyone knows the difference between the two.”

Becker said the manufacturers he represents are not about to “ban everything that has a sweet taste for adults.”

The FTC is already familiar with Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Last year, the National Consumers League, another Washington advocacy group, filed a complaint against the beverage. “The sweet lemonade flavor masks the alcohol, making it easy for teens to consume a large quantity of alcohol quickly,” the group stated in its letter to the FTC. “It is the perfect introductory drink for teenagers raised on soda and other sweet beverages.”

The FTC plans to take no action on that letter, an FTC source said.

Such drinks were first introduced in Britain in the mid-1990s. Their popularity quickly grew, and critics dubbed them “alcopops” because they appeal to those under the legal drinking age.