If the politicians had their way, no one in this country would ever advance past a mental age of six. It does not seem to me that they are able to comprehend the fact that people who are not politicians can make their own decisions.
The other day I came across an article in The Wall Street Journal, “Pabst’s Horse of a Different Color: Colt 45 Enters Controversial Ring” about a new beverage called “Blast by Colt 45” modeled on Tilt, Four Loko and similar highly-alcoholic, fruit-flavored drinks. Basically, the traditional Colt 45 malt liquor, which I praised highly last semester, has seen falling sales since 2002, so Pabst is hoping that entering a new market with Snoop Dogg as the spokesman, will help them recover the lost ground.
Tom Stevens, a Vermont state representative from Waterbury, Vt., was mentioned in the article as a co-sponsor of a bill banning flavored malt beverages in containers of more than 12 ounces. I called him up to talk about it.
“I think they’re dangerous drinks,” he said. “They’re not sipping drinks. Twenty four ounces equals four beers; by the breathalyzer that means you should drink it in about four hours.”
He said that the flavored malt liquors – he called them “alcopops” – were “meant for underage drinkers.”
I can see his point. It’s a very rational one. Back when Four Loko still had caffeine we all knew people who wanted them because of the “black out in a can” thing and not because one can of Four Loko was the equivalent of however many beers the national media was saying for the price of a can of Arizona Iced Tea in the Blue Wall.
But we can’t disregard responsibility. The whole purpose of education, of growing up is to achieve a level of responsibility where we won’t be dependent on our parents. My dad taught me a lot about beer before I turned 21 – how to appraise it, how to drink it, how to pour it – and so I don’t chug, I don’t buy “light” beer and I let my Guinness settle before I drink it.
Forewarned is forearmed, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t downed half of a $22 bottle of Jose Cuervo in a night, or mixed beer, MD 20/20, Jagermeister and something labeled as “cherry-flavored apple wine product” last September. It does mean that I stopped when I felt ill, or in the case of the tequila, actually threw up. I know my limits and pushing them is part of that process of discovery.
“When you’re 21 or 22 you’re a legal drinker,” Stevens said, “and you’re allowed to be as responsible or as irresponsible as you like. Alcopops are geared for and used by underage drinkers.”
That may be true, but if the problem is underage drinking the legality of what kinds of flavors manufacturers can put in their drinks don’t matter. Underage drinkers of the recent past got on with regular beers and liquors just like people drank Red Bull and vodka or Jaegerbombs before Four Loko.
People have always cared about the taste of their drinks. A well-mixed cocktail, in my experience, combines flavors that might be harsh on their own in a way that mitigates and improves them. Highballs are cocktails where one or more spirits has been mixed with a soda. The most famous one is probably the rum and coke, but there are a lot of them and they’re popular because they tend to be highly alcoholic and taste good.
These days vodka is the world’s most popular spirit and I’m pretty sure it’s because it’s so mixable. There is really nothing you can’t mix with vodka and enjoy – juices, sodas, other spirits – and when you mix them with vodka the resulting concoctions taste very good and are very alcoholic. While I suspect the bourbon and rum makers would love it if states started banning vodka because of its flexibility, nobody else would.
“People who want something [because they’ve been] influenced by the advertising are going to find a way to get it,” Stevens said. “The drinks themselves are the problem.”
But are they really the problem? Is there even a problem? Most of the people affected by laws like the one Stevens has co-sponsored are living on their own for the first time with the least supervision they have ever known. There is something profoundly liberating in not having parents telling you when you should go to bed or reminding you to do homework. Choice is the greatest and most dangerous thing of all and I don’t think that anyone ever learns how to make good choices without ever making bad choices, especially when the bad choice tastes as good as watermelon-flavored vodka.
It would seem that the whole thing is an impasse: the advertising isn’t an issue, the only way to stop underage drinking is to eliminate drinking ages entirely and people will mix their drinks in whatever ways appeal to their tastes the most. We might as well be free to drink what we please.
I did learn my lesson about tequila and no longer drink it in large quantities.
Matthew M. Robare is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.