Have you taken a good, close gander at the beer cooler at your local deli lately?
It’s almost impossible to find an honest beer in there.
It was bad enough when that watery bile known as light beer started masquerading as the real thing. Now the shelf space is being chewed up by beers that really aren’t beers at all.
Hard lemonade and cider, twisted ice tea and berry coolers. Boone’s Farm, known better for its magnum-force wine punches, now makes strawberry daiquiri beer.
All of them have about 5 percent alcohol – a little more buzz than your typical lager – but you wouldn’t know it. The citrus and fizzy sugar waters are meant to mask the taste of alcohol. You may as well be drinking soda, which I guess is the point.
Known as beer coolers or alcopops, the beverages are largely intended for young – maybe too young – drinkers. Critics say the sweet taste is designed to lure the teen-age set, who haven’t yet had their taste buds fine-tuned by a mouthful of straight bourbon. In England, the nannies went ballistic when someone actually marketed something called Power Rangers Freeze Pops, with 4.5 percent alcohol. Imagine the li’l Brit tykes bouncing off the walls, flunking the Breathalyzer at the day care.
The trend apparently got its start in the mid-’90s, when an Australian brewer – looking to dispose of an extra batch of lemons – dumped a bushel into his malt kettle and came up with Two Dogs lemon brew. Within two years, lemon beers and other alcopops accounted for 10 percent of Britain’s booze market.
It’s taken a little longer to catch on here, but in the last 18 months I’ve noticed the surge in these flavored beers at area distributors. Just as the industrial brewers glommed onto the microbrew trend a few years ago, they’re now brewing flavored beers, like Tequiza and Doc Otis from Anheuser-Busch.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board lists about 100 different brews that could be called alcopops – everything from fuzzy navel to spiced apple.
All of them are brewed with a malt base, which is why they’re classified as beers, not liquor (which is distilled) or wine (which is fermented fruit). But the malt beverage designation is purely a technicality, as shown by the latest to hit the market.
Namely, alcoholic spring water.
That’s right. Perrier with a punch.
It’s called DNA, and it’s so clear, it makes Coors Light look like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.
What’s in it? According to DNA’s Web site, the original Australian version contains carbonated water, fruit wine, sugar, natural lime and thyme extract.
Sure sounds like a wine, not a beer, to me.
The version brewed at F.X. Matt in New York, though, apparently contains malt, according to the LCB.
Like I said, it’s a purely technical classification. They can call it beer.
I say it’s kid stuff.
Nonetheless, I sacrificed my palate for an afternoon taste test. The results:
Zima – The original, from
Coors. It smells like 7-Up but is actually closer to water than DNA.
Mike’s Hard Lemonade – It sure looks like lemonade but lacks the tartness. It’s about as hard as a day-old lemon rind.
Doc Otis – Brewed by Anheuser-Busch, its fizzy, soda pop head is balanced by a sharp aroma of Ivory soap.
Tormolino Spumante & Peach – From Italy, it comes with a twist-off plastic cap that’s supposed to look like a cork. It looks exactly like a sparkling wine, but the peach aroma takes away your breath – reminiscent of 89-octane Exxon.
MacGillivray’s Australian Original Two Dogs Apple Brew – From the inventors of alcopops, it has the taste of an overripe apple. Bottle says “serve over ice. ” Joe Sixpack sez: “Serve over my dead body. “
Old Yardley’s Green Mamba – Served in a green bottle, the brew has the color of Berliner Weiss with a shot of woodruff. . .or possibly anti-freeze.
Bodean’s Twisted Tea – It claims it’s “handcrafted according to the original Southern recipe,” which I would believe if the plantation kitchen pantry was stocked with aspartame and chalk. Hands down, this is the worst of the bunch.
Melbourn Bros. Strawberry – At $7 a bottle and a fancy label, I’d expect this Merchant du Vin import to stomp the competition. It does, mostly because it’s not overwhelmed by fruit; instead, its yeast gives this a drinkable lambic-like tang. Still, strawberry?
Boone’s Strawberry Daiquiri – Now we’re getting to the rotgut. This one describes itself as a malt beverage with natural flavors, caramel and “certified colors. ” I’d guess that would be Crayola. Without a hint of alcohol taste, it’s closer to Kool-Aid than Coors.
Bartles & James Berry Flavored Cooler – Remember when Ottens Flavors on North Broad Street used to stink up the neighborhood with some sickening, god-awful, gut-wrenching smell that you could never quite identify? This is it.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a pint of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.