20081225

Taking the snap out of Sparks

If you no longer feel that boost when you down a Sparks energy drink, don't be surprised.

MillerCoors, maker of the alcoholic beverage, has agreed to remove caffeine and several other ingredients from the drink.

The move is part of a deal the company made with 13 states and the city of San Francisco. A coalition of state attorneys general had complained that the stimulants reduced drinkers' sense of intoxication. And, they charged that the drink was marketed to younger consumers who, as a demographic group, tend to be prone to risky behaviors in driving and other activities.

"They are fundamentally dangerous and put drinkers of all ages at risk," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. The "agreement will ensure that from here on out, these drinks are kept off New York shelves and away from New York consumers."

Cuomo had spearheaded the investigation into caffeinated alcohol beverages. The settlement also includes the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Oklahoma.

MillerCoors has agreed not to produce caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future, and it will $550,000 to cover the cost of the investigation into Sparks.

Competitor Anheuser-Busch agreed last summer to reformulate its Tilt and Bud Extra drinks to remove the stimulants, part of a settlement with 11 attorneys general.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Spirits Notebook
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Non-Alcohol Drinks Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd On Drinks home page.

20081218

NY raising the price of raising a glass

New York State is so strapped for cash, Gov. David Patterson is dusting off a lot of old ideas to raise money. Among his proposals for the new year, which still need to be debated and voted on by the state legislature, are numerous ones that will affect the beverage consuming habits of state residents.

Chief among them is his proposal to allow sales of wine in grocery stores, which would put New York on the same page as 35 other states that already allow it. Until now, strong lobbying by liquor store owners and their allies in state government has kept the lucrative slice of the market all to themselves. The usual posturing and debating now will ensue as the matter is debated.

Other beverage-related plans in Patterson's 2009-10 budget proposal:

• An increase in the excise tax on wine and beer from 18.9 cents a gallon for wine and 24 cents a gallon for beer to 51 cents a gallon for both.

• Increasing the tax on flavored malt liquors.

• Raising the sales tax on fruit drinks and non-diet sodas with less than 70% fruit juice by 18%.

Paterson delivered a balanced Executive Budget, more than one month prior to the State constitutional deadline, which would eliminate the largest budget deficit in state history -- a $1.7 billion current-year shortfall and a $13.7 billion 2009-10 deficit.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Spirits Notebook
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Non-Alcohol Drinks Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd On Drinks home page.

20081213

Study: Teen alcohol use down

The use of alcohol by teens has declined considerably since recent peaks in use were reached in the mid-1990s, according to the just-released 34th annual national survey in the Monitoring the Future series conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. .

Thus, alcohol has moved in parallel with illicit drug use to a considerable degree, the investigators note. The 30-day prevalence of use (reporting drinking an alcoholic beverage at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey) has fallen by 40% among eighth graders since their peak level in 1996.

The proportional declines since recent peak rates are smaller for the older students, nearly one-third for 10th graders and one-sixth for 12th graders. The upper grades showed continuing declines in use this year, but the investigators caution that the decline in 10th grade is likely exaggerated because the random sampling process yielded a few schools in the 10th-grade sample this year that had unusually low rates of alcohol use (including two schools with high proportions of Mormons).
Thirty-day prevalence now stands at 16%, 29% and 43% for the three grades surveyed -- eighth, ninth and 10th.

The greater long-term decline in use among eighth graders may well reflect the greater decline in their reported availability of alcohol. While there has been some decline in reported availability among the upper grades, eighth graders have shown by far the greatest decline. In 1996, 75% thought they could get alcohol if they wanted some, whereas by 2008 the percentage had fallen to 64.

How it works: Monitoring the Future has been funded under a series of competing, investigator-initiated research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. Surveys of nationally representative samples of American high school seniors were begun in 1975, making the Class of 2008 the 34th such class surveyed. Surveys of eighth and 10th graders were added to the design in 1991, making the 2008 nationally representative samples the 18th such classes surveyed.

Sample sizes in 2008 are 16,253 eighth graders in 144 schools, 15,518 tenth graders in 122 schools, and 14,577 twelfth graders in 120 schools, for a total of 46,348 students in 386 secondary schools. The samples are drawn separately at each grade level to be representative of students in that grade in public and private secondary schools across the coterminous United States. Schools are selected with probability proportionate to their estimated class size.

The study covers alcohol, drug use, and other addictive and illicit substances. Click here for a full summary.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Spirits Notebook
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Non-Alcohol Drinks Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd On Drinks home page.

20081206

Homebrewers group turns 30

Thirty years ago Sunday, Denver brewing enthusiast Charlie Papazian (right) founded the American Homebrewers Association.

In thinking back over three decades, Papazian, writing in Examiner.com / New York, says:

"I can remember that day on December 7, 1978. I went to pick up 2,000 of our newly published Zymurgy magazine. I loaded my 1969 Toyota Corona. It was snowing with one foot of snow already on the ground and still coming down. With my co-founder friend Charlie Matzen we rose to the challenges then and for many years thereafter.

"Several homebrewing volunteers showed up at the house. We hand labeled and organized our first mailing of AHA's Volume 1, Number 1 issue of Zymurgy. There was a core group of about 800 homebrewers in the Boulder/Denver, Colorado, area. The rest we were mailing to homebrew shops around the country. The names and addresses of the shops were gleaned from finger leafing through city yellow page directories in the local library one volume at a time. ...

"It makes me thirsty just thinking how labor intensive things were back in those days. The good genie had been released. Zymurgy continues to be published and the American Homebrewers Association champions, promotes and protects the interests of homebrewers and homebrewing."

[Go here for the rest of his commentary.]

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Spirits Notebook
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Non-Alcohol Drinks Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd On Drinks home page.

20081204

75 years since The Noble Experiment fizzled

There is something about Americans that requires special treatment of anniversaries ending in the numbers 0 and 5.

Rarely do we make a big deal about the fourth anniversary, or the ninth, or even the 24th of some event. Ah, but let us get busy when it comes to the fifth, 10th or 25th.

So, imagine all the hoopla that will be going on around the country tomorrow, Friday, December 5 -- the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Let the happy hours begin!

Officially, the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, with a rare few licensed exceptions, was a result of the National Prohibition Act of 1919 -- commonly called the Volstead Act, after U.S. Rep. Andrew J. Volstead, R-Minnesota, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the bill that went into effect in 1920.

This came about in a period in our history in which religious organizations and anti-drinking societies abounded and had plenty of political clout. Chief among them were the American Temperance Society, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, all of which had gained phenomenal political clout.

According to the National Archives, "Between 1905 and 1917, various states imposed laws prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages. ... In 1917, the House of Representatives wanted to make Prohibition the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Congress sent the amendment to the states for ratification, where it needed three-fourths approval. The amendment stipulated a time limit of seven years for the states to pass this amendment. In just 13 months enough states said 'yes' to the amendment that would prohibit the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic liquors.

"The amendment worked at first, liquor consumption dropped, arrests for drunkenness fell, and the price for illegal alcohol rose higher than the average worker could afford. Alcohol consumption dropped by 30% and the United States Brewers' Association admitted that the consumption of hard liquor was off 50% during Prohibition. These statistics however, do not reflect the growing disobedience toward the law and law enforcement.

"The intensity of the temperance advocates was matched only by the inventiveness of those who wanted to keep drinking. Enforcing Prohibition proved to be extremely difficult. The illegal production and distribution of liquor, or bootlegging, became rampant, and the national government did not have the means or desire to try to enforce every border, lake, river, and speakeasy in America. In fact, by 1925 in New York City alone there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs.

"The demand for alcohol was outweighing (and out-winning) the demand for sobriety. People found clever ways to evade Prohibition agents. They carried hip flasks, hollowed canes, false books, and the like. While Prohibition assisted the poor factory workers who could not afford liquor, all in all, neither federal nor local authorities would commit the resources necessary to enforce the Volstead Act. For example, the state of Maryland refused to pass any enforcement issue. Prohibition made life in America more violent, with open rebellion against the law and organized crime."

Finally, the political pendulum swung far enough in favor of ridding the nation of what came to be called by some "The Noble Experiment." As many anti-Prohibition organizations popped up as had anti-drinking groups. The Democratic Party platform in the 1932 election included an anti-Prohibition plank and Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for the presidency promising repeal, which occurred on December 5, 1933.

The popular vote for repeal of prohibition was 74% in favor, 26% opposed. Thus, by a 3-to-1 margin, the American people rejected Prohibition. Only two states opposed repeal.

Crowds raised glasses and sang "Happy Days are Here Again!" and President Roosevelt, referring to what he called "The damnable affliction of Prohibition," sipped a martini at the stroke of midnight, what was widely reported as the first legal cocktail since Prohibition began.

To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Spirits Notebook
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Non-Alcohol Drinks Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd On Drinks home page.

20081202

'Space beer' a reality

Back in May I reported that Sapporo, the Japanese brewer, was planning a test beer made from barley grown in space.

Now I can report it is a fait accompli.

Sapporo today announced it has produced the world's first "space beer," using grain grown in a Russian laboratory on board the International Space Station.

The company said it has brewed just 100 litres, none of which will be put up for sale. Instead, 30 people will be chosen by lottery to sample a few millilitres each of the beer in January. The rest will be used for research.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Non-Alcohol Drinks Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Tasting Notes latest entry.
Back to Dowd On Drinks home page.