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What is an Alcopop?

Updated on July 27, 2014

If you're from America, the term alcopop might be a mystery to you. The truth is, you've seen them on grocery store shelves since the 1980s. Alcopop is a term used to define some non-traditional flavored alcohols. They also go by the term flavored alcoholic beverage or flavored malt beverage. Alcopop was originally used only in a negative context by those in Europe and Australia, who thought that the flavored beverages were being marketed directly to underage drinkers, although it never caught on as a term in the United States. It still has a negative connotation in most circles, but this hasn't stopped the popularity of the drinks to the younger crowd.

A newer alcopop for the hardcore partier
A newer alcopop for the hardcore partier
the precursor to alcopop
the precursor to alcopop
Do you remember Zima? It's still out there.
Do you remember Zima? It's still out there.

The History of Alcopop

In the United States, Bartels & Jaymes started the alcopop movement with the introduction of their wine coolers. These sold so well that they were quickly followed by Bacardi who introduced Bacardi Breezers. These two brands dominated the market until a new batch of malt beverages and alcopops hit the market in 1993. These included the wildly popular Zima, DNA Alcoholic Spring Water and Hooper's Hooch.

With so many new products doing so well, it wasn't a surprise to see the market flooded with a dozen more brands, including Mike's Hard Lemonade, Smirnoff Ice and Jack Daniel's Hard Cola. There are currently over 40 varieties of alcopop in production and distributed throughout the world, many exclusive to Australia and Europe.

The king of American alcopops!
The king of American alcopops!

Why Are They Controversial?

The controversy surrounding alcopops wasn't that they tasted like fruit drinks or lacked the bitterness of beers, but rather in the way that they were marketed. Many brands chose high contrast, bright-colored packaging that appealed to younger buyers. They came in every hue imaginable, filled with sugar and caffeine and, of course, alcohol. The ease with which they were consumed didn't help their image much. The sweet flavors appealed to the juvenile sect. Even the name they were given – alcopop – served to reinforce this. However, the real concern was that alcopops serve as a bridge from soft drinks to alcohol.

What is the Alcohol Content of an Alcopop?

The biggest concern about alcopops was that they contained nearly the same amount of alcohol as standard beers. The packaging and promotion was designed to misrepresent these products as “lighter” than other alcohol products. The label made it clear how much alcohol was in each bottle by using an ABV (alcohol by volume) rating system. The first generation of alcopops had about a 5% ABV. There are currently variations that have up to 12% ABV. Although the amount of alcohol in a drink is a factor in whether it is purchased or not, the major factors are taste and cost.

Who Does Alcopop Appeal To?

Alcopop appealed to young girls and women. The combination of fruity flavors and little or no alcohol taste made them easy to drink. The cultural impact was lampooned by Saturday Night Live in 1994 when they did a babysitter skit that included several references to Zima.

Recent studies have found that legal aged drinkers choose alcopop products least when they are drinking. About one-third of all girls between 12 and 18 have tried an alcopop and about 20 percent of males in the same age range have. The image of alcopops as a girl's alcohol is strong with many teenagers referring to it as “cheerleader beer” and “chick beer.”

Are you an alcopop drinker?

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Don't be ashamed if you like the taste, you're supposed to. That's part of the mass appeal f the alcopop products. They aren't an acquired taste; they go down smooth, and drinking them gets you just as buzzed as major label beers. While you won't find me clutching a Zima anytime soon, a Jack Daniel's Cola or Mike's Hard Lemonade might sneak its way into a backyard BBQ.


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