Alcopops: Not Your Grandma's Lemonade

Lemonade on Grandma's front porch during hot summer months is a lost tradition for a growing number of teens downing new alcoholic forms of the summertime treat. Lemonade joins a host of other sweet drinks, including teas and colas, that are being mixed with alcohol in a popular drinking trend - alcopops.

Also called clear malts, flavored malt beverages, malternatives, or RTDs (as in "ready to drink"), alcopops are sweet, sugary alcoholic drinks. They combine a sweet flavor with the kick of malt liquor to create a taste that often appeals to teens. With cool colors and names to match, alcopops can be a soft entry into the hard world of alcohol.

For the alcohol industry, grouping alcopops with beer-instead of liquor-opens the door to easier advertising. The broadcast industry (unlike cable) has banned liquor ads, but beer faces no such exile. In fact, TV beer ads are among the most widely anticipated and remembered ads during sports events such as the Superbowl.

Because alcopops are technically beer, they can be advertised on network TV. This means that the liquor industry is placing its logos, colors, and brand names in front of millions of viewers, including teens. In fact, 73 percent of the teens surveyed in a poll conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest had seen TV ads for alcoholic drinks, and most of the teens recalled alcopop ads.1 Recalling alcopop ads seems to be linked with drinking alcopops-more than half of 12th graders said they drank alcopops in 2003.2

One of the ways you can help your teen wise up to alcohol marketing is to use alcopop ads as a starting point to talk to your kids. Capture a "teachable moment." Ask your teen:

  1. What do you think of the ad?
  2. What audience do you think the ad is trying to reach?
  3. What kind of effects might the product have on the person who drinks it?

As you talk about alcopop ads with your teen, beware of the popular argument that alcopops aren't as strong as other forms of alcohol. Actually, a 12-ounce alcopop, a 12-ounce mug of beer, a cocktail with 1.5 ounces of spirits, and a 5-ounce glass of wine have the same amount of alcohol and cause the same effects. The only difference between alcopops and other forms of alcohol is the taste. Many people, especially teens, don't like the bitter taste of most alcoholic drinks and will turn to the sweet flavor of alcopops instead. The sugary taste often entices people to drink and can result in people drinking too much, especially on hot summer days.

Make sure you talk to your kids about alcopops—and then make some old-fashioned lemonade together. The original is still the best summertime treat!


  1. Center for Science in the Public Interest. 7/16/02, Kids in the Crosshairs of Big Booze: New Data Prove Teens Tuning In to Booze-Branded Alcopop Ads Despite Industry's Self-Enforced Ad "Standards"
  2. Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2004). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2003. (NIH Publication No. 04-5506). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse NIH Publication No. 04-5506 Printed June 2004.