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Marketing of Malt Liquor Fuels Debate : Consumption: Sales of the high-alcohol beverage soar in inner cities. Critics complain that shrewd advertising in ethnic neighborhoods has turned it into a status symbol.

Liquor In Los Angeles: Last Of Two Parts.

December 15, 1992|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

* This year, Brooklyn-based Hornell Brewing Co. caused an uproar among American Indians when it began marketing another Heileman product, Crazy Horse Malt Liquor. U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello, who took up the cause, accused Hornell of being insensitive to American Indians and the alcohol problems that tear at their communities by naming the drink after a revered Sioux leader.

In September, Congress approved legislation banning the Crazy Horse brand name. The alcohol and tobacco bureau is letting merchants sell only the existing stock.

* New York's attorney general last year sued McKenzie River Corp., the San Francisco-based marketer of St. Ides, after community activists protested that the company was blatantly targeting young blacks.

In a settlement reached this year, McKenzie River agreed to pay a $50,000 settlement and refrain from touting its product's alcohol content, marketing to underage youths or suggesting that the beverage--which is brewed by Heileman--increases virility. In addition, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms fined the company $15,000 and shut down its operations for three days.

McKenzie's chief executive officer, Minott Wessinger, said the company has discontinued all ads for which it was criticized.

"We made some mistakes with our advertising," he said. "It wasn't intentional. We certainly didn't want to offend anyone. Now we're focusing on the future, positive messages and good community relations."

McKenzie has begun public service announcements on AIDS, drunk driving and underage drinking--community relations efforts that are quickly becoming the new tack of malt liquor marketers.

In Chicago, Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Co., the nation's eighth-largest brewer and maker of Mt. Everest malt liquor, this summer unveiled a list of commitments to that city's black community. The company promised to hire more African-Americans and to donate 25 cents per case to neighborhood programs.

Meanwhile, industry analysts say brewers are attempting to expand the consumer base in the $500-million malt liquor market by introducing high-end lines such as Schlitz Malt Liquor Genuine Draft, Old English 800 Draft and Colt 45 Premium.

"It is still consumed mostly by ethnics," Mohorovic said. "But recently yuppies have begun drinking it too. There was a time when it was consumed only in the inner city. Now it's being seen all over the place."

David Grant, who heads the Institute for Black Chemical Abuse in Minneapolis, is disheartened by attempts to broaden malt liquor's appeal. He has called on manufacturers to drop the high-alcohol products.

"These companies' market research has shown them what people will buy, but they have shown a callous disregard for the consequences," he said. "They don't seem to know the social effect their product has."

Malt Liquor: Cheap Brew With an Extra Jolt

Malt liquor is brewed from a base that contains a higher degree of fermentable sugars than regular beer. It also has a higher alcoholic content and is paler in color. The taste is more aromatic and slightly malty.

NATIONWIDE CONSUMPTION (In millions of 2.5-gallon cases) 1987: 76 1988: 73.6 1989: 74.7 1990: 79.7 1991: 82.9 1992: 97.8* * Estimated)

TOP-SELLING BRANDS IN 1992

Rank and Brand Name Brewer Estimated cases (In millions) 1. Olde English 800 Pabst Brewing Co. 27.6 2. Colt 45 G. Heileman Brewing Co. 24 3. Schlitz Malt Liquor Stroh Brewery Co. 20.5 4. Mickey's G. Heileman Brewing Co. 6.4 5. King Cobra Anheuser-Busch Inc. 6.3

ALCOHOL CONTENT OF POPULAR BRANDS (In percent)

Beers Coors: 4.5 Miller: 4.6 Budweiser: 4.7

Malt Liquors King Cobra: 6.0 Schlitz Red Bull: 6.9 St. Ides: 8.0

Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest; Jobson Publishing Corp.

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