Their colonial empire has fallen to the seductions of democracy, the Chunnel's a multi-million pound embarrassment and the monarchy is about to be sent packing. Life isn't all tea and crumpets for Brits. But if there's one thing the English still have going for them, it's booze. While this island of traditionalism is best known for bottling oldies but goodies, like Beefeater Gin and Bass Ale, there's no shortage of maverick brewers and distillers anxious to concoct the next drink that will court the taste buds of the young and hip. The latest trend at British soirees are "alcopops," a new variety of spirit whose overnight popularity has made them the best selling drinks in British retail history.
Neither beer nor cocktail, alcopops come in two main varieties, "alcohol brews" and "alcohol dairy coolers." The first pop to hit the market was Australia's Merrydown's Two Dogs Lemon Brew, a fizzy concoction of malt beverage and real lemon extract. Other companies quickly spotted the public's growing infatuation with the new drinks and came up with brands like Dogs Bollocks, Lemonhead and Hooper's Hooch (lemon married with gin or malt) and Ginzing (gin, fizzy water, guarana and ginseng). Even more unusual are dairy coolers, such as Moo and Supermilch, vodka milk drinks available in strawberry and banana flavors. The demand for alcopops has been so great and the scurry to develop new products so furious that most companies now take less than six weeks to conceive, manufacture and distribute their next variety of drink.
What makes alcopops this hysterically appealing? Unlike beers and cocktails alcopops are sweet and refreshing, with a taste more akin to soda than alcohol. While they may go down like pop, they do, however, pack an alcohol content of between 4.7 and 5.5 percent.
The most readily available alcopops in America to date are lemon brews, malt beverages flavored with real lemons. Twelve ounce, 5.0 percent alcohol bottles of the summery-tasting potions are becoming readily available on the wine cooler shelves of markets and liquor stores, retailing for between five and six dollars a six pack.
Stateside manufacturers are also getting in on the craze. In the bucolic industrial splendor of Wilkes-Barre, PA., The Thick Head Beverage Company brews up One-Eyed Jack, whose label boasts a demonic-looking, patch-eyed hornet who taunts drinkers to "Pucker up, baby!" Sun Devil Alcohol Lemon Drink, manufactured by The Steel Brewing Company in Longview, TX, labels its bottles with an image of Satan crooning "Trust me" to a plump, helpless lemon. Also worth a mention is Mrs. Pucker brand. Their matronly-looking label character warns of lemon brew, "Give it the respect it deserves!"
While the American market currently shows no signs of being deluged with the wackier alcopops, like Moo and Ginzing, lemon brews may be just the start of more lush pops to come. If the phenomenal U.S. success of Bass Beers' Jack Daniel's coolers is any indication, we're ready to line up at the docks for more high-alcohol, easy-on-the-palate British imports.
Time for the world to pucker up!