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Malt liquors continue to draw criticism.

G. Heileman Brewing Co. of LaCrosse, WI, is just one of many malt liquor producers but has attracted a large share of criticism from health advocates and label readers.

Spokespersons for Milwaukee's black community complained this week about the St, Ides brand whose advertising they said was meant to lure black teenagers.

U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello has complained for weeks about the Crazy Horse brand, contending the name is offensive to Indians,

Heileman said it only bottles the beverages for companies in other states and doesn't have anything to do with their marketing.

But criticism persists, including from health officials who say malt liquor, with a higher alcohol content than most beer, increases alcoholism problems - especially among low-income blacks and Indians.

Hornell Brewing Co. of Brooklyn, NY, owner of the Crazy Horse label, said last week it will repackage the beverage in response to arguments by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that the original design was misleading, making the product look like distilled spirits.

Some observers say the criticism might benefit brewers by generating sales-improving publicity.

Jack Killorin, a bureau spokesperson, said the advertising controversy makes the beverages "outlaw products" and provides publicity for higher alcohol content that can't be legally advertised.

"We're beginning to be concerned about guerrilla marketing in which you and I and other government agencies serve as an advertising medium," Killorin said.

Malt liquor criticism escalated nationwide with the growth of so-called up-strength malts liquors.

Malt liquors have a higher alcohol content than regular beers and the up-strength malts have a higher one still.

Heileman isn't the only malt liquor manufacturer. Pabst Brewing Co. of Milwaukee makes Olde English 800. Last year, it became the leading malt liquor with 1.7 million barrels shipped, said Impact, a New York-based trade publication.

But "Heileman is the big fish in malt liquor," says Makani Themba, a policy analyst for the Marin Institute, a California-based alcohol-abuse organization.

People attending the Wisconsin Wholesale Beer Distributors Association annual meeting recently in Green Bay asked whether it is worth brewing someone else's product when it attracts protests.

They also worried about the criticism's effects on beer in general.

Novello's attacks on beer advertising are often based on inadequate data, said Jeff Becker, vice president for alcohol issues at the Beer Institute, which represents brewers.

Becker said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Substance Abuse Prevention picks on beer.

"They direct most of their funds toward alcohol use, not alcohol abuse," Becker said, calling it "a $300-million agency that directs a lot of its funds toward our industry."

Heileman's malt liquor business is at least 2.3 million barrels, about 23 percent of its total domestic shipments, Impact research director Frank Walters said.

That figure doesn't include the malts Heileman brews under contract.

Heileman brews up-strength St. Ides for McKenzie River Corp. of San Francisco, and Midnight Dragon, Black Sunday and Crazy Horse for Hornell.

Last summer Heileman canceled its own malt liquor entry, Colt 45 PowerMaster, after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ruled the name illegally promoted its higher alcohol content.

St. Ides commercials, which Heileman didn't produce, annoyed members of the black community by featuring rap music star Ice Cube and others.

McKenzie River received a $15,000 fine and a three-day wholesaler's license suspension from the federal bureau after complaints about illegal promotion of its higher alcohol content.

One ad called misleading suggested St. Ides increased sexual prowess. Another disparaged Olde English 800.
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Title Annotation:offensive advertising by manufacturers
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:May 18, 1992
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