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Hey, Matt:

I'm seeing lots of advertisements for "malt beverages" that have the flavor of rum or vodka or any other liquor. Why don't the alcohol companies just make a regular rum and Coke beverage with real rum? Why the nasty-tasting malt stuff?

-- John, San Marcos

All of boozedom is divided into two parts: the distilled spirits part and the malt beverage part. Vodka versus beer. Scotch versus Hurricane Malt Liquor. The drinks you talk about legally are the equivalent of beer and are manufactured much like beer. So if you're Coors or Anheuser-Busch, already grinding out suds, already claiming a large chunk of the beer-cooler space in stores, already selling to beer bars, why would you suddenly want to go into the distilled liquor business with a whole new set of laws, outlets, manufacturing and distribution problems? If you can produce a "clear malt beverage," 5 to 6% alcohol by volume, then tart it up with fake lemon or rum or kiwi-strawberry flavor, or make it taste like a bad margarita, why complicate your marketing life with real distilled alcohol?

Next time you're in a store, check out the cooler space devoted to fancy (nonalcohol) fruit juices. It's a booming part of the youth-oriented soft drink market. So when a brewer comes up with something that's easy to make, slides down your throat like Kool-ade, and gets you falling-down drunk, they've hit the summertime thirst-quencher trifecta. Who cares what it tastes like. Heck, Coors' Zima started all this years ago. It's still on the market, and nobody's ever liked the taste.

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