Distillers hope 'light' liquors will appeal to new generation of drinkers

December 26, 1990|By ASSOCIATAED PRESS

BOSTON (AP)--In an age when less is more and calorie counting is as American as the six-pack, distillers are introducing light liquors--vodka, gin, run and even whiskey--to attract a new generation of drinkers.

Light liquors let drinkers imbibe without getting fat from the calories or drunk from too much alcohol, distillers say, and they hope the holiday season will provide a good test market.

But while light beer has established itself, light liquor may be harder to sell.

"Sometimes the only way you can convince people this isn't watered-down booze is to have them try it," said Brian Tyrol, president of Vermont Distillers in Waterbury, Vt.

Tyrol said his 60-proof light vodka does about 60 percent of the business of the regular vodka; the light gin, about 45 percent. The biggest customers are women and the elderly, he said.

The idea of light liquors isn't new. Four years ago, M.S. Walker, a bottler in Somerville, Mass., introduced light vodka, gin, rum and scotch.

"We felt that the light category was exactly what was happening in society," said Michael Brody, vice president and director of sales for M.S. Walker. "We felt this was a perfect opportunity."

But under liquor certification rules the products had to carry the label "diluted." M.S. Walker's light liquors bombed. "When people saw diluted they had a problem with that," Brody said.

Then Seagram's the giant Canadian distiller, got into the act, introducing Mount Royal Light, a Canadian whiskey that is 54 proof and has fewer calories.

Because Seagram's added some flavorings to the light whiskey, it could be classified as a specialty drink and didn't have to carry the "diluted" tag.

M.S. Walker followed the Seagram's flavoring strategy and about six months ago introduced a 53-proof light fodka with a third fewer calories. The light vodka sells about 5 percent of what M.S. Walker's regular vodkas sell Brody said.

Next year, the company plans to introduce a light rum. For the holidays, M.S. Walker is introducing a light eggnog that goes easy on the alcohol and calorie content.

"The restaurants like it with the liquor liability laws today," Brody said. "They can serve four drinks with the same alcohol content as three."

Brody said the added flavorings smooth the alcoholic bite of the light vodkas, giving them a taste similar to imported vodkas, which also use flavorings. Regular American vodkas aren't allowed to use flavorings.

Seagram's distills the flavor and the alcohol of its light whiskey in separate tanks. Then some of the alcohol is thrown out, and the remainder is blended and bottled.

Despite the Seagram's example, most distillers jumping on the light bandwagon prefer to stick with "white" liquors like vodka, gin and rum.

"Whiskey is too macho a category for light liquor," Tyrol said. "If you're a whiskey drinker you're not looking for something light. You really want the full impact.

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