Heileman plans to scrap controversial malt liquor Ailing brewer feared costs of legal battle

July 04, 1991|By Cindy Harper-Evans

Financially strapped G. Heileman Brewing Co. said yesterday that it was scrapping plans to continue making and marketing PowerMaster because it is seeking to avoid a protracted legal battle over its new malt liquor's name.

LaCrosse, Wis.-based Heileman, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, said it will discontinue the product because of the "economic burden a legal contest would entail."

The brewer has been told to change the name of PowerMaster, which has been brewed at the company's Halethorpe plant since its introduction last week, by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which felt the name alluded to the malt liquor's high alcohol content -- 5.9 percent.

About 300 Teamsters members are still striking against the Halethorpe plant after rejecting a contract offer Sunday.

Health, church and black groups also have complained about PowerMaster because they felt it was aimed toward poorly educated, inner-city black males -- a group that studies have shown suffers disproportionately from alcohol-related diseases.

Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden launched his own effort to get the malt liquor taken off the shelves of liquor stores last week when he sent a letter to Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, asking the secretary of health and human services to help with a nationwide effort to stem the sales of PowerMaster.

Many cases of PowerMaster are already in liquor stores in the Baltimore area, and the government is allowing the brewer to sell all the PowerMaster that has already been made. However, Heileman will not be able to advertise the product.

Federal law prohibits brewers from citing the alcohol percentage of their products in advertising or on their labels, the object being to eliminate any chance of competition on that basis.

After making Heileman take the word "power" out of its new malt liquor's name, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has said it is planning to scrutinize all advertising and labels of malt liquors to make sure the names do not suggest alcoholic strength.

Malt liquors that could be affected by the increased scrutiny are those with names such as Heileman's Colt 45 (4.5 percent alcohol) and Miller Brewing Co.'s Magnum.

It is not clear exactly how much it would have cost Heileman to change the name, labels and marketing tactics of PowerMaster.

Jerry Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketers Insights, estimated last week that it could have cost the brewer more than $2 million in each market.

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