THE Wall Street Journal recently published a story about...


March 25, 1992

THE Wall Street Journal recently published a story about the marketing of malt liquor to youthful drinkers in the inner city. According to the story, brewers are using rap heroes like Ice Cube and the Geto Boys to push such malts as Red Bull, St. Ides, Olde English 800 and King Cobra to black youths (many not old enough to legally purchase alcoholic beverages). Sales are aided by mom-and-pop stores where clerks look the other way when serving young customers, according to the report.

The malts, which have a higher alcohol content than beer (about 4.5 percent, to beer's 3.5 percent and wine's 13 percent), have become status symbols. "You're a man if you've got a 40 in your hand," said one youth counselor, referring to a $1.50, 40-ounce bottle of King Cobra.

There is one silver lining -- if you consider alcohol less dangerous than illegal drugs. Some health workers say the current popularity of malt liquor may be partly due to the success of drug education and treatment. Some young people have turned to malt liquor from crack cocaine, the use of which is said to be on the decline.

Malt liquor has one other thing going for it that is appreciated by collectors: The cans are beautiful. St. Ides, King Cobra and Red Bull display three of the most colorful and elaborately designed labels to come along in recent years. PowerMaster, a malt produced in Baltimore last year by G. Heileman Brewing Co. but withdrawn quickly amid charges that the company was touting its alcohol content in the inner city, also had an attractive label. Can collectors from around the world grabbed up much the PowerMaster sold before the spigot was turned off.

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