By Jacob Sullum
Here is a product that seems designed to make the heads of FTC bureaucrats and state attorneys general explode: Scotch in a can. And I'm not talking about Scotch ale. The Huffington Post's Ben Muessig reports that a company called Scottish Spirits Imports plans to sell its 80-proof "single grain scotch whisky" in 12-ounce cans. That's the alcohol equivalent of 1.7 Four Lokos or eight beers (assuming an alcohol content of 5 percent). Worse, the containers are nonresealable, although "Scottish Spirits hopes to begin shipping the cans with an attachment that allows them to be resealed." (Under pressure from the FTC, Phusion Projects, which makes Four Loko, agreed to sell it only in resealable containers as of April.) Scottish Spirits says the eight shots per can are meant to be sipped and shared, not guzzled by one person. "They'll crack it open and pour it with Coke or some kind of mixer," says Ken Rubenfeld, the company's vice president of operations, "and have fun with it with their friends." If the container did not tip you off, that scenario probably tells you all you need to know about the quality of this product.
It still might be classy enough to avoid trouble with federal regulators, whose main complaint about Four Loko was not its caffeine (since removed but contained in many other alcoholic beverages that remain on the market), its Chardonnay-level alcoholic strength, or the size of its cans (23.5 ounces) but rather its garish marketing aimed at "young adults" looking to get drunk cheaply, quickly, and easily. Scottish Spirits 3-Year-Old Single Grain Scotch Whisky, which will sell for about $5 a can (pricier, per ounce of pure ethanol, than Four Loko), seems intended for an older, if not wiser, demographic than the fruity, bubbly, neon-colored malt beverage. "A lot of people like to have beverages by their pool, on their boat, in a campground, at sporting events or tailgate parties," Rubenfeld explains. "It's easier to bring a six-pack of a beverage versus bringing a bottle of scotch."
Just to be clear: Although I do not care for Four Loko and probably will not start carrying my Scotch around in six-packs, such choices should be left to consumers, not paternalistic prosecutors or busybody bureaucrats. I suspect Scottish Spirits will have more luck in that respect than Phusion Projects did, for reasons that have more to do with taste than public safety.