Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Alcohol Miniature Bottles = Litter

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky (so spelled) is a billion dollar a year business. It’s an acquired taste: cheap whiskey plus water (the end product is only 33% alcohol), sugar and cinnamon. As a brand, it grew from an obscure history. Dr. McGillicuddy's Fireball Whiskey was one of many flavored alcohol products under the McGillicuddy brand, which had originated with Seagram in the 1980s, then sold to the Sazerac Company in 1989. Fireball was renamed 2007 and provided with the red, fire-breathing dragon label image and the slogan “Tastes Like Heaven, BURNS LIKE HELL.” Fireball is currently the best-selling liqueur in the United States. However, at The Whiskey Wash, a whiskey review site, it was ranked fourth out of five among cinnamon-flavored whiskeys (Jim Beam Kentucky Fire, first). Fireball’s description including “…intensely chemical aroma…distressingly viscous and alarmingly sweet… very little in the way of whiskey flavor.”

"FIREBALL Cinnamon Whiskey" These
miniature bottles hold 50 ml = 1.7 ounces.
Fireball appears to also be the most likely to be littered alcohol miniature bottle in the United States. An observant walk through the streets of Maynard will spy empty miniature bottles – also known as testers, shooters, minis and airplane bottles – with a distribution mostly not too far from the liquor store where they were purchased. From talking to store owners, buyers are typically adults who buy several of these small plastic bottles at a time, and need to be deterred from starting to drink before they are out of the store.

Why not just buy a pint, a ‘fifth’ or a ‘handle’? A good guess is that people who are not supposed to be drinking where they live want something easy to conceal, something that can be drained and dropped, or else tossed out a car window. One specious argument made for sale of minis: “A key driver for the growth of the global spirit miniatures market is the fact that they prove to be an ideal choice for consumers looking to reduce their alcohol intake.” Or basically, you can’t drink what you did not buy. A saving grace is that these now-plastic bottles do not contribute to the broken glass problem. A ‘fifth,’ by the way, used to be one-fifth of a gallon, now defined as 750 milliliters. A ‘handle’ is a half-gallon (or now, 1.75 liters), so called because the bottle has a handle to make pouring easier to control.

The origin of miniatures – as glass bottles – appears to have had its start after the end of Prohibition, when people were being offered taste-size samples of brand-name spirits after years of drinking illegal booze. In the 1960s the airline industry found that minis could be doled out to passengers with minimal spillage, with each bottle containing a controlled amount of liquor. Alcohol was often free. These days a mini will set you back $5-8 dollars. Can you bring your own booze (BYOB)? The answer is do not try to sneak drink you own – this has led to people being arrested at flight’s end. A few airlines are experimenting with BYOB, with the caveat that their staff have to be asked to open and serve what you brought. Hotels got into the alcohol miniatures business with mini-bars in the 1970s, and for a while found that profitable, but most have phased out the hard liquor, leaving overpriced snacks, non-alcoholic beverages and small bottles of wine.

Back to miniatures and littering. Can this problem be legislated away? In April 2015 the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, banned the sale of spirits in bottles smaller than eight ounces. In October of that same year a judge overturned the law based on interpretation that only the state has legislative authority over liquor sales. Maine is in the middle of tackling this problem. Sales of miniatures exceed 10,000,000 per year (40% Fireball). In 2017 the state legislature passed a bill requiring a five cent deposit. The obstinate Governor LePage said he would rather ban the sale entirely, claiming that minis fostered drunk driving, than create what in effect would be a new tax. New Haven, Connecticut is considering a deposit law, but may run afoul of state jurisdiction. In Massachusetts, a few towns have passed an outright ban, and the state legislature is considering a state-wide, five cent deposit law.  

NOTES
Visit this site for a scathing evaluation of five cinnamon-flavored whiskies.

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