Raleigh, N.C. — A company hoping to sell 3-ounce vials of high-alcohol malt beverages in flavors like Screw Driver and Apple Pie is asking the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to approve its packaging.
Staff members with the ABC Commission rejected Stout Brewing's packaging for its Stout 21 malt beverage product last month.The formal letter from the commission said the rejection was based on the state's authority to "prohibit or regulate any advertising of alcoholic beverages which is contrary to the public interest." This doesn't reject the drink itself, but rather the way in which it would be sold.
Advocates outside the ABC Commission say there is a particular concern that the product would lure underage drinkers.
Cody Sommer, chief executive of Stout Brewing, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment. His company is asking the appointed three-member ABC Commission to overturn their staff's ruling. The group will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
The Stout 21 case is the first policy decision to be taken by Gov. Pat McCrory's appointees to the ABC Commission, including former Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner.
A malt beverage is any product that is brewed in a process similar to beer. While beers use grains like malted barley as their base and spices like hops to provide flavor, some cheaper malt beverages use the equivalent of sugar water to feed the yeast to produce alcohol as part of the brewing process. Flavors are then added much like they might be to a soda drink.
Such beverages are already commonplace in grocery and convenience stores, such as Bacardi Silver, which is sold in beer-like bottles and has 5 percent alcohol by volume.
Applications filed with the ABC Commission show that the Stout 21 beverages would be 15 percent alcohol by volume, the equivalent of 30 proof alcohol.
"It would be the same as any other malt beverage," Larry Dooley, vice president of Fox Distributing in Shelby, one of two distributors listed by Stout 21.
Dooley said that, while some bars might choose to sell the Stout 21 product, he anticipated that most sales would be through convenience stores.
Stout Brewing describes the Stout 21 products as a "Flavored Alcoholic Shooter." The packaging features a twist off top and a rounded bottom. Flavors, according to the company's website, include Royal Flush, Margarita, Screwdriver, Apple Pie and J-Cola. They would be sold in single servings and four-packs.
It's unclear whether the company has started brewing beer. It has a separate website for its Stout 21 product.
The proposed product has raised concerns among advocates who argue for tighter controls on alcohol and work against underage drinking.
"It is the packaging that is of concern," said Wanda Boone, of Durham TRY, a nonprofit that works to curb substance abuse among teenagers.
In her mind, she said, the packaging and flavors are "targeted toward underage consumers, which is really what the issue is."
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said this is a downside of the a 2005 law that lifted the cap on the amount of alcohol allowed in malt beverage, which had previously been set at 6 percent alcohol by volume. The law, he said, not only cleared the way for boutique beers and craft brewers.
"We're putting something on the convenience store shelves that's akin to the same alcohol beverage content you can find at the ABC liquor stores," Creech said. "That cannot be safe."
Although there are some liquors in the 30 proof range sold in ABC stores, most are 70 proof or above, according to a commission product listing.