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Punch Drunk

Alcohol Nutritional Labels: Do You Really Want to Drink to Your Health?



Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits (Guinness, Crown Royal, Tanqueray, Captain Morgan), said the other week that it’s adding labels to its bottles disclosing the alcohol content and nutritional information of each spirit.

This is a completely voluntary move which Diageo is positioning as a tool for savvy, health-conscious drinkers to stay abreast of exactly what they’re putting into their bodies. It also completely goes against the grain of what most alcohol companies have done since the beginning of bottling their products for distribution.

Because let’s be honest, if you’re drinking hard liquor, do you really want to know how innutritious and unhealthy it is? It might actually help convince you to drink less, which, disingenuous moderation labels and anti-drunk-driving campaigns aside, alcohol companies do not want to happen to their bottom line.

You may wonder: Why doesn’t alcohol already require a nutrition label like every other foodstuff and beverage? I mean, bottled water requires it, and there’s nothing in water except a myriad of health benefits. (Gross, right?)

In short, alcohol isn’t governed by the Food and Drug Administration, or the FDA, but by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, which was created after Prohibition ended. It’s the primary job of TTB to make sure the government is making some coin on all of that legal booze. It wants the alcohol to fly off the shelves, so nutrition labels aren’t high on the TTB’s priority list. It should be noted that groups have tried repeatedly to make the use of alcohol nutrition labels a law, only to be stymied by alcohol manufacturers.

Most people know, or at least should know, that information regarding most alcohol brands’ contents and nutrition facts are available online. Of course some people, like sweet old man and Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, still use AOL email accounts, so taking for granted that people understand the Internet is a mistake.

And if you didn’t get that joke then you probably aren’t reading Style anyway. Now let me get you a warm glass of milk and a Reader’s Digest. Laughter really is the best medicine, isn’t it?

Back to Diageo, I understand its proactive move here. The world is becoming healthier. It isn’t a fad. People want to live longer and are freely not smoking and not eating cheese curds and not drinking seven Ancient Age bourbon and waters at happy hour (hey, work was a bear today).

Skinnygirl Vodka is a great example of a product marketing directly at the health-conscious female crowd that’s still unwilling to give up hard booze. Skinnygirl, which has an abbreviated but not at all comprehensive nutrition label on the bottle, claims to be low-cal. In reality it just has less alcohol, which makes it so.

And just to make this clear, regardless of what those mean guys said to me the other night at the Cheesecake Factory, there’s nothing unmanly about ordering a Skinnygirl cocktail. And no, I won’t take my purse and go freshen up in the ladies room! It’s a satchel and it’s European.

But I digress.

Why are people so intent on knowing what’s in their spirit? I for one, am not. I am well aware that hard alcohol isn’t good for me — not even in moderation, which if I’m out having cocktails, is something I rarely practice.

During what some people are calling a revolutionary announcement, Diageo Chief Executive Ivan Menezes said, “Currently, there is no obligation to provide such information in markets worldwide, but we know that consumers are increasingly discerning about what’s in their glass.”

That’s absolutely true, but only in the sense that consumers are getting more astute about cocktails and spirits, thus demanding the highest-quality product. The rise of the super-premium and costly bourbon Pappy Van Winkle testifies to that. People want their Pappy because it’s high quality and damn good, but I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that Pappy won’t kill you any less effectively than a cheaper, less delicious bourbon.

Maybe “kill” is a strong word. I meant to say, “make you happy, charmingly loquacious, creative, handsome and slightly more pleasant to be around.”

And honestly, label or not, after two or three drinks, I don’t have nutrition on my mind.

Nachos are though.

Now pour me another one, barkeep. This finely oiled machine is thirsty. S

Jack Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at @jackgoesforth.

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