The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is clamping down on the labelling and advertising of the rapidly growing ‘malternatives’ sector (sweet, malt-based alcoholic drinks) to prevent consumers being misled into thinking they contain distilled spirits.

Leading brands in the sector include Smirnoff Ice (Diageo) and Bacardi Silver (Anheuser-Busch and Bacardi). Although these drinks are associated with hard liquor brands, they do not actually contain the named (or any) spirits.

But the wording on their packaging is evasive on this point. One example given described the drink as a “flavored malt beverage made with natural flavors containing vodka.” It is this ambiguity the BATF has decided to forbid.

“Specifically, brewers and importers have begun to associate flavored malt beverages with well-known brands of distilled spirits,” the regulator declared. “[The Bureau] therefore considers it misleading to represent that a malt beverage contains a particular class of distilled spirit when it contains only an alcohol-based flavoring.”

The ruling follows a request in February by the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division to investigate whether marketing for Smirnoff Ice misled consumers about its contents.

However, mention of a liquor brand name – such as Bacardi or Smirnoff – will still be permitted on packaging.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff