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Another Shot at Labeling Alcohol

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It encourages customers to go to a Web site called, which urges them to write regulators to support more disclosure. Diageo also has printed a public relations piece in the shape of a Seagram's whiskey bottle.

Hacker worries that alcoholic beverage companies will use nutritional ads to persuade drinkers that alcohol is a healthful alternative when it comes to measuring fat and calories -- that liquor companies could advertise a rum and Diet Coke as a diet drink.

The distilled spirits industry also has been working to change how consumers think of gin, vodka and whiskey, typically viewed as "hard" liquor that can be more intoxicating than beer or wine. To combat that image, it has been pushing the idea of "equivalency," that drinks with certain contents are equal in effect.

In other words, 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits have the same alcoholic content -- so why not a Manhattan instead of a beer? One idea being explored is having a logo on the label with beer, wine and shot glasses separated by equal signs.

"It's dangerous for people not to know that they are all the same," said Gary Galanis , spokesman for Diageo.

This notion infuriates the Beer Institute . Its position is that such comparisons dangerously mislead consumers because hard liquor is mixed according to recipes that call for much more than 1.5 ounces per drink. "You don't want consumers to think three beers are the same as three martinis," said Jeff Becker , president of the Beer Institute. "They aren't even close."

Spirits' competitors say a drinker's weight, the length of time to down a drink and other factors work against equivalency.

Becker said that beermakers support telling consumers how many carbs and calories are in beer (as they now do in light beers) but that they prefer to use "alcohol by volume" to express what percentage of beer is alcohol.

The Wine Institute is similarly wary. In comments to the agency, the vintners said "wine is not beer is not spirits" because wine is a more moderate, mealtime beverage whose alcohol absorption is slowed by food consumption.

Mark Beran , who makes wine in Colorado from fruit and honey, told regulators that the cost of ingredient labeling would kill small producers. More important, he said, is that too much information can ruin a good thing. "It kills the moment, if you will," he said.

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