Bringing Alcoholic Spirits into the 21st Century

In 1979 the UK Government’s Chief Medical Officers recommended a maximum weekly alcohol consumption of 59 units. Today the recommended maximum is just 14 units.

Over the same period, the typical ABV of a gin, vodka, rum, whisky or similar spirit has remained unchanged. A legislated minimum of 37.5% ABV, but often considerably higher. Premium gins are typically in the mid-to-high 40%s. Navy Strength rums are stronger still; generally in the mid-to-late 50%s.

We have never had greater knowledge about the potentially damaging effects of excessive alcohol consumption. We have never had busier lifestyles, with near-infinite ways to entertain and enjoy ourselves. We have never had a lower societal tolerance for doing harm to others as a result of inebriation. Yet, well into the 21st Century, large distilling groups continue to draw an association between high ABV and premium quality. Well into the 21st Century, government legislation stipulates minimum ABV requirements for most types of spirit.

Think about that. Successive governments whose Chief Medical Officers have presided over that reduction of recommended maximum weekly alcohol consumption from 59 units to 14 units have nonetheless continued to require that a spirit must be at least 37.5% ABV in order to be considered a gin, vodka, rum or whisky.

We don’t have minimum sugar content requirements for popular fizzy soft drinks. We don’t have minimum tar and nicotine content requirements for cigarettes. But we do have minimum ABV levels for different types of spirit despite the ever-clearer link between excess alcohol consumption and serious medical conditions. Extraordinary. Unconscionable. Pick your adjective.

Don’t be distracted by major brands jumping onto the non-alcoholic bandwagon with 0% ABV cousins of their gins. The real battleground is not between flavoured cordials doing impressions of famous spirits and the full strength stuff. Consumers who don’t want to drink have never been short of choices, from good old water, tea and coffee to an every-growing variety of juices, soft drinks and mixers. Non-alcoholic ‘spirits’ simply add another option to the not-drinking side of the menu. What they don’t do is alter the landscape for the large numbers of consumers who aren’t minded to abstain, but who are increasingly mindful about their health and the amount of alcohol that they consume. Rather than asking these consumers to make a "full strength or full stop" choice, isn't it better to adapt their favourite alcoholic drinks to their 21st century lifestyles and priorities?

The starting point for Cut Classics was a pretty simple question: why shouldn’t a consumer be able to choose a less alcoholic, or “light”, version of their favourite spirit? Well into the 21st century, and knowing all that we now do about the potential for negative health and lifestyle impacts that strong liquor can bring, is it not time for popular alcoholic spirits to be available in both full strength and light versions? Just as soft drinks are. Just as many foods with traditionally high fat or sugar content are.

It’s a story for another article, but let’s just say that the big distillers aren’t quite on the same page as us right now! They really are very keen indeed to keep those minimum ABV requirements in place. Well, except on the occasions when it suits them not to, of course…