If there is anything the industry can't tolerate it is a person who would rather jog six or eight miles a day than to sit around sipping highballs and taking on the shape of a cello. Obviously, though, the liquor industry can't speak out harshly against exercise and fitness.
It seems obvious that if Americans are spending $3 billion annually on fitness - which they are - they will have that much less to spend on alcoholic beverages.
Caught in a bind by fast-changing lifestyles, the distillers are trying to restore some dignity to the age-old pastime of drinking alcoholic beverages and to do it without offending the health and fitness crowd. The task of the industry is obvious: to come up with wholesome booze.
As a result, we have seen good growth in the sale of wine coolers, those carbonated blends of wine and fruit juice that taste something like the punch at the high school prom after the football team has altered it with a variety of mysterious liquids.
Picture, if you can, a movie in which a Humphrey Bogart type sidles up the bar and says, "Give me a blueberry-muffin schnapps, Mac. And a golden wine cooler for the dame."
Don't laugh. The blueberry-muffin schnapps comes to us from James B. Beam Distilling Co., and the golden wine cooler from Seagram Co. Other distillers have similar products on the market, and still others are sure to follow.
Amateur drinkers have not developed a taste for bourbon, Scotch and rye, so Jim Beam is facing the challenge by introducing the "ZZZinger." That concoction, for "younger audiences," not only abuses good Kentucky bourbon by mixing it with the likes of lemon-lime soda but compounds the crime by packaging it in aluminum cans.
The health and fitness movement is not the only trouble facing the nation's distillers. People are getting more and more upset about drunken drivers, and that is cutting back on overall liquor sales.
The industry's image didn't get any help last year when Italian and Austrian wine producers were caught spiking their products with methyl alcohol, a volatile liquid more commonly used in antifreeze and formaldehyde than in drinks.
Meanwhile, the prices of alcoholic beverages keep going up because citizens who don't drink would like to pile as many of their taxes as they can on those who do. And millions of potential customers have been driven out of the market because of mandatory drinking ages.
More troubles are on the way. In Chicago, a reformed alcoholic has sued a whiskey maker and a brewery because the stuff he was drinking had no labels warning him that it could be habit-forming. (That seems reasonable. How else could he have suspected?)
Liquor sold pretty well back in the days when it was taboo. If the manufacturers of distilled spirits really want to increase sales, maybe they ought to work toward getting liquor sales outlawed. That seems to have worked with other drugs.