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June 25, 2018 9:37 AM   Subscribe

The Weird and Wavy History of Wine Coolers

The bodacious bottled drinks once saw an explosion in popularity, then a backlash, and now, a surprise comeback.
posted by poffin boffin (65 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I must be much posher and more British than I thought, because I thought the article was about this sort of thing. They are pretty wavy, at least.
posted by Fuchsoid at 9:59 AM on June 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


I was just thinking about wine coolers the other day for some reason. Which led to thinking about Zima, which led to mild revulsion.
posted by Foosnark at 10:02 AM on June 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


it's those, but full of alcopops.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:02 AM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I only ever heard about wine coolers in the context of health class warnings (they’re still alcohol!) in the 90s and am not sure I ever encountered one in the wild. I still think back on that sometimes and wonder what on earth they were talking about. Now I know.
posted by rustcellar at 10:06 AM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Wine coolers are to Sangria as Twinkies are to Fine French Pastry.
posted by sammyo at 10:13 AM on June 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


I was just thinking about wine coolers the other day for some reason. Which led to thinking about Zima, which led to mild revulsion.

I had a girlfriend once who would only ever drink something called Purple Passion, which came in a two liter plastic bottle. I always just assumed it was a wine cooler but I've never actually gone and found out. Maybe it was just Grape Kool Aid with vodka in it or something.
posted by bondcliff at 10:16 AM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wow, Is there anything more '80s than a Bruce Willis and Sharron Stone wine cooler commercial? I'd totally forgotten about that ad.
posted by octothorpe at 10:17 AM on June 25, 2018 [8 favorites]


I saw Zima in the cooler at the gas station down the street the other day. I briefly wished I still drank so I could buy some and reminisce about how disgusting it was/is.

Maybe it was just Grape Kool Aid with vodka in it or something.

Even better; it's Everclear *and* wine. Oh look, it made a comeback a few years ago as well.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:30 AM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


So does that make my favorite grapefruit radler...just a beer version of a wine cooler?
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:33 AM on June 25, 2018 [4 favorites]


I feel like true wine coolerosity is not just based on ingredients but also on state of mind.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:34 AM on June 25, 2018 [10 favorites]


Boone's Farm - wine cooler or not?
posted by elsietheeel at 10:38 AM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I went big for the Bartles & Jaymes in the early 1980s. As the article suggested, wine coolers were indeed a gateway to "real" alcoholic drinks for me in college. I was not a big drinker in my college days, but wine coolers primed me for fruity cocktails (also big in the 80s), rum-and-cokes, and red wine.
posted by briank at 10:43 AM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


From the article: The story of wine coolers’ rise and fall fits almost perfectly into the pocket of Reagan-era America. The first wine coolers were sold in 1981.

I really enjoyed the movie 20th Century Women, but when those 1979 teens ask a passerby to get them some wine coolers from the store they're loitering near, I was pretty sure it was an anachronism.
posted by bendybendy at 10:46 AM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ha, I could have written briank's post! The rise of wine coolers coincided with my freshman year in college, and in many states there were still two different legal drinking ages - you could buy beer and wine at 18 or 19, but had to wait until 21 to buy liquor. So we 19-year-olds drank A LOT of wine coolers, including Sun Country (earworm, sorry) which came in two-liter bottles. Then Sutter Home white zinfandel got big in 1987 and boy, did we feel sophisticated. (Shamefully, I still like drinks that basically taste like kool-aid.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 10:47 AM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Weird. Maybe it took longer to die in the flyover states, but I remember wine coolers and Zima as contemporaries, and Zima didn't come out until 1993. Maybe I'm remembering the post wine cooler malt liquor alcopops and misremembering it as a wine cooler? I certainly know I drank the occasional wine cooler as late as 1996 or 1997.

I bought a sixer of the rereleased Zima the other week, it was perfectly unexceptional. Lemony limony with just a hint of alcohol. I sorta wonder how terrible it would be replacing the seven-up in a 7&7.
posted by Kyol at 10:49 AM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Anheuser-Busch pulled Dewey Forman from the market two years after launch; Miller killed its ill-fated Matilda Bay cooler in 1989.

Ha ha, this takes me back to high school parties in the summer of 1988 - Matilda Bay was the hot ticket for aspiring underage drinkers.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:56 AM on June 25, 2018


bondcliff: Purple Passion (or Peach Passion) in true form was Everlcear based and strong as hell. We used to have to go to Nevada to buy them because the ABV was too great for California. They eventually weakened it enough to sell elsewhere. Oh those Everclear days.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:03 AM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I remember drinking wine coolers as my starter alcohol. But they were almost as nasty as beer. Basically what they are good for, is a drink to hold in your hand, to prove you're not a prude, and stave off those who would insist you have another drink. I could nurse one all night.

Somehow I never did progress to more serious drinking. I'm just not that into it. I didn't realize wine coolers had gone out of fashion.
posted by elizilla at 11:11 AM on June 25, 2018


Up until the start of this year I worked at a liquor store, we sold some wine coolers but mostly they were shunned in favour of vodka or bourbon pre-mixes.
The vast majority of the people who drank such things are mixing them themselves, including me and mine. Alcohol laws here strongly favour mixing your own beverages most of the time price-wise, and you can make them varying strengths and flavours to boot.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 11:14 AM on June 25, 2018


Interesting. I was never sure what happened to wine coolers, but it makes sense that it was tax-related, given that malt beverages like Smirnoff Ice and Mike's Hard Lemonade filled the vacuum they left pretty quickly. It's not like the niche they occupied actually disappeared.

IMO it's mostly because of the semi-crazy way the US does alcohol excise taxes at the Federal level, that either wine coolers or flavored malt beverages exist at all. Particularly the latter, which are really a bonkers invention when you think about it—where else do you brew beer, only to run it through activated charcoal to take out the flavor, and then add flavors back into it, in order to approximate a cocktail?

If we based the excise taxes solely on the ABV of the finished consumer product (basically a "flat tax" per proof-gallon), the production process would probably look a lot more traditional, and you'd have a lot more beverages that were basically like soju with flavorings (which is basically what true "alcopops" are). But it's uneconomical to produce that sort of thing in the US, even through the California wine industry produces millions of tons of fermented grape pomace that's practically given away as animal feed or fertilizer, but is traditionally the basis for brandies like grappa, eaux-de-vie, törkölypálinka, etc. And could just as easily be used to produce neutral spirit for bottled cocktails / alcopops.

Although my guess is that if it weren't for the punitively high taxes on any product derived from distillation (and the regulations on operating distilling plants in general), the surplus of wine that led to the California Cooler wouldn't ever have happened. It would have been distilled down, at some point, to easier-to-store spirits. But I kinda suspect the end result on store shelves would probably be about the same—people are always going to want the taste of a cocktail combined with the convenience of opening a beer bottle. Avoiding the expense and hassle of buying or having liquor sitting around is a bonus.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:28 AM on June 25, 2018 [8 favorites]


Zima was known for inducing a massive headache.
posted by waving at 11:40 AM on June 25, 2018


I lived in Quebec when wine coolers were at their peak. My main memory of them was that the people who drank them, of the circle of people my parents socialised with, were either people trying really hard to be sophisticated or people who were on a "diet". Oh and the crazy Anglo lady next door who always wanted to be my mum's best friend or sleep with my dad. She'd always bring a cooler filled with them when she invited herself over even if my mum was just sitting outside drinking a tea and it was 10am.

I don't think too many of my friends drank this stuff regularly though I'm pretty sure we all tried them at one time or another. I think we all universally hated them. When my brother-in-law was first dating my sister (in the early 90s) he was convinced that the way to a woman's heart was always having wine coolers on hand.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:45 AM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Remember wine spritzers? Those were a thing, right? I remember when I was in my first year of undergrad back in the early 90s, I went to visit a friend who lived in NYC and we daringly ordered wine spritzers somewhere in Greenwich village. I think the server may have rolled his eyes in lieu of checking ID.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2018


One group, however, did not give up wine coolers: underage drinkers. From the outset, public health officials had fretted that coolers—with the buzz of beer, but the taste of soda pop—were gateway booze for teens and preteens. “We think wine coolers are like training bras,” said the executive director of a national anti-drug nonprofit, in 1988.

Ooookay, then. Let's hope this person isn't still somewhere talking about teenagers, bras, and booze.

Remember wine spritzers? Those were a thing, right?

In Canada, we had Sarasoda, few traces of which seem to exist on line. It was a non-alcoholic...beer cooler, IIRC?

Owing to different tax regimes, things like Smirnoff Ice are blended vodka beverages in Canada instead of being malt liquor. I have vague memories of people showing up at house parties in high school with Zima, which AFAIK was never sold here, but people with older friends or siblings got some from just over the border in Michigan.

Then there were...

Canada Cooler Rockaberry. a.k.a. "Throwing up on someone else's lawn."

c.f. Seagram's Wildberry. Serving suggestion: "A bunch of mimes," according to the commercial.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:25 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh man, wine coolers. The first time I ever had a wine cooler was the time my mom's friend offered me one after I babysat two of her kids when the third kid put his leg through a window and needed stitches. I was 12, and it was my introduction to the wine mom phenomenon. Good times.
posted by palomar at 12:35 PM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


Boone's Farm - wine cooler or not?

Absolutely! Incidentally, that's the first thing I ever got drunk off. I was 17 and a bottle of that put me on my ass. It was the peach one.

Remember wine spritzers? Those were a thing, right?

I think they're either coming back or about to. TFA links to an article about making the best wine spritzers. Also, at a neighborhood barbecue recently, my neighbor mixed rosé with pamplemousse La Croix and it was amazing. She called herself basic but she's pretty much a goddess to me now. Given how popular both of those ingredients are these days, it's only a matter of time until this catches on.
posted by lunasol at 12:46 PM on June 25, 2018 [9 favorites]


I thought wine coolers were alcopops! I hadn't known that they involved wine at any point, any more than blue Slush Puppies involved raspberries. So that's interesting. I guess a mimosa is a wine cooler that's changed its name and married up.

I also bought some of the reissued Zima in a weak moment, hoping to taste some memories. I haven't actually drunk it yet because I had temporarily forgotten that something about alcopops -- the sugar content, maybe -- causes me to crash, to become sleepy and melancholy instead of buzzed. This didn't happen when I was a teenager, when I first drank the stuff. And since I was a teenager, those memories were of things that shouldn't have happened.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:54 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I loved wine coolers in college. My favorite was one called Hooch which tasted a bit like Orangina.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 1:00 PM on June 25, 2018


I only remember these from commercials, to be honest. When I was in high school, at the height of Zima and Smirnoff Ice, it was way easier to get a dime bag of decent weed.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:04 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


BARBERRIAN!

Ah, such memories of brightly colored vomit. See also blue curacao and lemonade, the "blue lagoon".
posted by hearthpig at 1:15 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I bought two four-packs of wine coolers about a month ago from a Wegmans, for my wife and mother-in-law to consume. They weren't exactly leaping off the shelf, but I assumed that they were doing all right and simply being shoved aside by the hard lemonade, hard soda, cider competitors that seem trendy these days.

And in college, I was secure enough in my masculinity to drink strawberry wine coolers. My rationale was that if I wasn't drinking them to get blotto -- which, unlike many of my friends, I wasn't -- I might as well drink something that tasted half-decent rather than cheap beer.

(Then a friend introduced me to Woodchuck Cider, right after it first went national, and blammo! Bye bye wine coolers for me.)
posted by delfin at 1:22 PM on June 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


Boone's Farm - wine cooler or not?

Decidedly so, but marketed (when it's actually marketed) as something slightly classier, I think. Their version of hard lemonade -- made with apple wine, if I recall correctly -- was so much than Mike's and the others back whenever those debuted, and about half the price.
posted by me3dia at 1:24 PM on June 25, 2018


Oh! My friend wrote this! I'm the friend in the lede who ordered her a Ramona!

I missed the original wine cooler window, but Ramona's are pretty delicious
posted by zingiberene at 1:45 PM on June 25, 2018 [16 favorites]


Remember wine spritzers? Those were a thing, right?

A wine spritzer is a mixed drink consisting of white wine and soda water. Wine spritzers are very low in calories, alcohol, and flavor. In bartending school, we were taught to always serve a wine spritzer with a double fruit garnish, because the only reason someone would order one is because they're on a terrible self-punishing diet, so you may as well give them something to eat.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:47 PM on June 25, 2018 [12 favorites]


I don't care what your opinion on this is: I like wine coolers, I miss them, and I can't find them anywhere any more. Sometimes I just want a cheap easy fruity drunk, already.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:49 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


cider is so good and i wish i could still drink. when i think about finally being able to drink again all i think about is cider cider cider. fuck me up apples i am rEADY
posted by poffin boffin at 1:53 PM on June 25, 2018 [9 favorites]


"It was delicious—sophisticated, even—but I knew exactly what it was:a wine cooler, a girly throwback rarely seen since the 1980s."

What is this person talking about? Wine coolers have never gone away, I'm really baffled by this sentence. I'm guessing they just have happened to live in such a way they haven't encountered an incredibly common beverage for sale in 30 years, which might be noteworthy in and of itself.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:55 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


My parents loved loved loved Bartles & Jaymes. And I had to buy it by the case because ... Pennsylvania.
posted by lagomorphius at 2:14 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


I must be much posher and more British than I thought, because I thought the article was about this sort of thing. They are pretty wavy, at least.

If you want to make that wine cooler seem kind of tacky (and more American), consider that George Washington sent one as a gift to the Alexander Hamilton as a kind of "sorry you ruined your life" gift during the Reynolds Scandal.

I like wine spritzers -- the kind you add Aperol or whatever to -- because they're a great way of using up wine you don't enjoy but are too cheap to throw out.
posted by grandiloquiet at 3:03 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: a beverage of sparkly water and wine plus a bitter apéritif is a Spritz, not a spritzer.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:08 PM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


Fun fact: a beverage of sparkly water and wine plus a bitter apéritif is a Spritz, not a spritzer.

Favor rescinded: spritzs are good, spritzers are garbage. (Okay but actually I don't like to dilute my alcohol too much, so seriously down with spritzers.)
posted by grandiloquiet at 3:10 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, at a neighborhood barbecue recently, my neighbor mixed rosé with pamplemousse La Croix and it was amazing.

Drinking this now with great pleasure.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:00 PM on June 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


cider is so good and i wish i could still drink. when i think about finally being able to drink again all i think about is cider cider cider. fuck me up apples i am rEADY

My summer jam is currently Crispin Rose Cider, made with apple and pear cider and this article says rose petals. Really crisp, and a wisp undersweet, which I like.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:10 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


All summer I make big pitchers of sangria with box white wine and whatever fruit is in season. Often I mix it with seltzer and ice. Dreamy.
posted by Grandysaur at 5:19 PM on June 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


First time I ever bought alcohol for later consumption, it was a wine cooler. Home for the summer after 3rd year of college, just turned 21, thought I was SO SOPHISTICATED when I put the B&J strawberry daiquiri cans in my grocery cart. They were pretty disgusting, put me off wine for a long time.

But cider? Cider is delicious. Especially dry Norman-style cider. 99% of what you can get in the States is sweet (almost cloying so) but I used to live about 15 minutes from an old-fashioned ciderworks and it was wonderful.
posted by basalganglia at 5:24 PM on June 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


Zima is one of the only alcoholic beverages I ever truly liked. None of my friends at the time understood how I could stand it, and they seemed embarrassed when I ordered it . . . but Zima was delicious.
posted by Annabelle74 at 6:23 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Dry cider all day. The only thing mass market American cider is good for is living with a lager for a snakebite.

I'll cop to drinking wine spritzers, though. I'm a lightweight and max out at two glass of wine. Having a spritzer means I can have a beverage before dinner too (otherwise I have to hold off so I can have a glass or two at dinner and not go over my limit).
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:04 PM on June 25, 2018


When Zima made a comeback last year, we bought some for the office. My younger coworkers were not fans, but it tasted exactly like I remember. Whether that is good or bad is an exercise for the reader.

I will always associate it with the Babylon 5 Usenet group, as there was a Zima sign in one of the bars in (I think) the episode TKO as a little piece of Earth memorabilia. I recall JMS saying that he pictured the spokesdude saying, "Zo I zayz to thiz guy, nice ztation"* and then a bunch of Narn beat the crap out of him.

* - One of the gimmicks of the ads is they never used an S when they could use a Z.

In any case, make sure everybody has Zimas.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:30 PM on June 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


I wonder if anyone has any comments on the gendered consumption of alcohol, or perceptions of such?
I bought some wine just now, and the otherwise lovely bloke at the bottle-O was cracking "wise" about it being better that I'd chosen a dry white than the fruity lexia (a blend, usually heavily muscat, as I understand) as lexy is a "girls drink".
I don't like these preconceptions about various types of alcohol, and studiously avoid them when selling/recommending alcohol myself, but there's a lot of them out there. Fruity lexia is often (usually?) made into cooler approximations for consumption, as I indeed have done with my dry white. When I sold coolers, I sold them to people of all genders, but there was a general tendency towards the assumption that the 4-pack of West Coast Coolers in the trolley was a drink chosen by or for the women in a given group.
I'd appreciate any comment anyone has with regards to this topic. Is wine cooler consumption gendered, or perceived as such, in anyone else's circumstances? I know there's often assumptions about alcohol content and gender, but in these cases the ABV difference is fairly negligible.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 12:40 AM on June 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I remember my stupid conservative parents in Northern California letting me drink Bartles and Jaymes at parties. I’d go to high school keggers and be underwhelmed by the alcohol content. At Larry’s* big graduation party I remember some young woman I had the hots for stumbling into my lap saying “You’ve *got* to try this!”

“Oh that’s gooood! What is it?”

“Miller Genuine Draft and White Zinfandel!”

And that right there is what you need to know about being an underage drinker in the late 80s in Northern California.

*name not changed because his party was awesome!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:45 AM on June 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


When I was about 15, I was able to trick my mom into thinking Bartles and Jaymes was just fruit flavoured soda water so we had it stocked in the fridge for a while.

Then she and my dad cottoned on but when they saw it was 3.2% ABV they kind of shrugged their shoulders and decided to let me drink what we had left at family gatherings. My aunt would regularly bring liter bottles of soju, which is around 20% ABV, which all the grown ups would knock back during rounds of Go Stop so to them the wine coolers were basically fizzy juice alternatives to soda.
posted by like_neon at 2:11 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


I like wine coolers, I miss them, and I can't find them anywhere any more.

Really? Every big-box grocery around me has 'em. Always have. Wine coolers never really went away here.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:46 AM on June 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not here. I can't find them in any big box grocery. I used to still find them in drugstores but not even there any more. I have been looking. Nothing.

I agree that there is a gendered shame attached to drinking "girly" wine coolers. Maybe that is why they are gone.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:55 AM on June 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


I can't say that I've noticed wine coolers in ages but it does look like the PALCB state stores have a small selection of them still.
posted by octothorpe at 4:55 AM on June 26, 2018


Also, at a neighborhood barbecue recently, my neighbor mixed rosé with pamplemousse La Croix and it was amazing.

Someone finally figured out how to give La Croix some flavor!

...get the drinker too intoxicated to notice otherwise.
posted by delfin at 5:12 AM on June 26, 2018


My first alcoholic drink was a cherry-flavored wine cooler I mistook for cherry soda in my mother's boyfriend's fridge. It was so sweet I didn't notice any boozy flavor. I was 14; what did I know?

I still like Boone's Farm lemonade on a hot afternoon. I haven't bought it in a long time, though.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:55 AM on June 26, 2018




Also, at a neighborhood barbecue recently, my neighbor mixed rosé with pamplemousse La Croix and it was amazing.

I hereby suggest that this drink be called a "Templar".
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:07 AM on June 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


needs tags 'bodacious' 'totally tubular' & 'rad'

so rad
posted by bologna on wry at 7:36 AM on June 26, 2018


Remember wine spritzers?

I think these are making a comeback, at least in some circles. I have seen a lot of recipes for them particularly this season. I think the appeal is that you lower the alcohol content so the resulting drink is "sessionable" — i.e. you can sit around drinking them more or less continuously all day and not get totally shitfaced or dehydrated. Plus it's not a bad use for an iffy bottle of wine.

(Also I recently discovered, due to a World Cup party, that port wine and tonic water mixes surprisingly well and is A Thing. It knocks the port wine down from ~20% to something around 5-6% that you can drink out of a tall glass over ice, which is pretty nice in the summer. Not sure if it'l ever catch on in the US but who knows—I never thought vermouth bars would be a thing, either.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:59 AM on June 26, 2018


I think the appeal is that you lower the alcohol content so the resulting drink is "sessionable" — i.e. you can sit around drinking them more or less continuously all day and not get totally shitfaced or dehydrated.

Yeah, my neighbor said she started doing this because otherwise she'd drink rosé too quickly. The water slowed her down and added a little bit of flavor (since it's flavored seltzer).
posted by lunasol at 9:42 AM on June 26, 2018


RE cider, I feel like the craft cider thing has hit the mid-Atlantic hard in the last few years - I'm not having any trouble getting a variety of dry American ciders.

RE TFA, I drank a lot of Strawberry Hill back in the day; it was even cheaper than Miller High Life. I seem to recall most of the Boone's Farm lineup already being malt liquor at that point, so I was surprised to learn that some wine coolers actually did contain wine.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:57 AM on June 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Late to the comments because I'm still hung over from all the MD 20/20 Banana Red I used to drink at the shore in 2004, but....[gets up swiftly and runs to the bathroom retching]
posted by WeekendJen at 9:41 AM on June 28, 2018


I still to this day have in my head Bruce Willis singing about Seagram's wine coolers.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:30 AM on July 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


MD 20/20 Banana Red

assuming that you were not drinking that for Flavor Country, did you not consider vodka instead? Maybe a fancy one like Mr. Boston?
posted by thelonius at 5:34 AM on July 7, 2018


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