Coolers: the hottest new summer drink of 1986

Fruity, fizzy, and alcoholic, the new drink on the shelf was popular with youth.

Winemakers were grateful for a new way to boost slumping sales

Wine coolers: the hottest new drink of 1986

36 years ago
Duration 1:48
Wine makers find a saviour in the newest drink on liquor store shelves.

Beer was boring. A glass of wine wasn't really refreshing. But coolers?

"It's just like drinking lemonade," said a woman drinking with friends on a patio on a weekday afternoon.

Wine coolers — usually wine mixed with soda and juice — were the newest category of alcoholic beverage available from the liquor store.

As the CBC's Marina Mirabella reported in July 1986, the fizzy quenchers had been introduced two years earlier and were boosting sales for winemakers whose numbers were otherwise flat.

John Hall, of Chateau Gai Wines, said wine coolers helped his industry maintain growth. (Saturday Report/CBC Archives)

More than two million bottles of wine coolers — which could be purchased as single servings or in a two-litre bottle — had been sold in Ontario in a single month.

"Without wine coolers last year, the industry volume would have declined," said John Hall of Chateau Gai Wines. "Wine coolers definitely are something that has assisted the industry in maintaining growth."

And coolers weren't just a boon to the wine business: the distillers were making their own.

Consumers could now buy rye coolers, vodka coolers, and rum coolers.

'Very palatable'

Youth market is the target for coolers

36 years ago
Duration 1:11
Advertising for the fizzy, fruity, alcoholic drinks is aimed squarely at young people.

Despite the type of alcohol they were made with, there was one thing all coolers seemed to have in common: their appeal to young drinkers.

Mirabella said the companies were pitching their drinks to 19- to 35-year-olds as a clip of a TV advertisement for the Canada Cooler brand was shown.

And that raised concerns for public health. 

Distillers got in on the game too, making coolers with Canadian whisky, rum and vodka. (Saturday Report/CBC News)

"What we are seeing here ... is a marketing strategy to capture a market of young people with a product that is very palatable," said Henry Shankula of the Addiction Research Foundation. 

"The result of that could be ... a nation whose drinking is starting at an earlier and earlier age." 

The foundation wanted prominent labelling on coolers, to show drinkers their alcohol content. It was typically five per cent, like most beer. 

But in the meantime, said Mirabella, the industry was betting on coolers, planning to introduce more kinds that would help sales grow for the next few years. 

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