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Bud, Miller investigated over caffeinated booze

Budweiser and Miller said on Wednesday that several U.S. state Attorneys General have demanded information on how they market and sell caffeinated alcoholic drinks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Several state attorneys general have subpoenaed documents from Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and Miller Brewing Co. as part of a probe into the companies’ marketing of caffeinated alcoholic beverages.

The companies said late Wednesday they are cooperating with the subpoenas and denied they are targeting underaged drinkers with their alcoholic energy drinks, as dozens of attorneys general have alleged in the past.

“Anheuser-Busch is, of course, cooperating with the subpoenas,” the company said in a statement. “But it is important to realize that the AGs are investigating products whose formulation and labeling already have been approved by the federal authorities, as well as by those states that require state liquor authority approval.”

Anheuser-Busch makes Bud Extra, while SABMiller PLC’s Miller Brewing Co. sells Sparks.

The marketing of so-called energy drinks has been a point of controversy for months. Critics say the beverages appeal to teenagers who already drink nonalcoholic energy drinks like Red Bull. The nation’s two largest brewers, however, say their products aren’t much more than a new twist on caffeinated drinks like rum and Coke.

The request for documents was first reported Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal. Anheuser-Busch said it received a request from attorneys general in New York, Maine, Maryland, Arizona, and Iowa. Miller spokesman Julian Green said the company was served in late January with requests from attorneys general in Illinois, New York, Iowa, Maine, and Maryland.

Miller said in a statement it would fully cooperate with the investigations.

“We responsibly market our products to legal drinking age consumers consistent with industry marketing codes and applicable laws and regulations,” the Milwaukee-based company, a unit of SABMiller PLC, said.

Most of the attorneys general involved did not return messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said she couldn’t comment on the matter.

A spokesman for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo confirmed that a subpoena was issued, but declined to discuss the issue in detail.

“This is an early stage in the investigation,” said Cuomo’s special assistant, Benjamin Lawsky.

“Attorney General Cuomo is concerned about the marketing of caffeinated alcoholic beverages to young people,” Lawsky said, declining to comment further.

In August, attorneys general from 28 states, Guam and the District of Columbia sent a letter to federal authorities warning that brewers were aggressively marketing alcoholic energy drinks to young people.

The letter to John Manfreda, the administrator of the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, specifically mentioned three manufacturers: Miller, Anheuser-Busch and Charge Beverages of Portland, Ore., which makes Liquid Charge and Liquid Core drinks.

Anheuser-Busch said in its statement Wednesday that it was unfair to target the company’s products while caffeinated cocktails were growing more popular on the bar scene.

“If the Attorneys General truly believe that, despite the state and federal regulatory approvals, alcohol and caffeine should not be mixed, then they should use their powers to persuade these authorities to regulate or ban all such beverages, not just the lower-alcohol, prepackaged ones,” the statement said.