A-B Lowering Alcohol Level in Tilt

Moves come amid scrutiny of caffeinated, high-alcohol drinks

ST. LOUIS -- Anheuser-Busch InBev is lowering the alcoholic content in large containers of its popular Tilt malt beverage as the company seeks to improve the product's public image, according to a Dow Jones report.

The company will reformulate Tilt to contain 8% alcohol by volume, compared with the current 12% for its 24-ounce offering, Anheuser-Busch Cos. president David Peacock said at a beverage conference. The new products will hit shelves this summer, and the alcohol content in all drinks over 16 ounces will be capped going forward, said the report.

St. Louis-based [image-nocss] A-B introduced Tilt, a specialty premium flavored malt beverage, in April 2010. Tilt Red (originally 12% alcohol by volume) has a blend of fresh fruit flavors reminiscent of cherry, orange, lime and tropical fruit; Tilt Blue (originally 11% ABV) has a fresh blue raspberry flavor; and Tilt Green (originally 10% ABV) has a blend of lemon-lime citrus. Each flavor is available nationwide in clubs, lounges and liquor/convenience stores.

MillerCoors, a joint venture between Molson Coors Brewing Co. and SABMiller PLC, also has a maximum of 8% alcohol by volume for all flavored malt beverages. That company sells such products under the Sparks brand.

"Beer has always been a beverage of moderation," MillerCoors president and chief commercial officer Tom Long said. When companies "mask" alcoholic beverages--in bright colors or with hip names--"we do it at our peril."

The moves come as malt beverages such as Tilt, Joose, Sparks and Four Loko face criticism over their marketing tactics, with allegations that the drinks encourage underage and binge drinking. A number of the products contained caffeine or other stimulants until late last year, when the U.S. government led an effort to remove highly alcoholic, highly caffeinated beverages from store shelves after a number of incidents involving young drinkers.

High alcohol levels had been one of the main draws of the products, as consumers could become intoxicated with fewer drinks. Caffeine allowed drinkers to not feel the depressant effect of the alcohol.

Long said MillerCoors gave up "substantial" pieces of the market by limiting alcohol content in its drinks, but it was the responsible thing to do.