Wine coolers have come a long way since the 1980s. In those days, brands like Bartles & Jaymes and their cloyingly sweet “wines” reigned supreme. In the height of the John Hughes era, everyone drank these sugary drinks — which tasted more like soda than wine. They were cheaply made, low in alcohol, and high in sugar and extra additives. Not surprisingly, they usually led to a wicked hangover.
You might think that wine coolers went the way of slap bracelets, Garbage Pail Kids, Teddy Ruxpin, and Reebok Pumps, never to be seen again. But, since everyone loves the idea of what’s old becoming new again, the time is right for a comeback. Today, winemakers are attempting to remove the wine cooler stigma by using high-quality wines as bases and using the best additional ingredients possible. They are also making them with full strength alcohol to balance the profusion of flavors.
Does the world even want a new generation of wine coolers? For the most part, a sequel is never as good as the original. Just ask anyone who made it through Teen Wolf Too and Caddyshack 2. But sometimes the sequel is worth trying. This goes for The Godfather 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2, and, thankfully, the new generation of wine coolers.
“Remember when beer was yellow and insipid?” says Kat McDonald, co-owner St. Mayhem Craft Wine Coolers. “Things change. And for those of us who grew up in the 80s, the mere fact that there is indeed a new generation of wine coolers is mind-blowing, given how awful the first generation was.”
McDonald’s goal and the goal of other wine cooler makers is to create something that is completely different than the sugary, additive-filled, make-your-pee neon beverages of yesteryear. So, are wine coolers cool again?
“Hell yes,” says McDonald. “Maybe they’re cool for the first time.”
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