Tropic Chillerz: Not refreshing as a drink, but refreshingly honest with their ingredients

substandard orange wine

“Read this,” said my friend Erinn as he welcomed us to his party and handed me the grenade-shaped can pictured below. I had to put the can under a light to be sure, but there it was, just below the alcohol content: substandard orange wine.

“I like the truth in advertising,” I said, “but how is substandard wine legal?”

“If you don’t like substandard wine, there’s another flavor with other than standard wine,” he replied, showing me this can:

other than standard orange wine

Substandard and “other than standard” wine, it turns out, is wine that falls under this definition in the regulations for alcohol, tobacco, and firearms concerning the labeling and advertising of wine, section 4.21:

(2) “Substandard wine” or “other than standard wine” shall bear as a part of its designation the word “substandard,” and shall include: 

(i) Any wine having a volatile acidity in excess of the maximum prescribed therefor in §§ 4.20 to 4.25. 

(ii) Any wine for which no maximum volatile acidity is prescribed in §§ 4.20 to 4.25, inclusive, having a volatile acidity, calculated as acetic acid and exclusive of sulfur dioxide, in excess of 0.14 gram per 100 milliliters (20° C.). 

(iii) Any wine for which a standard of identity is prescribed in this §§ 4.20 to 4.25, inclusive, which, through disease, decomposition, or otherwise, fails to have the composition, color, and clean vinous taste and aroma of normal wines conforming to such standard. 

(iv) Any “grape wine” “citrus wine,” “fruit wine,” or “wine from other agricultural products” to which has been added sugar and water solution in an amount which is in excess of the limitations prescribed in the standards of identity for these products, unless, in the case of “citrus wine,” “fruit wine” and “wine from other agricultural products” the normal acidity of the material from which such wine is produced is 20 parts or more per thousand and the volume of the resulting product has not been increased more than 60 percent by such addition. 

Substandard wine used to be a way for small restaurants and bars that could afford only beer-and-wine licenses in Florida to serve cocktails. Banned from serving hard liquor, they served mixed drinks made with something called “Premium Blend”, a mix of 45% distilled liquor and 55% fermented wine that was labeled “premium substandard orange wine with natural flavors added”. At half the strength of standard liquor, it’s legally a wine.

With the amusingly-shaped can and fruit-drink flavors, “Tropic Chillerz” are clearly being aimed at the underage drinker. As for the taste: I tried some, and let’s just say that if you’re looking for a cheap, fruity drunk, you’re probably better off just mixing Everclear (or alcool, if you’re from Ontario or Quebec) with some Sunny D.

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