“Wow, this is great — too bad it would never happen in Philly.” In one form or another, that’s the long-held sentiment shared by Philadelphians who visit a New Orleans daiquiri bar and walk out with a frozen boozy beverage. But if you stopped by a beer distributor in Pennsylvania over the summer, you may have spotted brightly colored slushies for sale. Yes, they’re alcoholic, and available for takeout.
With newly relaxed rules — beer and wine in supermarkets, independent bottle shops, the ability to buy six packs and singles at beer distributors — it seems as though the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is finally moving into the 21st century.
Swing by The Bottle Barn, Rite Buy Beer or Brewer’s Outlet, all in Delaware County, and you can find frozen-drink machines churning a neon rainbow of slush. These machines are set on the counter, next to snake oil hangover cures, suspect CBD products, and pills that encourage virility.
Unlike at 7-Eleven, home of the Slurpee, these machines are not self-serve, but they do have plastic cups close by to demarcate size and pricing. Surrounding the machines are multiple handwritten signs advising customers that alcohol is not to be consumed on premises.
So what’s spinning in these icy drink makers? Sadly, it’s not a margarita, piña colada, or refreshing frosé. The short and very sweet answer is malt beverages, a category that includes most beers and hard seltzers like Zima or White Claw.
Labels let you know you’re looking at bright pink Bud Light Passion-Fruit-Rita, orange Smirnoff Peach Mango Smash, a glowing green sour apple Four Loko variant, and Seagram’s tropical take on spiked seltzer dubbed Jamaican Me Happy. Each flavor is annotated with its ABV, ranging from a relatively tame 3.2 percent all the way up to 14 percent. The alcohol content in the slushie version matches the alcohol content in the drink’s original form — in fact, they’re not altered at all, just frozen.
Once flavor and size are chosen, the clerk fills up a plastic cup, puts an airtight lid on it using a custom sealing machine, and hands it to the customer with a straw.
It all seems so casual, considering that just a few years back it was illegal to sell single bottles of beer in a retail shop. Since sales of singles were introduced in late 2016 via Act 166, beer distributors have upped their selection, filling cases with everything from tallboys of PBR to the spiked sodas and seltzers that are having a real moment right now. And since retailers are now allowed to sell beer and other malt beverages “in any package configuration,” forward-thinking shop owners decided why not grab cans of TGI Fridays’s Long Island Iced Tea (don’t let the name mislead; it’s a malt beverage) and slush it up.
Spiked seltzers like White Claw have rebranded long-stigmatized flavored malt beverages, but the flavors that are favored for slushies fall on the sticky-sweet side of the spectrum. Want to give one a try? Four Loko Red/Swedish Fish and any of the fruit punch selections overwhelm with sugar, and overall the options with higher alcohol content tend to leave a bitter aftertaste. But that Long Island iced tea is not the worst.