BEVERAGES: Sweet Spirits

Ugh. That first shot of Scotch or bourbon—consumed, perhaps, during a surreptitious afternoon raid on Dad's liquor cabinet—tasted invariably like oil, or worse. For those who could not acquire the taste for the hard stuff, the answer was abstinence, beer or some sort of cocktail. Today, many liquor companies are gambling that there is a new category of American—those weaned on Tootsie Rolls, malts and Life Savers —who have been panting for something else: a souped-up soft drink.

Heublein (1976 beverage sales: $858 million) has become a leader in what the company describes as "the move toward light and flavorful...

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