TIME Laws

Arkansas Keeps ‘Patchwork Prohibition’ on Alcohol

Alcohol Liquor Store
In half of Arkansas's counties, liquor sales are prohibited. A constitutional amendment being voted on today would change that. Ted S. Warren—AP

Half of the state's counties are dry, and they're staying that way for now

Arkansas voted Tuesday against allowing alcohol sales statewide, preserving the status quo of “patchwork prohibition” that exists in half of the state’s counties.

With 96% of precincts reporting, 57% of voters said no to the Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Amendment, which would’ve changed the constitution to allow for the manufacture, sale and distribution of liquor, beer and wine across the state. Arkansas has one of the highest concentrations of dry counties left in the U.S. Thirty-seven are currently dry while 38 are wet.

The issue largely pitted churches, existing liquor stores in wet counties and rural, conservative residents against more liberal, populous counties and out-of-state retailers looking to get a foothold in previously dry regions. The ballot initiative appeared to have significant support as recently as last month. But support for the amendment eroded as its main opponents, led by Citizens for Local Rights, vastly outspent the initiative’s backers.

“We started late and didn’t have the resources to get our message out,” says David Couch, a lawyer and chair of Let Arkansas Decide, which led the campaign to legalize alcohol statewide.

Couch’s organization raised about $200,000 and was supported mainly by out-of-state convenience stores. Citizens for Local Rights raised $1.8 million from roughly 900 contributors, many of which were existing Arkansas liquor megastores, often near the border of a dry county.

Polling had shown growing opposition to the amendment in the weeks leading up to the vote. Citizens for Local Rights’ primary message was simple: Don’t let the liberal-leaning urban counties dictate to the smaller, conservative ones. Add in some help from local pastors and churches warning of legalizing a vice in heavily Christian areas, and it appears that message resonated with voters.

But Couch of Let Arkansas Decide says he’s not giving up. His next move is to try to get state legislators to reduce the threshold required to get the issue, known as the “local option,” on the ballot county by county. Signatures of 38% of registered voters within a county must be collected to trigger a vote.

“If that doesn’t work, we will refile the measure and start earlier,” Couch says. “And hopefully be better funded.”

TIME Election 2014

Arkansas Could Finally End Prohibition After More Than 80 Years

Alcohol Liquor Store
In half of Arkansas's counties, liquor sales are prohibited. A constitutional amendment being voted on today would change that. Ted S. Warren—AP

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to turn the state's dry counties wet

Drop a pin on a map of Arkansas and your chances of finding a stiff drink there are about 50-50. But that could soon change if enough residents vote for a constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot that would open the entire state to beer, wine and liquor sales for the first time since the 1930s.

Arkansas is one of dozens of states that allow local municipalities to make their own decisions about selling booze, but only about 10 states actually have dry counties, most of which are in the South. The result is what’s known as “patchwork prohibition,” where the state is divided into wet, dry and even moist (beer and wine only) counties.

The divisions can be confusing, with wet cities occasionally in dry counties and highly-profitable liquor stores almost always parked just across the border from booze-less regions. In Texas, for example, 49 of the state’s 254 counties are wet, 11 are dry and the rest are a combination of wet and dry. Alabama has 25 dry counties, but many cities within them are wet. And in Kentucky’s 120 counties, 39 are dry, 32 are wet and 49 are some combination of the two. No state comes closer to an equal division than Arkansas, where 37 counties are dry and 38 counties are wet.

Opening these dry counties to alcohol sales has become an increasingly popular economic development tool. Several counties in Kentucky have used their “local option” to expand liquor sales in the last couple years, while voters in Alabama’s largest remaining dry city are considering a similar ballot initiative Tuesday as well (the 2012 push failed by close to 400 votes).

Unlike most other votes on the wet/dry issue, the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Initiative—which would allow the “manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of intoxicating liquors” throughout the state beginning on July 1, 2015—is subject to a statewide vote. That’s because attorney David Couch, the chair of pro-wet group Let Arkansas Decide, found that the number of signatures required for getting the measure on the state ballot was not much more than what it would’ve taken in just the three counties he had initially targeted.

Couch’s main rationale is economic. He cites a University of Arkansas study showing that if Faulkner, Craighead and Saline counties were wet—three of the state’s biggest counties, and ones where Walmart has expressed interest in selling booze —they would each generate an additional $12 million to $15 million in annual economic activity. And he estimates the total statewide benefit of going wet at an additional $100 million a year. But Couch has other motives, too.

“These dry counties make my state look kind of backward, and I don’t like that,” he says. “This is a much more modern approach to alcohol regulation.”

The amendment seemed to have signs of support in September. But the opposition appears to have grown in recent weeks. Part of that may be a huge cash infusion from Citizens for Local Rights, a group opposed to the amendment. The organization has raised $1.8 million compared to $200,000 for Couch’s Let Arkansas Decide.

Citizens for Local Rights is backed largely by liquor retailers in wet counties that want to keep out new competition. The Conway County Liquor Association, for example, has given the group $540,000. All six counties surrounding Conway are dry. The amendment has also been criticized by religious leaders wary of making alcohol more available.

Brian Richardson, chairman of Citizens for Local Rights, casts the issue as a matter of regional autonomy—no small claim in a vote that will come down partly to rural turnout. “It’s a badly written, overreaching amendment that guts local communities from being able to make decisions on a local level,” he says. “It’s letting people in the more populous counties determine this.”

Couch says his only poll found majority support for passage, but it was conducted last month. Richardson says his group’s final survey points to partial prohibition remaining in place, with 58% of respondents opposed to the amendment.

“I hate to jinx ourselves,” Richardson says. “But I think we’ll have a decisive victory.”

TIME Food & Drink

7 Beers to Try This October

Beers
Getty Images

Prost, folks!

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Oktoberfest, originally a celebration honoring the marriage of German nobles, has become virtually synonymous with brews. In past years, the event has drawn a whopping seven million visitors and served almost two million gallons of beer over the span of 16 or 17 days.

(MORE: The Boozy Secret To A DIY Ombré Dye)

That’s a lot of suds. Stateside, Oktoberfest also seems to reinforce that imminent seasonal shift in beer tastes, especially when it comes to what’s on tap. Hoppy IPAs and super-crisp pilsners are swapped out for maltier fare, and just as pumpkin spice lattes fill Starbucks cups nationwide, so, too, do pumpkin ales fill our pint glasses. So, in seeking to honor Oktoberfest (as well as the changing of the seasons), we tapped, poured, tipped, and sipped in order to bring you autumn’s best beers — including a traditional German Oktoberfest, a not-so-traditional California style, and that fall favorite, pumpkin ale. Prost, folks!

(MORE: Young America’s Vices: Beer, Fast Food, & Coffee)

  1. Left Hand Oktoberfest
    Brewed in Denver, Left Hand’s top-notch Oktoberfest plays beautifully right alongside the more traditional German brews. On the nose, you’ll find sweet, orange-peel notes, but this Märzen is toasty through and through, with a super-smooth finish.
  2. Firestone Walker Brewing Company Oaktoberfest
    Yes, this is an Oktoberfest from California (the oak in the name pays homage to the brewery’s home in Paso Robles, or “pass of the oaks”). But that doesn’t mean this beer can’t hang with its Bavarian brethren. It’s malty, toasty, ever so subtly hoppy, but not at all heavy — just like an Oktoberfestbier should be.
  3. Weihenstephaner Korbinian
    While this doppelbock (a dark, full-bodied lager) may not pour at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration, Weihenstephan (reportedly the oldest brewery in the world) still adheres to the German Berr-Purity Law of 1516. This brew is going to be the heaviest of the bunch, with exceptionally rich, toasty malts; beautiful, fruity flavors; and a smooth finish.
  4. Captain Lawrence Pumpkin Ale
    Of course, no fall beer list is complete without a pumpkin ale. Typically, though, these brews are too sweet or heavy for those looking to throw back a second round. Captain Lawrence’s version turns down the volume on the sweetness, pumpkin, and spice, leaving you with an autumnal beer that’s easy-drinking, surprisingly refreshing, and a solid option for this early fall weather.
  5. Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen
    It doesn’t get more traditional than Spaten’s Oktoberfest. The brewery is one of only six permitted to serve up their suds at Munich’s annual fest, which requires that all Oktoberfestbier conform to the beer- purity regulation Reinheitsgebot, dictating that no brew can be made from ingredients other than water, barley, hops, and yeast. This beer is light, with toasty malt, and finishes with a slight, hoppy bite — the perfect way to greet the season.
  6. Bell’s Best Brown Ale
    Here’s how to get your malt with a little extra oomph. This English brown ale has those same smooth, toasty qualities as the Oktoberfest beers, but you’ll find a bit more depth and complexity with this style. Notes of cocoa and even some blackberry come out to play here, but nothing in this beer overwhelms the palate.
  7. Ommegang Rare Vos
    Malty beers come out in full force this season, but if you’re seeking something that still has an autumnal vibe but doesn’t make you feel like you’re drinking bread-beer, Ommegang’s Belgian pale ale is your go-to. The floral hops are mellowed by the Belgian yeast, and the whole brew has a slightly spicy, somewhat-fruity quality. It’s a lovely, crisp beer, perfect for warmer fall days, or that late-October chill.

(MORE: A Hilarious Takedown Of Your Pumpkin Spice Latte Tweets)

TIME Exercise/Fitness

We Drink More Alcohol When We Exercise

gym treadmill
Getty Images

First we sweat, and then we swig: A new Northwestern Medicine study published in the journal Health Psychology finds that people tend to drink more alcohol on days they’ve exercised.

The study looked at 150 adults between the ages of 18-89 who used a smartphone app to record how much they exercised each day — and how much alcohol they drank for three weeks at different points of the year.

Previous studies have found that the more active among us are also the larger lushes. But this study didn’t exactly confirm that. Instead, the stronger link occurred between exercise days and the number of drained glasses, with beer being the most popular post-workout alcoholic beverage. Both physical activity and alcohol intake increased Thursdays through Sundays. Even after the researchers controlled for the fact that people have more alcohol-related social events on the weekend, that many prefer to drink primarily on weekends, and that drinking patterns often differ by season, the association still stuck.

The scientists aren’t sure why there’s such a close link, but they have some ideas. “It could be that people who are more physically active on a given day have to use all their willpower and cognitive resources to get themselves to be active, and they don’t have enough willpower left to resist the temptation of a drink at the end of the day,” says David E. Conroy, lead study author and professor of preventive medicine and deputy director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Other possible reasons: people proud of their workout might want to reward themselves for being good, socialize further over drinks, or even (mistakenly) view alcohol as a good way to replenish fluids, the study says. But other studies show that too much alcohol can negate some of the good that exercise does — in addition to adding calories after a hard-earned burnoff, alcohol might even impair muscle recovery.

If “dehydrate to rehydrate’” is your motivation to get to the gym, you’re not alone. But it might be time to choose a different mantra.

TIME Food & Drink

Starbucks Is Testing a Drink That Tastes Like Guinness (Without the Alcohol)

Operations Inside A Starbucks Corp. Coffee Shop
Jason Alden—Bloomberg / Getty Images

It's called the Dark Barrel Latte and comes topped with whipped cream and dark caramel sauce

If you’re already panicking about what you’re going to drink once Starbucks stops selling its beloved seasonal pumpkin spice latte, don’t worry, because the chain is now testing out a brand new flavor. This one, though, is not meant to evoke the feelings of strolling through a pumpkin patch in a pair of Ugg boots on a crisp autumn Saturday. Not at all. This one is meant to taste like a nice dark Irish stout.

The new drink, called the Dark Barrel Latte, is being tested at select locations across Ohio and Florida, Grubstreet reports. It doesn’t contain any alcohol, but it supposedly contains the dark, toasty, malty flavors of Guinness. A BuzzFeed writer who got his hands on one in Columbus confirmed that it really does taste like stout. Several customers who’ve tweeted about the drink agree that it tastes like Guinness — but the jury’s still out on whether or not that’s actually a good thing.

When I asked a colleague who was born and raised in Dublin (Guinness’s birthplace) how he felt about all this, he responded first with this GIF. Then, as he mulled it over a bit more, he added, “Holy hell. Worst.” Then he posed a question: “American Guinness already doesn’t taste like Guinness. So what will this taste like?” Then he barfed all over me and my stupid American ignorance.

MONEY Food & Drink

Nostalgia SURGE! Cult Favorite Foods & Drinks Back from the Dead

Twinkies Chocodile
Hostess

Fueled by nostalgia—and often, outcries on social media—the snacks, sodas, and beers you haven't been able to buy for years are making big comebacks.

There’s no mystery as to why malls play old Christmas songs, why retro products and brands pop up regularly in the marketplace, and why advertisers are constantly trying to evoke memories of our youth. But if anyone had any doubts, the results of a study published over the summer by the Journal of Consumer Research show that we’re more likely to spend money when we’re in a nostalgic mood.

Consumers are also, we know, more prone to buying stuff when it hasn’t been available in quite some time, and when we get the idea it may disappear again because it’s a limited-time offer. The periodic resurfacing of the McDonald’s McRib is a great example of how this strategy can work over and over to successfully drum up sales—for a product that, remember, was discontinued from the regular menu because not enough people liked it.

These varied forces have combined to fuel a surge in sales for products ranging from cheap old-school beer (featuring retro bottles, cans, and logos) to re-releases of old-school sneakers, Nike Air Jordans in particular. And these forces are also fueling a surge in discontinued food and drink products being brought back from the dead, including, well, SURGE.

The highly caffeinated citrus soda brand was brought back by Coca-Cola this week due to popular demand. The masses spoke in the form of a Facebook page with more than 140,000 Likes that demanded its return to the marketplace. And then they took action by buying up the first batch in its entirety within hours of it going on sale at Amazon.com.

Here are a few other food and drink products that disappeared for a while, only to resurface to the rejoicing of more than a few cult fans.

Hostess Chocodiles
At one point, sellers on eBay were asking as much as $90 a box for these chocolate-covered Twinkie treats, and buyers paid $17 for a single Chocodile. That was back during the dark days, when Chocodiles weren’t available in the vast majority of the country. In July Hostess announced it was bringing the Chocodile back nationally, by way of some hyperbolic statements from the company’s CEO. “In the past Chocodiles seemed to be shrouded as much in mystery as in chocolate, inspiring an obsession among fans that was truly the stuff of legends,” said William Toler, president and CEO of Hostess Brands. “Now, fanatics will once again be able to satisfy their cravings and a new generation will be able to experience the magic for the first time.”

BK Chicken Fries
Over the summer, around the same time Burger King was dramatically scaling back availability of Satisfries, its low-calorie French fry, the fast food giant brought back decidedly less healthy Chicken Fries to the menu for a limited time. The breaded-and-fried chicken strips were on the menu from 2005 until they were discontinued in 2012. But after online petitions and Tumblr pages pleaded for their return, BK relented. “On peak days we’ve seen one tweet every forty seconds about Chicken Fries, many of them directly petitioning, begging, for us to bring them back,” Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King’s Chief Marketing Officer North America, said in a statement. “When you have guests who are this passionate about a product, you have to give them what they want.”

Ballantine IPA
The hipster cult status of PBR has caused the Pabst Brewing Company to take a hard look at the beer brands it owns and see if should start brewing any of its discontinued old-school beers—which, perhaps, might also gain a following with hipsters. That’s essentially why Pabst relaunched Schlitz in 2008, and then reintroduced Schlitz vintage “Tall Boy” can a few years later. And it’s why the company is bringing back Ballantine IPA, the 136-year-old brew produced for decades in Newark, N.J., credited as America’s first IPA. It helps that the craft beer revolution has made hoppy IPAs extremely popular.

General Mills Monster Cereals
For most of the year, shoppers can’t find Boo Berry, Count Chocula, and Franken Berry in the cereal aisles of any supermarkets. But then sometime in late summer, their dormancy period ends like that of a pumpkin spice latte, and they’re suddenly available again just in time for the ramp-up to Halloween. This year, the cereals feature new designs from DC Comics artists, being sold side by side next to cereal boxes with retro characters and logos from the 1970s and ’80s. Count Chocula and Franken Berry are also being sold in select stores in Canada this season, which is unusual. “No more trips across the U.S. border to stock up!,” a General Mills post promised.

Last year, General Mills made monster cereal fans extra happy by bringing back two rare products, Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy, which hadn’t been sold in more than two decades. Alas, it looks like the two cult favorites are not returning to stores this season, prompting fans to voice their disappointment with comments on the company blog.

Something tells us we’ll be seeing both Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy again in the future. In today’s nostalgia-ridden world, no brands really die, not even when they feature monster characters that are undead.

TIME Companies

Do Svidaniya, Pabst! Russian Firm Acquires Iconic American Brewing Company

Pabst Blue Ribbon
USA - 1949: A menu for Pabst Blue Ribbon reads "Menu, Finest beer served...anywhere!" from 1949 in USA. (Photo by Jim Heimann Collection/Getty Images) Jim Heimann Collection — Getty Images

The company that produced “America’s Best” beer in 1893 will now be Russian-owned

Russian firm Oasis Beverages announced this week that it will be acquiring famed American brewery Pabst Blue Ribbon — 170 years after the company was first established in Milwaukee.

“Pabst Blue Ribbon is the quintessential American brand — it represents individualism, egalitarianism and freedom of expression — all the things that make this country great,” said Eugene Kashper, chair of Oasis Beverages, in a statement.

“The opportunity to work with the company’s treasure trove of iconic brands, some of which I started my career selling, is a dream come true.”

The terms of the transaction have yet to be disclosed, according to the New York Times.

However, the chair of Russia’s largest independent brewery noted the company would continue to be based out of Los Angeles. American private-equity firm TSG Consumer Partners will take a minority stake in the company as well.

Besides the enterprise’s iconic namesake beer that has succeeded in capturing the heart of hipsters worldwide, the Pabst Brewing Company is home to myriad iconic American brands including Lone Star, Schlitz and Old Milwaukee.

TIME Paycheck Friday

5 Unique Drinking Gadgets for Under $50

Come on, you're making some decent money now. Live a little! Consider blowing your paycheck on these worthy splurges.

Digital Beer Koozie ($20)

koolernaut
Beer Outlaw

So much real-time data in this world, and here you are drinking beer without knowing its exact temperature.

The Kool-er-naut brings the tried and true Koozie into the 21st century, with an LCD thermometer and a freezable ice puck that slips into the bottom of this newfangled apparatus for some extra coldness. As a bonus, there’s a chart on the back of the Kool-er-naut that tells you the optimal temperature for various styles of beer.

[Kickstarter (ships October-ish)]

Drink-Making Scale and App ($49.99)

perfect drink
Brookstone

What a time to be alive! Put a glass down on this scale, and its connected app tells you how much of each liquid and ice to pour into your drink (there are hundreds of drink recipes to choose from). If you overpour one of the liquids, the app will readjust the amounts of the remaining liquids on the fly. You can also tell the app which types of booze you have on hand and it’ll return only recipes that can be made with said booze.

[Brookstone]

BeerBelly Booze Smuggler ($29.49)

beerbelly
BeerBelly

I’m no mathlete, but it seems like this fake beer gut would pay for itself before halftime at any exorbitantly-priced sporting event. Simply funnel 80 ounces of your favorite libation into this wearable polyurethane bladder, slip it on under your shirt and waddle through the turnstile looking like any other overweight American. For the ladies, there’s this wine-holding sports bra, too.

[Amazon]

Spinning Beer Chiller ($29.99)

spinchill
SpinChill

Stick a beer into a pile of ice and spin the can around a bunch of times. It’ll eventually get cold. How? Scients. “That’s not how you spell science.” Eh, I’ve heard it both ways.

Now attach the can to this hand-held spinning doohickey that rotates the can much faster and — you guessed it – the beer gets colder faster. The SpinChill can cool a can in one minute, a 12-ounce bottle in three minutes, and a wine bottle in five minutes.

Tailgate-in-a-Box Kit ($39)

instagate
Instagate

Tailgates? Fun. Lugging all the stuff to tailgates? Not fun. Cleaning up all the stuff once you’re stumbling around like a toddler during an earthquake? The utmost in un-fun.

The Instagate one-time-use kit packs a grill, grilling tools, 60-quart cooler, lighter/bottle opener combo, beer pong set, 10 sets of utensils, 12 cups, 10 plates, 20 napkins, 20 condiment packets, and some garbage bags to clean everything up when you’re done. Oh, and the cardboard box folds out into three little tabletops.

[Kickstarter (ships November-ish)]

MONEY Budgeting

This Hangover Cure Will Make You Richer

People paying for drinks at bar
Do you know much money you waste by getting wasted? Roy Hsu—Getty Images

Okay, you may not want to give up drinking just to save a buck. But if you're having trouble trimming your budget, add up what you're spending on wine, beer, and liquor. You may find the numbers sobering.

Would you give up alcohol to help balance the family budget?

I posed that very question on social media recently. These were some of the answers I got:

“Yeah, right.”

“Gosh no – it’s what gets us through the week.”

“As if that would ever happen.”

And so on, in the same vein. Most responses ranged from sarcastic to outright incredulous.

But one other answer stood out, which got to the heart of the matter:

“I quit drinking – and it was like we won the lottery!”

And there’s the rub. We all tend to complain, in an era of stagnant incomes and rising prices, about how we just can’t make ends meet. There is just no place we could possibly find more savings.

But is that really true? Consider this: The average U.S. household spent $445 on wine, beer, and spirits in 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That amounts to roughly 1% of our household expenditures, and it compares with an average household figure of $268 in 1993.

That is more than we spend on all nonalcoholic beverages combined, by the way. Keep in mind those averages include nondrinkers, too. That means some households are spending much, much more than that already-hefty average on alcohol.

So let’s be honest with ourselves. It is not always the case that we can’t squeeze any more savings out of our budgets. It is that we choose not to, because we just don’t want to give up the booze.

When New York City’s Jenna Hollenstein sat down one day and calculated what her drinking was costing her, she was shocked.

The 39-year-old dietician used to enjoy a nice bottle of wine or some gin after work, and it was starting to add up. “Even if it was only a $15 bottle of wine, three times a week, that was $45,” she remembers. “That’s $180 a month, or over $2,000 a year.

“That’s a significant amount of money—and that’s not even including going out for cocktails with friends.”

Hollenstein finally decided to give up her pricey habit, and even wrote a book on her experiences, Drinking to Distraction. But she is hardly alone in having a taste for a nip after work.

After all, 64% of American adults report drinking occasionally, according to Gallup’s most recent poll on consumption habits. Through boom times and bust, one of our most consistent national traits is that we enjoy our booze, and are not willing to give it up.

“We’ve been asking this question since the 1930s, and the numbers are remarkably constant,” says Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. “Even in an era of huge demographic changes, the percentage of drinkers just doesn’t seem to budge.”

Our Beverage of Choice

Beer is America’s beverage of choice, by the way, followed by wine and then spirits. The average drinker enjoys a shade over four alcoholic beverages a week, according to the Gallup poll.

But 9% of people have more than eight drinks over the same period, and 5% of folks are guzzling more than 20. And that can get very expensive indeed—especially if you do your drinking in restaurants or bars with high markups.

We might not even realize how much we are spending on this habit, since it drips out in relatively small increments—a beer or two here, a carafe of wine there. Personal-finance expert Tiffany Aliche, author of The One Week Budget, suggests forcing yourself to do the math—just as Hollenstein did—before tossing back yet another nightcap.

“Let’s say you drink three nights a week and spend $30 each time,” she says. “That’s over $4,000 a year, or as much as a trip to Paris or Rome.”

It is not an all-or-nothing proposition, notes Aliche, who is not a drinker herself. You don’t have to become a teetotaler in order to realize massive savings. “Instead of drinking three times a week, just drink twice—and then go on your vacation, too,” she advises.

As for Hollenstein, who had a long and complex relationship with alcohol, she thought it was best to give up drinking altogether. She did not necessarily do it for the money—but when she did, she noticed that her finances changed overnight.

“As soon as I gave it up, the money thing became so clear,” she says. “Drinking was just a mindless, habitual thing I did on a daily basis. And I didn’t really notice it—until I got my credit card bill or looked at my bank account.”

MONEY Shopping

What Has the World Come to When Dunkin’ Goes Dark and Guinness Goes Light?

Guinness Blonde
courtesy of Diageo

Guinness, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Dunkin' Donuts are trying to win over new customers by taking a sharp break from their core mission. They should be worried about alienating their core customers in the process.

Everywhere you look, it seems, there’s a major brand introducing a new product, service, or store model that’s more or less the opposite of what the company is best known for. Taco Bell, famous for cheap, indulgent, down-and-dirty Mexican food, is trying to woo foodies with an upscale “premium” taco restaurant. Starbucks, which became a phenomenon for its personalized, barista-made (and slow) approach to rich, dark caffeinated beverages, recently announced plans for a series of small express stores where the focus will be on speedy takeout rather than the laid-back café experience. JetBlue, born with the principle that all passengers should get the same high-quality service, introduced a VIP business class called “Mint” over the summer. Wal-Mart, the blue-collar favorite that has always focused first and foremost on cheap prices, has dramatically expanded into a realm normally considered the domain of elites and picky foodies: organic foods.

And now Dunkin’ Donuts, a stalwart purveyor of light, sweet, mainstream coffee, is introducing a dark roast blend, while also playing up to niche dieters by adding almond milk to the menu. Meanwhile, the rich, dark, iconic Irish stout Guinness is going in the other direction with a light new Blonde American Lager.

For some, Guinness’s move is tantamount to sacrilege—if not for selling out its Irish roots with a beer for the “American” audience (that’s made in the U.S. too), then for producing the lighter beer itself, which few have tasted but some have compared to Bud Light—in certain respects anyway.

Why are Guinness and these other brands risking the possibility of alienating their core customers? What’s behind this trend of straying in the opposite direction from what made these companies successful to begin with? Do these moves represent a smart expansion of the brand or an identity crisis? The answers largely depend on whether consumers deem the new products and services as brilliant and appealing or as puzzling, weird, and perhaps even desperate.

Dr. Edward Tauber, who coined the term “brand extension” in 1979, told AdWeek that the best brand extenders have three things in common: “The brand should be a logical fit with the parent brand; the parent should give the extension an edge in the new category; and the extension should have the potential to generate significant sales.”

Some might argue that the efforts mentioned above aren’t logical expansions for the parent company. They may even turn off some regular customers. But expanding a brand in the opposite direction—while remaining in the same product category—is a lot more logical than heading off in some random, nonsensical fashion. You may not be keen on Guinness’s brand being applied to a light beer for Americans, but at least pale lagers and dark stouts are both beer. When Heineken introduced a brand of shoes, AdWeek voters listed it among the worst brand extensions of 2013.

When Dunkin’ Donuts announced the addition of a dark roast, the reaction was more It’s about time than What in the world are they thinking? “We saw an unmet demand for a dark roast product that had a bold flavor but a smoothness that’s often associated with Dunkin’ Original Blend,” John Costello, Dunkin’ Brands’ president of global marketing and innovation, quite logically explained to the Wall Street Journal regarding DD’s new dark roast.

Today’s executives aren’t satisfied simply by reaching a large group of customers with a stable set of tried-but-true products and services. In our fast-moving, constantly changing marketplace, brands feel compelled to hunt, relentlessly and shark-like, for the business of every consumer, at every opportunity.

For decades, the majority of fast food chains were content to do the vast majority of their business during the lunch and dinner hours. Then someone realized that formula was writing off plenty of hours of the day in terms of sales potential. Hence, the increased marketing of fast food “snacks,” meant to be consumed in the odd “day parts” in between normal meal breaks, as well as late-night specials and a huge push for breakfast

Similarly, a few years back Starbucks realized that it was overlooking a huge market by sticking exclusively with darker roasts—40% of coffee drinkers prefer lighter, milder roasts—so the Blonde roast was introduced to fuel growth among folks who otherwise wouldn’t be Starbucks customers. Thanks partly to its ability to expand the customer base, Starbucks seems to be winning the coffee wars, with same-store sales growth that’s surpassed competitors like Dunkin’ Donuts.

Wal-Mart’s organic foods push is an indication that the world’s largest retailer had gotten tired of allowing Whole Foods to dominate the space. The expansion into healthier foods wouldn’t seem to be all that controversial—Wal-Mart promised shoppers that they’d save 25% or more compared to similar products—yet even this move is not without risk. During the mid-’00s and beyond, Walmart was criticized for betraying blue-collar shoppers by raising prices and getting rid of “rollback” specials in an attempt to keep pace with Target and other, more upscale competitors. What’s more, there’s a significant portion of consumers who aren’t fans of organic foods. According to a recent Gallup poll, 15% of Americans say they “actively try to avoid” organic foods. Why? Perhaps because they assume such foods cost more or don’t taste good. And it’s safe to assume folks who feel this way are far more likely to shop at Wal-Mart than at Whole Foods.

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