Under the Jenfluence Mystery Stories: Jen Stumbles Upon The Cool Spot

When you spend a lot of time looking at brewery websites like I do, you find yourself consistently running into a delay that seems to be different for each website: being asked if you’re at least 21 years old before being allowed to enter the website.

Some websites ask if you are 21-years-old and only give you the option of choosing yes:

woodenrobotbrewery.com

woodenrobotbrewery.com

Some websites ask if you are 21-years-old and give you a yes or no option:

Some websites ask you to enter the month, day, and year you were born:

So what’s the deal? Why is every website different? 

If you guessed that it has something to do with complying with regulations, you’re on the right track. However, you may be surprised to learn that requiring consumers to verify they are of legal drinking age is not an actual law that breweries and other alcohol brands are required to follow; rather, the age verification you find on alcohol websites, known as “age gates,” fall under self-regulation.

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published Self-Regulation in the Alcohol Industry. In the report, the FTC recommends that alcohol brands, such as breweries, have age gates on their websites that require customers to enter their date of birth instead of asking consumers whether they are of legal drinking age. However, alcohol companies are not required to implement the highest level of age gating, so websites that ask whether you’re 21-years-old are sufficient. While I suppose it’s technically possible to have an alcohol brand website that doesn’t ask for any age verification, that seems like an invitation for trouble.

At some point I’m guessing the Helen Lovejoys of the world will successfully have the self-regulation of age gates made into actual regulations, which explains why some websites have already implemented the full-on month, day, and year age gates on their websites. It may have been cheaper to do it at the outset rather than have to upgrade a web page.

Of course, the biggest question that comes up when thinking about the age gate self-regulation is whether it is actually preventing underage people from accessing the websites. When the website doesn’t give a customer an option to indicate he or she is under 21, then no one is being prevented from entering the website. However, if all someone who is younger than 21 has to do to get through a more complex age gate is lie about the year he or she was born, then it doesn’t seem as if implementing or requiring a more complex age gate is doing anything more than websites with less sophisticated age gates. One could facetiously argue that the more complex age gates are at least making kids do math, so there’s that.

Researching the different age gates and reading about the self-regulation also led me to a tantalizing thought: what happens when you indicate that you are not 21 years old?

You guys, the best thing ever happens. Like the scene in Ghost World where Enid says, “This is so bad, it’s gone past good and back to bad again.”

When you say you are not 21 years old, you get taken to www.thecoolspot.gov.

The. Cool. Spot. Dot. Gov.

The Cool Spot is a website made by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and it is amazing. Amazing in a cringe-inducing awkwardness way of witnessing super square adults try desperately to sound “cool” and “hip” while using graphics and voices that look and sound to be circa early aughts. It’s one of those “Hey kids, let’s rap” turned-around-backwards-in-a-chair-to-show-coolness attempts at making young people feel like the olds really “get” them. The real effect is to make people who view the website embarrassed for the website. Which is too bad, because it looks like there is some information on there about peer pressure and resources for children dealing with alcoholism in their families.

What do you think? How helpful are the age gates? Even if they’re not helpful, are they the best solution?