In the United States, the regulation of alcoholic beverages is the job of state governments. And each of them often delegates responsibility to its smaller divisions called counties. For instance, some counties allow grocery stores to sell hard liquor, and others restrict the sale of spirits to carefully controlled state outlets. A few counties are dry, meaning you can't even buy a beer except, perhaps, in a private club.

But just as everyone had sorted out how to handle beer, wine, and liquor sales, along came a new kind of alcoholic beverage that defies definition. Generically, it's called, cleverly and seductively, an alcopop.

These are sweet drinks that are brewed like beer or distilled like hard liquor, from which any color or bitter taste has been removed. The manufacturers then add sugar, fruit juice, or other flavorings. Hence the pop part of the name. The drinks taste like soda pop or a lollipop with a kick.

Not surprisingly, these drinks have become a hit with young people, including teenagers too young to legally buy or consume alcohol. A hit with the makers of alcopops, too, because they are brisk sellers.

Many of these drinks carry zippy names like Zima, Vodka Kick, Mike's Hard Lemonade, and Hooper's Hootch. Their advertisements depict trendy young adults laughing and joking and clinking glasses. That's precisely why many parents' groups want to restrict the sale of alcopops to state-run liquor stores where those under the legal drinking age are prohibited from buying them.

The makers of alcopops have other ideas, of course. If there were time, we'd tell you how the 3,141 U.S. counties have decided to handle the problem. But some of them haven't completely figured it out.