The debate over the plans is further evidence of the tension between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mr. Darling, which boiled over last week when the Chancellor said No.10 had unleashed the 'forces of hell' on him after he predicted the recession would be the worst for 60 years.
Under the 'nuclear option' plan for increasing duty – designed to appease the health lobby and show that ministers are serious about tackling the problems caused by binge drinking – the cost of a bottle of spirits would rocket, along with the cost of spirit-based alcopops favoured by young drinkers.
A bottle of Bells whisky could rise from £14.79 to £23.73 while Gordon's gin, another favourite of middle-class drinkers, would increase from £12.79 to £21.17.
Even if Mr Darling imposed a less draconian rise, industry sources are braced for increases significantly above the five per cent already earmarked for beers, wines and spirits under the government's alcohol duty 'escalator'.
That ensured a two percent rise in duty above the level of inflation every year in the Budget for four years starting last year. Under Whitehall calculations, this year's escalator would be set at five per cent.
However, leading figures at No.10 are pressing the Chancellor to hammer spirits much harder, after a series of recommendations by MPs on the health select committee last year, Drinkers Alliance claim.
They say the report demanded that 'unlike in recent years, duty increases should predominantly be on stronger alcoholic drinks, notably on spirits'.
MPs called for a return to the level in 1983 when the duty on a litre of pure alcohol was 11 percent of the average male weekly manual wage, compared with 5 percent in 2002.
Such a move would send Britain to the top of the European league table for spirits tax.
Mr. Darling is understood to be fighting the calls for the very steepest possible increases – but Whitehall sources nevertheless expect him to introduce big rises in duty on spirits, in part to raise money to help cut Britain's record deficit.
The Budget – a key springboard for Labour's election campaign – is currently pencilled in by government planners for either Wednesday, 24th March 2010.
As The Sunday Telegraph has already revealed, Mr. Brown and Mr. Darling are at odds over the package, with the Prime Minister keen for it to contain spending increases on voter-friendly areas such as schools and hospitals, as well as jobs programmes for young people.
The Chancellor, however, is holding out firmly against a 'giveaway' Budget in favour of a 'realistic' statement to reassure markets that Labour is serious about reducing Britain's £178 million deficit.
There are claims the Treasury is also drawing up plans to increase VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent – something those close to Mr Brown would fiercely resist just before the general election.
Mr. Darling reopened hostilities with No.10 with his 'forces of hell' comments – understood to have been aimed at Messrs. Charlie Whelan and Damian McBride, Mr. Brown's former spin-doctors.
Hitting middle-class drinkers with big rises in the cost of spirits would be electorally risky. However, leading figures inside No.10 are understood to be concerned that Labour is not sending out a clear signal that it is ready to get tough on binge drinkers.
The Conservatives, by contrast, have already pledged to increase the duty on alcopops and super-strength beer and cider without necessarily lifting the duty on spirits.
A four-pack of super-strength lager would rise by £1.33 and a large bottle of alcopop would increase by £1.50, under Conservative plans.
Mr. Jeremy Beadles, Chief Executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, said:
"We are a vital industry to the UK's recovery. It is clear the Chancellor is under real pressure to significantly increase the duty on spirits.
"Thousands of jobs are at risk. The hard-working people of this country should not be made to pay for the recession.
"They should be able to enjoy a drink in these times of hardship without being penalised by extra costs. They are already paying enough in taxes. Enough is enough."