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High-proof alcohol under Iowa scrutiny

BY JOSEPH BELK | JANUARY 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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A public forum in Des Moines tonight could help determine whether Iowa stores can continue to sell high-proof liquors such as Everclear 151.

The forum on the highly concentrated spirits, held at Drake University, won’t be limited to discussion on Everclear. Other high-proof spirits, such as Bacardi 151, are also on the agenda.

The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division is leading the forum and seeking input from the public about the possibility of passing restrictions on Everclear or sponsoring an educational program about high-proof alcohol, said Lynn Walding, the administrator of the division.

Ryan Peck, a UI senior and Liquor Downtown employee, said sales of Everclear at the store are not common.

Peck, who has worked there for around seven months, said he noticed increased sales of Everclear on football weekends. Sales of the spirit have slowed since football season ended, and he usually rings the item up about twice a week.

Iowa is no stranger to dangerous incidents linked to high proof alcohols.

In 2002, at least six people were injured at Et Cetera when a bartender poured highly concentrated alcohol on a bar and lit it on fire.

Last November, a Drake University student was hospitalized after an alleged fraternity hazing involving Everclear.

The student’s blood-alcohol content was 0.50, more than 6 times the legal limit to drive. Blood-alcohol levels above 0.40 are potentially fatal, according to the University of Rochester Health Service.

The student was taken to a hospital emergency room; he survived.

“That early intervention was undoubtedly critical to his survival,” he said.

Walding said the state Alcoholic Beverages Division contacted Drake University officials about hosting the forum on their campus.

“It just seemed appropriate, because of the profound nature of the incident,” he said.

Three single ounce shots of 151-proof liquor can put the blood-alcohol content of a 180 pound male to over 0.08.

The highest proof of Everclear — 190 proof or 95 percent alcohol content — is no longer available for sale in Iowa.

The state decided to limit the sale of Everclear to the 151-proof variety prior to the incident at Drake because they felt the lower concentration variety was more responsible, Walding said.

Other states have also decided to stop the sale of 190-proof Everclear. The northeastern states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York no longer sell any varieties of Everclear, according to Walding.

Everclear is one of many brands distributed by the St. Louis-based Luxco. Jeremy Thompson, the company’s state manager for Iowa, could not be reached for comment.

UI senior William Boyd said he last purchased Everclear about a year ago and used the spirit in a “jungle juice” mixture. Despite the high alcohol content, the 22-year-old said there were no serious problems, though he said drinking Everclear “can get out of control quick.”

Boyd was not bothered about the state’s decision to sell only the 151-proof Everclear.

“I think 151-proof is definitely strong enough for anyone,” Boyd said.


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