Bill banning grain alcohol in the works

An Everclear bottle sits on a student's table in their apartment. Photo by Elise Krivit/elise.krivit@marquette.edu

Everclear and similar spirits with a high alcohol content may have achieved near-cult status among drinkers, but such drinks may become illicit  in Wisconsin within the next few months.

Last Friday, the Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse made a motion to support a ban on 190-proof grain alcohol in the state.

The push to ban 190-proof alcohol comes after the death of 22-year-old Jeff Wielichowski of Greenfield. Wielichowski drowned in his family’s swimming pool on July 15 after drinking a punch made of 190-proof Everclear, Red Bull and Gatorade,  also known as Tucker’s Death Mix.

His mother, Luanne Wielichowski, is now determined to ban high-proof booze in Wisconsin following her son’s death in connection with the alcohol.

“High-proof alcohol is glorified in movies, music,” Wielichowski said in a statement. ”We never again want to see a young, promising life lost to high-proof alcohol. We look to our leaders to say enough is enough. We plead you take the steps necessary to ban this poison from our state.”

Grain alcohol, also called ethanol, is produced by fermenting and distilling grain. Its toxicity can cause permanent brain or liver damage by drinking heavy quantities.

Most grain alcohol is considered to be 190-proof, which means the drink is 95 percent alcohol. Popular hard alcohols, like rum and vodka, are typically between 80 and 120 proof, or 40 to 60 percent alcohol. Everclear comes in 151- and 190-proof varieties.

Lou Oppor, from Wisconsin’s Bureau of Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, said the next move is to draft a letter to the governor suggesting he support the legislation.

Representative Peggy Krusick (D-WI), said planning is still underway on developing the actual bill. She is currently working with health care officials, law enforcement, district attorneys and individual families to draft the bill.

Although it has not been determined which specific alcohols will be banned or restricted, Krusick warned against consumption of high-proof alcohols.

“(Everclear) is as dangerous as narcotics,” Krusick said.

The 190-proof variety of Everclear is already banned in 15 states including neighboring Minnesota and Michigan. Oppor said “it may take a little bit of time” for the ban to be considered because the legislative session does not begin for another month, but said he believes the bill will pass.

Sara Johnson, coordinator of alcohol programs in the Office of Student Development at Marquette, said the typical ban is on all spirits more than 160-proof and that Everclear is banned in other states because the alcohol content is higher than other alcoholic beverages.

Johnson said even where the drink is legal it is not easily accessible.

But that’s not true at Marquette, where four liquor stores within walking distance of campus have the 190-proof variety of Everclear available.

Johnson wants students to understand the alcohol content of their drinks and to measure out their alcohol so they know how much they are consuming. She said the main problem with Everclear and other high alcohol spirits is they are commonly mixed with other soft drinks so students are unaware of how much alcohol is in their drink.

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