Punch Drunk: The Pros and Cons of 151-Proof Liquor 


Does the selection at your local liquor store have you feeling a bit … sober? Perhaps you’ve been looking for something with a bit more of a kick?

I feel you. Lucky for us, those concerns are now a thing of the past. Starting July 1, the sale of 151-proof grain alcohol will be legal in Virginia! Never again will I be forced to drink illegal moonshine out of Mason jars (although I still will, quite willingly).

Under the General Assembly bill, signed last week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, state-controlled liquor stores can sell neutral grain spirits up to 151 proof. That’s 75.5 percent alcohol by volume, up from the previous limit of 101 proof, or 50.5 percent alcohol.

Nearly every other state allows sale of the harder stuff.

Delegate Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, who sponsored the bill, was quoted by the Capital News Service saying he was happy to see Virginia join 48 other states that allow such sales.It was a ban “left over from the days of Prohibition,” he said.

How were we one of the last two states in the union (with Vermont) to regulate the sale of this stuff? I know we’re not always the hippest state, but c’mon! It’s like being chosen second-to-last on the playground for kickball, right in front of that kid with the boogers. Sorry Vermont. Love your syrup, though.

I asked a friend of mine, Edward Baldwin, about the new law, because he works in the industry as director of marketing for Richmond-based Belle Isle Craft Spirits.

“While some will celebrate the sale of Everclear in Virginia — we hope responsibly,” he says — “the larger implication for Virginia distilleries is that being able to produce higher-proof spirits paves the way for greater product innovation.”

When it comes to cocktails, as Baldwin notes, “higher-proof spirits add ‘boozy’ or ‘hot”’ qualities to drinks that are typically made to have the same alcohol content as drinks with lower-proof spirits.”

His point, and that of supporters of the new law, is that such higher-proof liquor can enhance cocktails. Wonderful things such as limoncello and bitters also can be created from this base. And it can act as an important tool for cooking. The higher the proof, the less sugar it contains, while it tends to absorb flavors and transmit to other ingredients within the dish.

All of that said, the main question, and the fear of the law’s detractors, is: Will it be abused by dumb kids looking to get drunk?

Knight sponsored similar legislation in 2016, but it was vetoed by McAuliffe, who had similar fears. “A prime market for these products is young people who are attracted to their high proof and low cost,” he wrote in his veto message last spring.

To help ease those concerns, Knight included a five-year sunset clause in the new bill. The legality of 151-proof grain alcohol would expire July 1, 2022, as Capital News Service reports, and lawmakers can decide whether to renew the law. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board also can decide whether to leave such products off the shelves of stores near college campuses.

I don’t think it really matters. College kids are going to quaff the hard stuff if they’re so inclined. I was so inclined once. I took flaming shots of 151-proof Bacardi at a party. This was in high school. I’m lucky to even recall it — and to still have my eyebrows.

What I’m getting at is, you have to teach kids what’s right and what’s wrong and then let them make their own decisions.

Personally, I’m looking forward to grabbing a bottle of the extra-hard stuff. It’ll be nice to have around the house.

And the great thing is, this stuff is multipurpose. It’s not just for cooking and getting hammer-canned. You can also thin paint, degrease pennies, clean horrific wounds, sterilize surgical instruments, light stuff on fire and ease the itch of the common mosquito bite. So basically, if you’re a house painter or in the woods without access to medical care or a complete lunatic, you want to make sure you’re packing a jug of 151-proof.

Hell, just the other day I had to perform a battlefield amputation at Bull Run. Lucky for me I had my trusty canteen of 151-proof ’shine!

Seriously, unless you need to flush out one of their wounds, hide this from children. S

Jack Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at jackgoesforth.




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