Two years ago, Jeff Wielichowski of Greenfield drowned in his family's swimming pool after he consumed a concoction of Everclear grain alcohol, Red Bull and Gatorade. His mother, Luanne, blames the high-proof Everclear for her son's death and contacted Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison) regarding banning high-proof liquors in the state.
With Rep. AndrÃ© Jacque (R-De Pere), Berceau has drafted a bill that would ban Everclear -- and all such high-proof liquors -- in Wisconsin this year.
Everclear is clear, flavorless and 190 proof. That is, 95% percent of the liquid is pure alcohol. That's twice what a bottle of gin or whiskey contains. Because it is inexpensive -- a 750 ml bottle costs around $20 -- Everclear and its kind have been a potent part of the mix in many a college party punch for decades.
But Everclear's purported role in a number of alcohol-related deaths has led to a ban of the product in 15 states.
When states ban Everclear and liquors 190 proof and above, Bacardi 151 (151 proof liquor, or 75% alcohol) often fills the gap as an inexpensive ingredient for party punch.
Not addressed specifically in the attempted ban is the interplay of Everclear and Red Bull that may have played a role in Wielichowski's death. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration recognized the dangers of mixing alcohol and caffeine, banning products that combined the two such as Four Loko, which was linked to a number of deaths. Caffeine and alcohol work against each other and cause cardiovascular problems that can result in a stroke.
But the federal ban does not prevent consumers or bartenders from mixing energy drinks like Red Bull with alcohol, and Red Bull Vodka remains one of the most popular drinks on college campuses, including UW-Madison.
Apart from its role in fueling large parties, the loss of Everclear in the Madison market may not have much of an effect.
"We don't sell Everclear," says Adam Casey of Star Liquor on Williamson Street. "I think years ago, back when this neighborhood was rougher, neighbors asked [proprietor] Jerry [Mogensen] not to sell higher-proof booze and 40-ounce malt liquors, and he didn't."
For home enthusiasts who need higher-proof, clear, flavorless alcohol to make their own bitters and liqueurs, Star offers vodka. "The only high-proof product we sell with any regularity is 100-proof vodka, and most people buying that are making tinctures or homemade vanilla extract," Casey says.
Casey questions the proposed legislation: "The idea of banning any product to protect people who misuse it just strikes me as a slippery slope. At what point do we ask people to be responsible for themselves?"
Perhaps the oldest, most venerated drink made with Everclear is so-called Apple Pie Moonshine. The recipe, handed down by moonshiners (people who illegally distill their own spirits) is warming and potent. And you may have only a few more weeks to make it.
Apple Pie Moonshine
(Recipe from Moonshineheritage.com.)
- 1 gallon apple cider
- 1 gallon apple juice
- 3 cups white sugar
- 8 cinnamon sticks
- 1 liter bottle of 190 proof moonshine or grain alcohol
In a large stockpot, combine the apple cider, apple juice, sugar and cinnamon sticks. Bring it to a boil, then take it off the heat and allow it to cool. Add the liter of high-proof liquor.
Pour this into mason jars, put the lids on, and let it mellow out. You could drink it right away, but it does get better after a couple of weeks.