At the end of February, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission (IABC) met at the University of Iowa to make a formal recommendation on the fate of grain alcohol
in the state of Iowa after a Drake University student nearly died from Everclear overconsumption.
The recommendation included four parts: consider drafting a rule to require registration for highly concentrated alcohols (called HCAs, these consist of at least 50 percent alcohol, meaning they're greater
than 100 proof), limit HCAs to one listed size, limit listed products to no higher than 151 proof, and investigate opportunities for education on highly concentrated alcohols in college communities as well as design educational materials to be applied to bottles for distribution.
Roots of the IABC Plan
The recommendations were first formulated on Jan. 26 during a public forum titled "I Think..." that the IABC hosted at Drake University. Turnout was low, with only about 25 in attendance, but those who showed up had vested interests in the decision. Lynn Walding, administrator of the Iowa Alcohol Beverages Division (IABD) to which the IABC reports, opened the meeting and presented a slideshow explaining that, in addition to the Drake student's near-death experience, many other tragedies have been caused by Everclear overconsumption.
In attendance was Donn Lux, President and chief executive of Luxco Corp., the makers of Everclear and several other HCAs. Lux, who traveled from St. Louis, appeared disinterested throughout the forum, including when Luxco's Iowa state manager, Jeremy Thompson, read a statement in which Luxco offered to help expand alcohol education for students.
Many attendees agreed public education could do only so much. More were in favor of limiting size selection -- Everclear is available in four different bottle sizes while most HCAs are available only in one or two different sizes. The committee pointed out that the IABD had already lowered alcohol content levels months ago when it banned 190-proof Everclear (the Drake student had been drinking 151 proof). When the committee began discussing increasing the cost or taxes on HCA, several members of the public objected.
"Taxing regular citizens who use it responsibly will eventually make them unable to afford it," said community member James Snap, 67. Others agreed that raising taxes would only allow only those with disposable income -- often college students -- to be able to purchase it. The attendees became more divided when discussing a full ban of HCA.
Mike Wenger, who said that he had 20 years of experience as a paramedic and was a prevention specialist, asked whether there was any reason good enough to keep selling HCA if minors are drinking themselves into stupors and sometimes even dying because of it. Many argued that HCA isn't meant for youngsters and that there are several legitimate uses of HCA, including jewelry cleaning, fuel in alcohol burners for campers, antiseptic, cooking and homemade liqueurs like limoncello.
Another problem with an all-out ban would be Iowa's potential loss of income from taxes and industry. Walding pointed out that 90 percent of the grain used in making Everclear is from Iowa cropland, and it is processed at several Iowa-based plants. Currently there are 32 products in Iowa which qualify as HCA.
The IABC's recommendation to consider registration of HCAs can be traced to Drake student Heidi Witt, who brought up the idea at the Drake forum. Any Iowa store that wants to provide kegs to customers must keep detailed records of who is purchasing the alcohol. Information such as name, driver's license number and birth date is kept on file at the store. The keg can be traced to the store by its identification tag. Witt suggested having an HCA registration system similar to that of the keg registry, which could keep taxes down, help curb underage consumption, and hold customers more accountable for anything that happened after they purchased the alcohol.
Lynn Walding commented that he was taking the formal recommendation very seriously and that while the registration aspect would need to undergo further discussion before it is implemented, the other recommendations are already in place. Only one size bottle of each HCA brand will be available after current inventories are sold, the 151-proof limit is being enforced, and educational programs are being developed. Walding also said that if these measures are not effective, a mark-up tax on HCAs could be added as well.
Further discussion on beginning customer registration on HCA will be held at the next commission meeting in late April.