Soon Virginia liquor stores will be able to carry 151 proof Everclear – that clear, super-strong liquor with a reputation for leveling even the toughest of drinkers.
But will it appear in cocktails at local bars?
“You don’t really see it used in cocktails often,” said Kate Panaleo, a bartender at Bardo in Norfolk. She said she doesn’t see that changing, and she would be hesitant to serve it.
“People generally can’t handle it,” Panaleo said. “It sneaks up on them quickly.”
A bill sponsored by Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, and signed by the governor last month allows the sale of neutral grain spirits or alcohol between 101 and 151 proof for the first time since 1993. The most well-known is Everclear, which is sold in both 151 and 190 proof bottles. Only the 151 will be sold in the commonwealth.
Virginia is late to the party; it’s the 49th state to allow the sales. Only Vermont doesn’t allow it now, Knight said. He called it a pro-business move, and said he “doesn’t like to put restrictions on doing business in Virginia if it doesn’t seem to have harmful effects.”
Previously, an alcohol with a proof level that high had to have a distinctive character, aroma, taste or color to be sold in Virginia. For example, rums with a proof level of 151 have been allowed.
But Everclear is colorless, odorless and flavorless – all reasons bartenders say that even though they can now get Everclear, they might not want to .
Johnny Cresswell, bar manager at Twist in Virginia Beach, said he would think about it, but there are stipulations.
“It has to have good flavor to play well with other drinks,” he said.
Twist uses other high-proof liquors that are already legal, but not all of them. For example, Cresswell said, something like Bacardi 151 doesn’t have a place behind his bar because of its flavor.
“If I could figure out a way to make it work, I would probably buy it,” he said of Everclear.
Karl Dornemann, owner of Still, Bardo, Supper, Public House and Gosport Tavern, said he doesn’t see the high-proof alcohol being available as a big deal. He said Everclear is good for infusing, letting fruits or other foods sit in the liquor until it takes on their flavor. But they wouldn’t use it in cocktails as a raw product.
“For flavor extraction, the higher the proof, the better it is,” he said.
And he definitely wouldn’t serve it as shots.
Whether bartenders end up using it or not, Everclear will likely hit liquor store shelves in Virginia this summer. The new law takes effect July 1.
But just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. Companies like the one behind Everclear – Luxor – don’t have to sell their spirits here, and Virginia ABC doesn’t have to offer them. But likely both will want to sell the spirits in Virginia stores, an ABC spokeswoman said.
It won’t be the first time such liquors have been sold in the commonwealth.
Grain alcohol with a proof level up to 190 was sold in Virginia ABC stores until 1992, when the General Assembly passed legislation dropping the proof-level limit to 153. Then, in 1993, following a 2-year-old recommendation by a state task force on substance abuse, legislators passed a measure banning sales of grain alcohol, effective July 1 that year.
This time, it will be allowed until July 1, 2022, when the General Assembly will have to decide whether to renew the bill.
This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com.