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West Virginia stops sale of 190-proof grain alcohol

A customer shops near the remaining bottles of grain alcohol Wednesday at Liquor Mart in Charleston, W.Va. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
A customer shops near the remaining bottles of grain alcohol Wednesday at Liquor Mart in Charleston, W.Va. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Lawrence Messina Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia is doing away with high-proof grain alcohol, citing safety concerns raised by college officials and others.

The state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Administration has stopped stocking 190-proof grain alcohol at its warehouse, which provides all liquor sold in the state. Although it announced the ban Wednesday, it asked liquor retailers more than a month ago to pull the potent product from their shelves.

Agency officials said they are responding to concerns by college officials, law enforcement agencies and community groups about the alcohol, which at 95 percent pure is significantly more potent than other distilled spirits.

“If you just pay attention, you’ll notice that people don’t drink grain at a cocktail party,” said Carla Lapelle, associate dean of Student Affairs at Marshall University. “They don’t go into a bar and order grain alcohol.”

Lapelle said she was unaware of any incidents involving grain alcohol among students at Marshall, which already bans all alcohol on campus, but she considered the move prudent.

West Virginia University spokeswoman Becky Lofstead applauded the agency’s efforts, but she also could recall no specific episodes blamed on grain alcohol abuse.

At least a dozen other states ban or limit the sale of 190-proof grain alcohol. Neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia, for instance, sell it only for medicinal or commercial use, and require a permit for its purchase.

The owner of a liquor store near WVU’s main campus in Morgantown said the product was not particularly popular among students.

“People can get drunk on beer. Anything in high doses is going to be a problem,” said Joseph Moser of Ashebrooke Liquor Outlet.

Grain alcohol is “a decent mover, or it was,” said Phyllis Hitchcock, manager of Classic Liquors in Huntington, Marshall’s home. “But the biggest sale of it was for labs and stuff. It’s used as a cleaning solvent.”

Moser said officials have begun distributing a 151-proof version of grain alcohol – the same potency as some vodka and rum already sold in West Virginia – through the state’s warehouse.

Lofstead said 151-proof isn’t as objectionable as the stronger version.

Lapelle added: “Of all the liquors, grain, especially the 190-proof, is purchased solely to get drunk on.”

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