Maryland’s crackdown on grain alcohol hits violin makers, bakers

The sale of Everclear, 190-proof grain alcohol, was banned in Maryland, affecting bakers and violin makers.

College partyers of Maryland, your lives will never be the same. This school year, no longer can you and your roomies pile into the car, head to the liquor store and stock up on your favorite cheap, clear booze.

Gone are the days of ignoring the “contents may ignite or explode” label and pouring freely into a jug of Hawaiian Punch. The jungle juice recipe you worked so hard to perfect is a waste. Because the sale of Everclear, and all 190-proof liquor, is now banned.

And who, in the state of Maryland, is most upset?

The people who make violins.

While the ban’s intended audience, binge-drinking college kids, has an endless variety of alcoholic substances to consume, violin makers in Maryland depend on 190-proof grain alcohol to create varnishes used in making and restoring their instruments.

It works like this: When a violin is chipped or broken, a new piece of wood often is used in the repair. When attached, the wood looks out of place because it has not been varnished. To make the violin look untouched, the new varnish must exactly match what already is on the violin.

The violin maker must dissolve a coloring substance called resin to paint on the wood. The craftsman dissolves the resin in Everclear because, with its high alcohol content, it dries resins quickly, so the already tedious process can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. It looks good, too.

“There's really nothing else that works,” said Silver Spring violin maker Howard Needham, who is hoarding the Everclear he has left.

The sale of the substance is also banned in the District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, meaning the next closest place Needham can purchase Everclear is in Delaware.

The Maryland law, which took effect June 30, does not make it illegal to own Everclear, just to sell it. So if Needham and his fellow violin makers can smuggle it in, they’ll be able to keep up work as usual.

The same quest is being taken up by another group experiencing collateral damage from the grain-alcohol ban: cake bakers.

Bakeries dissolve edible colored powder in Everclear, making a paste that can be painted onto fondant, the sculptable icing often seen on elaborate cakes.

“I swear, we don’t drink it,” said Bethesda bakery owner Leslie Poyourow, who noted that she has made cakes for Vice President Joe Biden, Jennifer Lopez and Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 visit to Washington.

Poyourow said it is possible to substitute vodka or lemon extract for grain alcohol, but those substances smell worse and don’t work as well.

Randi Brecher, owner of Creative Cakes in Silver Spring, said that after 15 years of using 190-proof grain alcohol on cakes costing up to $2,000, she’s switching to 151-proof, which works almost as well.

Violin makers don’t have that liquor luxury: 151-proof has more water in the alcohol, defeating the purpose of using it for fast drying. Some makers use denatured alcohol, but that’s essentially poison poured into alcohol, said Baltimore violin maker Laurence Anderson.

Anderson previously lived in Minnesota, where grain alcohol is also banned. He would have his family bring it to him from Indiana. Now, he’s hoping his son can bring it to him from Illinois.

“I can understand why they want to outlaw it,” Anderson said. “I just wish they made an exception for people in the arts.”

In Virginia, where any alcohol higher than 101 proof is illegal to sell, an exception for nonbeverage uses such as for medicine or machinery cleaning, was written into the law. In Maryland, no mention of an exception or special permit was included in the ban.

A spokesman for the Maryland comptroller’s office said an existing alcohol permit system made available to laboratories and hospitals could be used to obtain Everclear in this situation, but violin makers didn’t seem to be aware of the exemption.

“This is the second blow to our industry,” said David Truscott, of Potter Violin in Bethesda.

The first blow, Truscott said, came in February, when the federal government banned imports of antique elephant ivory, a product commonly found in small quantities at the tip of violin bows. Truscott’s company can no longer purchase bows in Europe, where the ivory tips are legal, and bring them to the United States to sell.

This trouble for violin makers and cake decorators is, of course, not the intention of the Maryland law. All the lawmakers wanted was to keep Everclear out of college party punch.

“What we know is that if we make it more difficult for people to drink heavily, they will drink less,” said David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins University.

The law was a product of Jernigan’s work with the Maryland Collaborative, a group of universities aiming to reduce college drinking.

Jernigan said grain alcohol is the most dangerous to drinkers because it is tasteless and odorless. That was the reason that Dick’s Last Resort, a restaurant chain with a location in Baltimore, used Everclear in its “trash can punch.”

The drink was a concoction of grain alcohol, 151-proof rum, black raspberry liqueur and a fruit beverage mix. Now that the bar can’t use Everclear, the punch is less alcoholic, but, according to the bar, it tastes the same.

A commercial establishment such as Dick’s has legal limits on the strength of its drinks. Rowdy fraternity parties have no such restrictions. Every shot of grain alcohol poured is almost 21⁄2 times as strong as a regular shot of vodka.

And that’s what the partyers will have to make do with now. Unless, of course, they plan a road trip to Delaware — perhaps hitching a ride with a violin maker.切

(25) comments


This bill originated in the House of Delegates, out of Economic Matters and the Alcohol SubCommittee. It was not from Senator Young. Sen. Young has been a pretty stalwart supporter of the state loosening restrictions on alcohol regulation, not constricting them.


"All the lawmakers wanted was to keep " ...citizens under their control.


better than some church or big corporation


Wrong again!


all states need to get out of the liquor business,other than taxes and age -which should 18,there is no reason for them to be involved period


I would support a Law that would allow Republicans to buy 190 Proof Alcohol when they would support the Legal use of Marijuana.




Thanks go out to the Maryland General Assembly for saving me from myself. Next thing will be the mandated prostate exam and hernia examination.

Go Maryland General Assembly!


So that could be the literal upyourgazoo mandate. [beam][beam][beam]


I shouldn't be giving MOM any ideas. Next session he'll ask for a polyp tax.


Another wasteful law set in place by Ron Young...

Whats next? Soda can no longer contain xx grams of sugar per 12 oz serving? Get outta here!...


Was Ron the original Sponsor?


he heard it on fox so you know its a lie


This is what happens when you let liberals write laws.


what horse poop


The law really is. Pilot25 was right on the money.


oh i agree the law is a waste


Do they really think this will deter the college par-tiers from drinking? THINK AGAIN.


looks like another "we have to pass this bill to find out what's in it", Crazy Pelosi help to write this version? [beam]


I cannot find Pelosi mentioned, care to point it out?[wink]


you cant fight real stupid


stop listening to junkiebaugh,he's so drugged out he doesn't know what he saying,oh and never did


Yes, trust the state of Maryland to meddle in things where they have no idea of the consequences. Everclear should still be sold for commercial and industrial use with a permit. Denatured alcohol is ethanol with toxic additives that change how it works for some purposes. Many states used to allow sale with a permit. Now fewer and fewer.


At the voting polls, you can choose to NOT vote back in Ron Young. Take the fight to the polls and eliminate these asinine laws...


so they can passed anti gay marriage laws?or ban unions?or push thru so called pro life laws?or those great stand your ground laws?or naming everything after a lousy movie star and even lousier president,oh by the way i think bill about everclear is wayyyy stupid.

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