Senate debates watering down moonshine

The Maryland Senate is expected today to resume debate on a bill that would limit the alcohol content of grain alcohol sold in the state.

Senate bill 75, sponsored by Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content by volume of 95 percent—about 190 proof—or more.

Moonshine debate

On Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, Sen. Barry Glassman, R-Harford, asks questions about a bill banning the sale of beverages that are 95 percent alcohol by volume or more. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Madaleno told the Senate that grain alcohol is a contributing factor in alcohol related deaths especially among college students.

Frostburg State University President Jonathan C. Gilbralter testified in favor of the bill. In 2008, the college was the scene of a number of binge-drinking related incidents that involved the hospitalization of students who consumed Everclear, a grain alcohol, according to USA Today.

But some legislators are questioning the proposed restrictions, particularly when it comes to business in the state.

Some have pointed out that residents of other states routinely cross the border into Maryland to buy a drink that is otherwise illegal. At least 12 states including Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia ban or restrict the sale of high proof alcohol, according to a state Department of Legislative Services analysis of the Maryland bill.

Distilled spirit sales in Maryland totaled 10.7 million gallons and generated $15.8 million in tax revenue for the state in fiscal 2013, according to the Maryland Office of the Comptroller. Exact figures for the sale of high-proof alcohol are not available but officials generally consider those sales to be a minimal part of overall distilled spirits sales in Maryland.

The popularity of grain alcohol, which is sometimes called moonshine, is on the rise in terms of consumption and in popular culture.

A manager of a Famous Dave’s restaurant in New Jersey told USA Today last month that the rise in popularity of moonshine “is one of the biggest booze trends Santos has witnessed since Famous Dave’s opened in 2006.” The chain features a number of moonshine drinks, many of which are made  with flavored variations of the hard liquor.

The popularity is driving major whiskey manufacturers to get into the act.

“You’ve had a lot of people come into the business,” Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council trade group told Time Magazine in 2012.. “There’s a little bit of a gold-rush mentality.”

Television is even catching on.

Moohshiners, a television show on the Discovery Channel, features the stories of a number of people purported to be engaged in the manufacture of the drink.

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