Utah limiting Everclear purchases as people turn to the strong spirit to make hand sanitizer

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign hangs on the door of an Ogden liquor store on Friday, March 13, 2020, alerting customers of purchasing restrictions on bottles of Everclear. As hand sanitizer becomes harder to find amid the coronavirus outbreak, many have started using the high-proof spirit to make their own disinfectant.

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Utahns looking for the highly sought after but hard-to-find hand sanitizer amid the coronavirus pandemic are turning to an unconventional place to get their disinfectant fix: liquor stores.

So much so that the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is limiting purchases of Everclear, the potent grain alcohol, to two bottles per customer.

Beginning Friday afternoon, liquor stores across the state hung signs alerting customers of the new restrictions on the notoriously strong spirit, DABC spokesman Terry Wood said.

Wood said liquor stores are out of the 1750mL bottles and have only a limited number of 200mL bottles in stores. Hence the purchase restrictions, he said.

“We’re not going to run out [of alcohol because of COVID-19,]” Wood said, “but this one product, this Everclear, there’s been a run on it for sanitation purposes.”

He said stores are anticipating a new shipment by Monday, but that even after restocking, stores will continue limiting purchases.

Hand sanitizer — and other disinfecting products — have been flying off store shelves for the last few weeks as people attempt to stock up and protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Thus, recipes for bootleg hand sanitizer made from Everclear, aloe vera gel and essential oils abound online.

The Utah Department of Health said Friday it didn’t have any guidance on whether Everclear-based hand sanitizers were effective against the virus that causes COVID-19.

The department recommended contacting the Utah Poison Control Center for more information, and the poison control center didn’t immediately respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment.

Consumers attempting to make their own hand sanitizer from strong spirits need to be careful. Many types of common booze aren’t 60% alcohol and, thus, don’t meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards necessary to kill germs.

Popular Texas vodka maker, Tito’s, was forced to tell consumers earlier this month that its spirits weren’t safe to use for making hand sanitizer after people started recommending using it online.

“Per the CDC, hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC,” it said.

According to the CDC, hand-washing with soap and water is the best way to protect oneself. If soap and water aren’t available, it said a hand sanitizer containing 60% alcohol was acceptable.

Unlike Tito’s vodka, Everclear sold at Utah liquor stores is 190 proof — or about 95% alcohol by volume, technically meeting the CDC’s threshold. Although John Protaciewicz, chairman of Case Western Reserve University’s Chemistry Department, told Cleveland.com that making hand sanitizer isn’t as easy as combining the correct ratio of ingredients.

“The chemistry and math involved is complicated, and there’s no guarantee that any of these recipes will end with the right alcohol percentage,” Cleveland.com reported.

Garage Grill and Brewhouse in Draper is embracing the disinfecting properties of high-proof spirits.

The restaurant announced Friday that it was working with its sister company, Salt Flat Spirits, to produce a 160-proof clear spirit to use as sanitizer.

A news release from the company said it is being used to clean the restaurant, located at 1122 E. Draper Parkway, before it opens and throughout the day.