The label looks like something a master distiller might slap on a bottle of small-batch vodka. Its color scheme is elegant and spare: midnight blue with gold trim. Every description on the label is spelled out in imposing, uppercase letters, including “DISTILLED FROM AMERICAN GRAIN” and “HIGHEST QUALITY,” as if to emphasize the spirit’s authority over mere mortals.
Gone are the two electrified rectangles that seemed to float on the edges of the old label, their words dire: “CAUTION!! EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE HANDLE WITH CARE” and “WARNING!! OVERCONSUMPTION MAY ENDANGER YOUR HEALTH.” The radioactive ear of corn is AWOL, too.
Clearly, Everclear wants to ditch its image as the go-to juice for every frat boy who wants to go from zero-to-blotto in 6.8 seconds. In the #MeToo era, when celebrity chefs and future public servants alike have been accused of some wretched acts while under the influence, it’s a smart brand refresh. But will anybody buy it? It seems like the spirits equivalent of Darth Vader dressing in a power suit and trying to convince everyone that he doesn’t really want to destroy your planet.
The new label, according to press materials, will appear on bottles nationwide later this year. At least in the states where legislatures allow the sale of 190-proof Everclear. More than a dozen jurisdictions, including Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina, have banned the grain-based spirit, which is 95 percent pure alcohol. The District allows the sale of Everclear and any other 190-proof spirits, such as Diesel.
Last year, Virginia reversed course and allowed many of its ABC stores to sell Everclear’s 151-proof version, which is 75.5 percent alcohol, but prohibited sales within three miles of a college campus. (The safeguards didn’t impress then-University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, who compared the odorless and colorless Everclear to a “date rape” drug for creating conditions in which sexual assaults can occur.)
Everclear would like to put the past — the Jungle Juices, the shot-chugging dares, the underage fights — behind it. The company wants consumers to equate Everclear with the craft cocktail movement and to think of the spirit as a “blank canvas” for your home-bartending creativity. (Just don’t smoke next to this canvas, okay?)
Everclear’s parent company, the St. Louis-based Luxco, has even developed an old-timey website that looks like it might sell Anthropologie shirt-dresses or Ladurée macarons. Instead, it offers recipes beyond the predictable (take one trash can, add eight bottles of Everclear, eight cans of Hawaiian punch, stir), including Pomegranate Green Tea Vodka, Pineapple Cherry Infusion and Plum Gin. (These recipes are cut with generous amounts of filtered water, I should note.)
The Everclear site also has a recipe for aromatic bitters, which seems to be the preferred use for the grain spirit among the mixologists and bartenders that I surveyed on Facebook.
These mixologist-level uses of Everclear are laudable, I guess, but 190 proof is still 190 proof. And college students, I suspect, are still college students. I don’t foresee a day when Pomegranate Green Tea Vodka will be the go-to blotto-maker at pledge parties. Which made me wonder if Everclear was required to put those electrified warnings on its current packaging. (Which also made me wonder if those warnings weren’t, in some way, counterproductive: They serve only to challenge kids who want to say that they danced with the devil named Everclear and survived.)
So I called the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, known informally as the TTB, and asked about the warnings. Spokesman Thomas Hogue said that only the standard surgeon general warning is required on beverages with 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume. You can probably recite it by heart: (1) According to the surgeon general, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.
That warning, I should point out, is printed in all uppercase letters. Just like the label on the forthcoming bottles of Everclear.