Beer: The Gateway Drink

Some of you may remember months ago when I posted about the end of the long wait for Sofia to have her first beer. It was a banner day but I had no idea it would lead so quickly to this…

That’s some rotgut if I ever saw some. Actually, after my article on hydro-abrasion was posted over at the Ceramic Arts Daily website, there were several comments. One of them, by Maryjane, suggested that I may have found the magic bullet in my resist alternative quest. Maryjane said that I could cut my own shellac with 198 proof grain alcohol which is 99% ethanol. Little did I know at the time that I would stumble upon yet another hidden crazy world that somehow has eluded me for 52 years. So I start by refreshing my understanding of ethanol, methanol and denatured alcohol. I already knew that ethanol in its pure natural form is potable (although you’d have to be pretty hard core to drink it) and that de-naturing it is precisely that… adding things to it to make it not natural and therefore not potable, or poison. These additives are what make it so difficult to breathe it for hours and days on end. It never occurred to me that pure ethanol would work too. So off to the woodworking store to buy shellac flakes which need to be “cut” which is simply that they need to be dissolved. After a painful conversation with the woodworker dude who inevitably asks what I’m doing with them that I can’t “cut” them the way everyone else does, I head over to the large liquor store a couple stores down in the strip mall for a pint of Everclear pure grain alcohol…

Now this is ethanol and it’s powerful if you were gonna drink it but it’s not 198 proof, it’s 190 proof. 190 proof is 95% alcohol (ethanol) and 5% water. So I started thinking on the way home (in my car that doesn’t strand me… yet), that I might as well go online and look for some 198 or 200 proof pure ethanol online. An initial g00gle search will return hundreds of dingdongs who typed in… what’s the strongest drink there is? So I looked up local retail chemical companies and the 1st one I called said he had a liter in stock and to come get it. I asked 3 times if it was 100% ethanol and he said yes and after the second time said he’d get it off the shelf and look. He came back to the phone and said yep. I said, it’s 100%?, and he said well, no, it’s 99.9%. So I drove down to Ducky Boy land and an old man answered the door (in retrospect, he might have been my age) and I said, are you the guy I talked to on the phone?, he said no. I told him what I came for and he went into the back and came out and said, we don’t have that. I said the other dude said that they did and finally just asked to talk to the other guy. He came out and eventually brought out the gallon jug and it was 190 proof. He apologized but I left swearing because he was a dunce. So this guy has this little chemical company downtown and he’s got a gallon of 190 proof alcohol in a plastic gallon which is exactly the same stuff as in the Everclear bottle… I hope I didn’t give him the idea that the two of them might start drinking it. So back home and start calling the other local retail chemical companies… no luck, half of them don’t even know what I’m talking about. So I figure I’m gonna have to order it online. After 3 or 4 phone calls, I start to get a picture that I’ve stumbled upon an insane niche of our culture. These places will not sell it to me… seriously, it’s like I’m trying to order plut0n1um or something. Their reasons run the gamut from they seem to think that hard core grain alcohol drinkers are gonna skip drinking that 95% pure stuff and go online to get the 99% stuff (??) to that it’s considered a hazardous material and is highly regulated. I try to make the point that the difference between the grain alcohol I bought that morning and the alcohol that’s highly regulated and hazardous is essentially the same thing except one is 4.?% more pure. This is met by the telephone version of the blank stare or more often a chance to blame Obama and EPA. So chemical salespeople that have a problem with the EPA… big surprise there. I end up calling university chemistry departments to no avail although I left my number with one that said their supply procurer dude would call me. One person says I should check pharmacies that make up potions for doctors that I can’t for the life of me remember what they’re referred to but there were 3 locally and they acted like I was a lunatic even though they had what I needed. Later on the dude from the university chemistry department called me back. He was a chatty fellow but said university policy forbid him to sell it to me because the university doesn’t have to pay the tax on it and that’s a no-no… I get it. I eventually asked him since I only need a half a cup or so if he might consider just giving me half a cup so I could do the test, that way if it didn’t work, I could stop this craziness. He said he absolutely couldn’t do that either because the university had policies forbidding it. I asked why the university would care if he gave me 4 ounces of grain alcohol and he said… “I don’t know, what if you took it and killed your wife with it?” Well, who could argue with that, what better way to poison your wife than slip her enough grain alcohol to make her a bit tipsy. I eventually found a place in New Jersey, which by all accounts operates by a different set of rules and is not under the jurisdiction of h0meland secur1ty. There willing but it’s expensive and so I decided I’ll do the 190 proof test first. So here’s my test, one cup of moonshine to 28 grams of shellac flakes…

And then, silly me, I thought it would dissolve immediately but it didn’t…

As I’m writing this, it has dissolved more but still quite of bit of solid stuff. We’ll see but my optimism is fading. In other news, here’s another drawing Sofia did solo. It’s a beach, ocean underwater scene all in one with mermaids, shark, whale, swimmers, boat, octopus and even Grandma in a lawn chair on the beach…


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13 Responses to “Beer: The Gateway Drink”

  1. dan finnegan Says:

    I visited a friend during college in Oklahoma who introduced me to a punch made from a mix of Everclear and Mad Dog 20/20. I think dissolving shellac is a better use!

  2. Brian Says:

    The reason you can’t find 100% is that pure ethanol is hydrophilic (water-loving) so it sucks moisture right out of the air. I’m surprised chemistry dud at university didn’t tell you this. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a sip of that everclear — it’ll suck the water right out of your mouth!
    It’s also extremely difficult to purify, since regular distillation can only remove 90-95% of the water, hence 190 proof. If you could find someone to sell it to you, it’d be very expensive.
    The trace of water in the everclear shouldn’t be enough to effect anything.

  3. ron Says:

    Jim, I love that you take the time to write all this stuff down. I needed a good laugh this morning. It’s just insane out there sometimes (most times).

  4. gary rith Says:

    Considering she is a Kentucky girl, has she had Wild Turkey yet/

  5. Tracey Says:

    ahhhh….Everclear and beach drawings, bringing back memories of lifeguard parties growing up in Myrtle Beach! They filled their bathtubs with grain alcohol some fruit punch, oranges and watermelon. Never been so drunk in all my life!
    Maybe mix a little Jose Cuervo in there for good measure!

  6. elizabethBurtt Says:

    I can’t get flakes here, so its the Zinsser bullseye for me. I am anxious to see how you make out with the booze instead of denatured alcohol.

  7. Gordo Says:

    I dunno if colour makes a difference for potting purposes, Lee Valley sells orange shellac online.

    Here in the land of the nanny-state, one needs a permit from the province to buy the 190-proof stuff. Easy enough to get, but it’s about $25/litre.

    I’m the middle of an experiment with making a propolis tincture and discovered something very important: when transporting the 198-proof stuff home that was given to you by the chemistry storesperson, and you’re using a Sprite bottle and it’s a hot summer day, warn the wife the second she gets into the car. That way she won’t see the bottle and quickly take a swig before you can stop her. It’s safer for you that way. 😀

  8. meredith@whynot Says:

    yep needed a laugh today and knew I would get it here.
    Glad I was not drinking anything.

    this is what we go through for ART!
    And this is making your life easier—how?
    Love the drawing- it is fabulous!

  9. Elena Says:

    Jim, you can try to dehydrate it yourself. Here is how:
    They claim that if you use Buckeye CM Cellulose as a dehydrating agent, you can get it up to 99.8%.

  10. cindy shake Says:

    I’m with Dan -we used to make “trash can punch” when we were young(er) and stupid(er). you post cracked me up -the whole “kill your wife” thing -hmmm maybe he knew something we don’t!

  11. Henhousepottery Says:

    It makes you wonder if the U. Chemistry dude had considered killing his own wife using the ethanol…odd that is immediately where he went?!? Here in UT we can’t get even get the 190 stuff…all alcohol with the exception of beer (with a lower percentage of alcohol than other states) must be purchased at the state-owned/operated liquor store. I’m not even sure that I could bring everclear in as a special order. My husband does woodwork, and uses a pre-mixed shellac. I can’t imagine the fun we’d have based on your adventures if he wanted to mix up his own from flakes. You had me laughing!

  12. Robert Harris Says:

    Just a little background chemistry. With ordinary distillation of a water/alcohol mixture you can only get 95% ethanol, the remainder being water. In order to get to 99% you need to mix it with benzene which is very toxic (when ingested) even in small amounts, and which you can never be completely rid of. Hence they need to regulate the stuff that is >95% alcohol. Frankly it’s probably not as bad as gasoline, but people tend not to try and drink gasoline…

    For cutting shellac you should be OK using everclear.


  13. Robert Young Says:

    Thanks for all the info! And those designs are looking great.

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