Grady High School warned Atlanta parents that students are buying this vanilla extract containing alcohol, as all pure extracts do, and then pouring it into coffee.

Atlanta school warns parents: Some kids drinking bourbon vanilla extract

Atlanta’s Grady High School shared a warning and a photo this week with parents: The photo was of Trader Joe’s Pure Bourbon Vanilla Extract and the warning explained:

This is not an indictment of Trader Joe’s at all, but parents please be aware that this product contains 35% alcohol and we have discovered that some students have consumed this intoxicant. Another thing to keep an eye out for.

Students are buying the extract at the midtown Atlanta Trader Joe’s across the street from Grady and then pouring it into a coffee from the nearby Starbuck’s, a costly way of getting buzzed.

At least one Grady student had to go to the emergency room as a result of drinking the vanilla-spiked coffee.

A four-ounce bottle of the extract sells for around $9 in the store and $16.61 online at Amazon. Pure vanilla extract -- made by steeping vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol and water -- is sold in all grocery stores and is a baking staple in many homes.

(This is a good story on why pure vanilla is not sold in liquor stores despite having the same alcohol content as vodka or rum.)

When I shared the Grady parent note on AJC Get Schooled Facebook this morning, many readers said this is not new, noting pure vanilla extract has always contained alcohol and thus posed a temptation to teens, along with cough syrups and mouthwashes.

Among the comments:

-Drinking Vanilla extract as alcohol is nothing new. Back in my high school days kids made “super vanilla” ice cream.

-All vanilla extracts are full of alcohol.... kids getting drunk on it is nothing new. Cross-reference: my middle school in the early 90s.

-ALL extracts. The lemon extract in my cupboard (which comes in a relatively big bottle - 4 oz.) is 90% alcohol.

-At least the Trader Joe's staff is aware of it. I bought a bottle of the alcohol-free extract last week at this store and the cashier told me they were watching sales of vanilla carefully because of this issue. Also, what a truly expensive way to get a little bit of alcohol....

-You can go to Publix or Kroger or Whole Foods or wherever. It's in their cabinets at home. I'm sure TJs is convenient, but let's not act like that's the only source for their swill.

- I think the point they’re making is that the word “Bourbon” makes it more appealing or eye-catching to teens. Perhaps it’s a marketing ploy, and it’s worked, but for the wrong demographic.

I have to assume this began with one teenager finding the extract -- often used in holiday baking and in banana pudding -- in the pantry at home and sampling it.  I doubt too many students peruse the baking aisle.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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