MEDIA CONTACT:  Julie Willmot
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TRENTON, N.J. - Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and the Division of Consumer Affairs are alerting small retail food and drink shops in Mercer County that the sale of alcoholic beverages without a license is illegal, and that stores have until Sept. 1, 2012, to remove Extracto de Malta from their shelves.

Extracto de Malta is an illicit alcoholic beverage with an alcohol volume of 3.5 to 4 percent – the equivalent of a light beer – that has been illegally sold at retail shops without liquor licenses, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. The State of New Jersey considers Extracto de Malta to be an “illicit beverage” because it has not been registered as an alcoholic product in New Jersey.

“Mercer County retailers who are selling this product must remove it from their shelves immediately,” Hughes said. “Its availability creates a real risk to consumers, who may not be aware that it’s an unregistered alcoholic product.”

Extracto de Malta is commonly stocked on shelves among soft drinks and placed next to the soft drink Malta, according to the State Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Malta is a carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage brewed from barley, malt and hops that is popular in Hispanic communities and is distributed by many companies, including Goya.

Retailers must remove Extracto de Malta from their shelves by Saturday, Sept. 1, or face fines of up to $1,000 and/or a maximum jail term of three years for selling alcohol without a license.

The Mercer County Division of Consumer Affairs, in coordination with the State Division of Consumer Affairs, will issue fliers to small retail food and drink shops, also known as bodegas, warning shop owners about the alcohol content in Extracto de Malta and the consequences facing them for selling it.

“My investigators are personally visiting Mercer County bodegas and we’re distributing the material in both English and Spanish,” said Donna Giovannetti, chief of the Mercer County Division of Consumer Affairs.

Residents are encouraged to call the ABC’s tip line (1-866-713-8392) if they see Extracto de Malta being sold in New Jersey after Sept. 1.