Over the last several days, you might have heard that a company called Palcohol has been cleared to market powdered alcohol in the United States. It sounds exciting! And scary! Are we all going to be drowning in boozy Ovaltine soon? Maybe. Maybe not.
The reason powdered alcohol is lighting up your feeds right now is because the wonderful blog at BevLaw.com dug out the US government's approval of products by Palcohol. The Treasury Department's reviewing agency, TTB, approved labels for five different products, including Cosmopoliton, Mojito and Lemon Drop flavours of the stuff. The specs: approximately 50 per cent alcohol by weight and between 12 and 60 per cent alcohol by volume depending on the label you consult. (According to the company's latest figures, half a cup of the stuff equals one drink).
It works exactly as you would expect: just add water. Used as directed, alcohol powder is no big deal. It's just a portable mixture that's great for camping! At the time Palcohol was discovered, however, the stealthy company had a wildly provocative website, which in addition to suggesting you sneak booze dust into concerts and sprinkle it on your food, informed you of the benefits — er, dangers — of putting the powder up your nose.
The result is a little "Don't do all this cool, dangerous stuff."
Let's talk about the elephant in the room….snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you'll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.
Is this the way we live now? What about the children? Here's a few things you should know before you freak out — or get out your snorting straw.
The chemistry of modern booze
In nature, alcohol, aka ethanol, exists as a liquid, so how do you make it into a powder that's dry to the touch? We spoke to Sam Bompas, half of the food design and research team Bompas & Parr about what powdered alcohol might actually be. According to Bompas, the ethanol is probably "micro-encapsulated" in some kind of molecular container, kind of like a teeny gelcap. Or a mountain of them. "The alcohol molecules themselves will still be liquid, they are just enrobed in a microscopic shell," he told us.
This tiny shell is mixed with sugar and other powders, which you seal into Emergen-C-like packets that contain all the flavorings you'd expect for a particular cocktail. The process by which you micro-encapsulate is Palcohol's secret sauce so we don't know exactly how it's done. But according to Bompas, "this typically involves enrobing the liquid in fat molecules that can be dissolved in solution or through physical abrasion (it's a process used to give longer flavour release in chewing gum)."
In other words, when you add the encapsulated ethanol to water and stir it up, all the the alcohol gets released.
This is not the first time this has been done
Alcohol powder sounds like the future, but like powdered milk, the idea has been around forever. The earliest US patent we can find is from 1974, and it describes an "Flowable powders having up to 60 per cent ethyl alcohol content." A patent by the same authors describes how you might make this magical hooch dust.
In the last decade, we've seen several such powders appear. In Japan, a 3.48-per cent alcohol powder is marketed by Sato Foods Industries. Back in 2007, Dutch students invented a powdered alcohol called Booz2Go. They argued that because it was a powder and not a liquid, you wouldn't need to be 16 to buy it.
In fact, we discussed powdered alcohol in Gizmodo almost a decade ago. Back in 2005, we cited "experts" who warned of the dangers of alcoholic powder.
This will not be the end of sober society
Obviously, there are regulatory and legal hurdles to be overcome before you can buy Palcohol at your local liquor store. Even if it does arrive, you don't need to worry. Just because a preposterous formulation of alcohol exists does not mean that everyone will suddenly become a drunken idiot that's guzzling as much alcohol as they can possibly stomach. No more so than before anyway.
As BevLaw notes, this isn't the first time a new dangerous method for consuming ethanol has cropped up.
After the initial shock value, perhaps this will be as rare as vodka tampons, eyeballing and vodka injections.
He doesn't mention buttchugging. Buttchugging did not end the world as we know it. Bompas elaborates:
Does it spell the end of normal liquid libations - no.
It won't taste great and one of the encouraging trends within the drinks industry is for consumers to increasingly look for flavour led experience. Global palates are becoming ever-more sophisticated with alcoholists looking to distinguish themselves through taste and refinement. Furthermore the abv is only 12 per cent by volume making it a relatively inefficient way to cart around your alcohol. A hip flask of spirit would be easier to carry, conceal (for furtive drinking) and mix into the sorts of drinks you'd be proud to serve your friends. No-one is impressed with a floating scum of half dissolved powder.
Sane people prefer alcohol in its enjoyable forms. Though many people drink to get drunk, they tend to imbibe in the most delicious way possible. Unless they are idiots.
After taking down and replacing their public relations disaster of a website, Palcohol seems to be taking rational steps to avoid abuse.
Can I snort it? We have seen comments about goofballs wanting to snort it. Don't do it! It is not a responsible or smart way to use the product. To take precautions against this action, we've added volume to the powder so it would take more than a half of a cup of powder to get the equivalent of one drink up your nose. You would feel a lot of pain for very little gain. Just use it the right way.
I read in a book somewhere that the actual act of snorting drugs is quite unpleasant. Snorting a half a cup of anything would make you want to die.
In sum: Don't freak out just yet. Getting drunk by putting down shots of liquor is already very simple, and lots of people do it. But that doesn't mean we can expect an epidemic of powderheads. Grain alcohol, which is pretty damn easy to procure, is about 95 per cent alcohol, and people aren't constantly sipping on flasks of it. The reason people don't keep huge reservoirs of everclear mixed with Kool-Aid in their refrigerators isn't because they're dumb and they want to waste money on less efficient ways of getting drunk — it's because it's disgusting and it sucks. Even if it does seem a little magical the first time you try it.