You can hardly have missed the headlines about Palcohol, powdered alcohol, being approved for sale. There’s just one problem though: it was a mistake. Here’s what you need to know.
Reports over the weekend suggested that the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) had given “label approval” for the sale of certain Palcohol products. According to reports, seven powders were approved for sale that, in total, would have made five different drinks. Two rum-like powders were approved as well as two vodka-like powders. Other powders approved included powders for making drinks in the style of Cosmopolitans, Lemon Drops, and Margaritas.
Less than 24 hours after those headlines, it emerged that the TTB had in fact made an error and the parent company behind the makers of Palcohol agreed to voluntarily surrender that label approval because “there seemed to be a discrepancy on our fill level, how much powder is in the bag.”
This means that the Palcohol company will now have to resubmit those labels for TTB approval. That can take months, so while powdered alcohol might be on the horizon, it probably won’t be on our shelves for the Fall as had been expected.
Ahead of that, it’s good to get the facts about powdered alcohol, and why alcohol awareness campaigners are concerned that powdered alcohol might be dangerous, especially for teens.
What is Powdered Alcohol or Palcohol?
Powdered alcohol is essentially the brain child of one man, wine enthusiast and author Mark Phillips, who wanted to be able to enjoy a drink without the trappings of bottled alcohol. His idea, and this is to put it simply but hopefully capture its essence, was to reduce alcohol to a powdered form so that you could simply add it to water and get the drink you desire. The company behind Palcohol is the privately held firm Lipsmark.
The notion is that this product will allow people to take their mixed drink of choice with them wherever they might go.
How Do You Make Powdered Alcohol?
The company is currently going through the patent process and so isn’t disclosing the exact procedure behind making powdered alcohol. We can hazard a guess, however, that making Palcohol most likely involves taking a very absorbent edible starchy powder which can then retain the alcohol without becoming a mush but which dissolved when enough water is applied. Popular Science has a look at how this might be achieved.
Is Powdered Alcohol Dangerous?
Of itself, and if used responsibly, there’s no indication that this product will be harmful. The makers contend that if used as directed on the label, drinkers would mix a measure of the powder with five ounces of liquid. The drink would then have an equivalent potency of a standard mixed drink, they say.
So Why Are People Saying Palcohol is Dangerous?
There have been a lot of scare stories, and the company behind Palcohol has perhaps not helped itself in that regard. Unused to the media glare, it had previously flirted with some edgy wording on its website when it comes to fears about snorting Palcohol, which when this story gained national and international attention was of course ripe for the press to take out of context.
Perhaps most prominent has been the accusation that the company behind Palcohol takes a cavalier attitude to safety. At the time of writing, however, the Palcohol website does carry at least as many safety warnings (of the “responsible drinking” variety) as most alcoholic beverage manufacturers and, as you will see below, has taken other steps to answer certain safety concerns.
That said, there may be some legitimate concerns about the product itself and how it will be received by the market.
One prominent worry is that, were teenagers to get hold of powdered alcohol, it would be incredibly easy to mix up stronger drinks of the liver killing variety. There are obvious concerns, too, about drink-spiking and how the powder might be used to compromise a person’s awareness and potentially leave them vulnerable to assault.
Other concerns center on the fact that Palcohol can be snorted. The company has admitted that yes, this is possible and say that they have taken precautions against 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.
Of course, that won’t stop people trying, but it does at least suggest the company is mindful of the concerns that have been floated and have reacted accordingly.
Other concerns are of a more practical variety. Alcohol could be more easily smuggled into venues that do not allow alcoholic beverages, which makes policing difficult. There are also wider questions about liability should someone consume powdered alcohol in such venues.
Why Was Powdered Alcohol Approved so Fast?
The scrambling for details about Palcohol has unfortunately generated some misconceptions about how fast Palcohol was approved. To be clear here, Palcohol’s labels are what we’re talking about when we discuss the TTB’s most recent actions. As mentioned above, Palcohol’s makers will have to resubmit those labels for approval, and that could take several months. However, for the overall product and concept of Palcohol, the company behind the product estimates that it took around four years to get approval. While that might be quicker than some products, it is not extraordinarily fast.
To summarize, powdered alcohol is a thing, and it probably will hit the shelves within the next couple of years. It will be up to individual states to assess whether and how they will regulate and tax Palcohol, and ultimately it will be the market that decides whether this is just a passing fad or a product that fills a need.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.