But the concept of powdered alcohol is not a new thing. It’s actually been around for the past 50 years (and sold in Japan for over three decades). But it was only when the product that’s due to be marketed as ‘Palcohol’ was given rubber-stamp approval by the US Government earlier this week that it really came to the notice of the general public.
Amusingly, the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau made their decision public, but didn’t let the company know. This led to pages on the company’s website becoming live, revealing some, errrrr – how to put it…? Slightly irresponsible advertising for the product.
These included such gems as to try experimenting by sprinkling Palcohol on “almost any dish” for “an extra kick.” Or how about adding vodka to your eggs to start your day off right. And, slightly alarmingly, “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room…snorting Palcohol,” (as was seen on the Palcohol website according to publications, The Independent and The Verge).
To add to the embaressment, this incident took place during the US Alcohol Awareness Month. The company has since issued a statement on its website that retracts the questionable advice, saying they were experimenting with some edgy copy that wasn’t intended to become the final advertising seen by the general public. They have reiterated that alcohol should only be enjoyed in a responsible fashion.
Some of the labels on the website were also subject to discrepancy, and this was primarily the reason that the regulatory approval was rescinded. However it seems highly likely that Palcohol will be on the shelves of the US by autumn 2014. And, as the saying goes – no publicity is bad publicity. So the guys at Palcohol are probably rubbing their hand with glee at all the attention the product has received.
So. What exactly is Palcohol? Well, it’s essentially powdered ethanol created using a scientific process known as host-guest chemistry. We’re not about to give you a science lesson, but in brief this is likely to use a process that traps alcohol inside a molecule called cyclodextrin. This is necessary because ethanol is a compound that boils at a much lower temperature than water (around 78 degrees Celsius). And in its natural state it can only be made solid by freezing to minus 114 degrees. Any warmer and it turns back into liquid. This explains why you can have products such as ABK6 Ice Cognac that you can drink straight from the freezer.
But it’s not just a case of creating alcohol in a powdered form. And that’s because drinks such as cognac are recognised by their distinctive flavours. This is thanks to a relatively small number of molecules in the drink that have a much stronger aroma than ethanol. In the case of cognac, it’s around 30 molecules. For Jamaica Rum, this is increased up to 200 molecules. The flavour is further intensified by the ageing process in wooden barrels. And the likelihood of this powdered alcohol being able to capture all those subtle nuances is very slim indeed.
However, it appears that Palcohol is going to be targeting the ‘alcopops’ market, with products such as the ‘Powderita’ (“tastes just like a Margarita”), Mojito and Cosmopolitan. The company is also hitting on the events market, stating “What’s worse than going to a concert, sporting event etc. and having to pay $10, $15, $20 for a mixed drink with tax and tip. Are you kidding me?! Take Palcohol into the venue and enjoy a mixed drink for a fraction of the cost.”
And they may well have their target market well pinpointed But whether the concept of powdered alcohol will ever win the hearts of the true cognac, whisky or rum aficionado is another thing altogether…
Sources: sbs.com.au, livescience.com, independant.co.uk