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Alcohol powders have been a long time coming to the U.S. market, but still have yet to arrive in physical form

For about a week it appeared as if the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would approve Palcohol.  Now the branch of the U.S. Department of the Treasury has ignited controversy after it rejected the alcohol product.
I. Powdered Alcohol -- Promise or Hollow Hype?
What is "palcohol"?  Palcohol is short for "powdered alcohol".
The idea isn't all that new -- since the 1970s food chemists have been toying with ways to mount the intoxicating part of alcohol (ethanol) on (seemingly) dried carbohydrate powders that give the flavor of popular liquors and mixed drinks.  At this point the chemists in the crowd are likely frowning.  Yes, alcohol has a very low heat of vaporization, so if it weren't for some chemical trickery it would likely evaporate.
So how do you keep the ethanol from vanishing into thin air?  According to Sam Bompas, a food chemist and cofounder of Bompas & Parr, the trick lies in microencapsulation.  In an interview with Gizmodo he explains:
The alcohol molecules themselves will still be liquid, they are just enrobed in a microscopic shell... 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 flavor release in chewing gum).
In more precise chemistry terms, virtually all known alcohol powder formulations rely on absorption via cyclic dextrins -- large ring molecules of sugar.  Cyclic dextrins are capable of absorbing up to 60 percent of their weight in ethanol, and -- critically -- are safe to eat.

Common cyclodextrins -- the foundation of alcohol powders [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

The father of the alcoholic drink powder was Jinichi Sato, who in 1954 founded Sato Food Industries Comp., Ltd. (TYO:2814).  Mr. Jinichi’s focus was initially to develop flavorings.  But while experimenting in 1969 he discovered a way to trap alcohol in a powder of lactose anhydride.
The results were imperfect.  The alcohol content wasn't very high.  And when re-solvated in water, the result was a viscous gel-like paste, not ideal for drinking.  
II. Finally! Powdered Alcohol
Inspired by Mr. Jinichi's work, food chemists and experimenters in the U.S. raced to develop similar technology.  General Food Corp. chemists, for example filed a 1974 U.S. patent on dextrose-alcohol microballs by (General Foods was later merged into the Kraft Foods Group Inc. (KRFT)).  These technologies generally produced the aforementioned microparticles, but unlike modern nanotechnology, they relied on crude methods to produce such encapsulation.  But the processes proved prohibitively expensive and too inconsistent for human consumption.
Mr. Jinichi's was able to solve the viscosity issues of his own formulation and in 1981 launched an alcohol powder for sale in Japan, following a revision to the nation's liquor laws.  The product was revolutionary, but not as impactful as one might expect.  In recent years Sato Food Industries has been more focused on tea extraction, although it continues to market powdered alcohol in Japan and other regions.
Sato Food Industries' product creates a brandy-like concoction that is roughly 12 percent alcohol by volume.  A serving is about 31 grams, and produces a roughly 3.5 oz. (100 ml or cc, to be precise) spirit.  For comparison that's about the same amount of powder (by weight) as is in one giant Pixy Stick or as much powder as in four packets of Emergen*C.
In many areas, Sato and its rivals' patents on alcohol powders have begun to expire, meaning that the market is now open to new entrants.
In Germany, a company is manufacturing a powder called "subyou", which retails for $2-3 USD per serving.  Just next-door in the Netherlands a group of five students of the Helicon Vocational Institute (Helicon Opleidingen NHB Deurne) developed a powder called Booz2Go, proceeding to ignite controversy after suggesting that it should be made available to children as it was not a traditional alcoholic drink.


But for all this powdered alcohol floating around, none was available in the U.S.
III. Palcohol Builds a Buzz
That seemed poised to change last week.  A law blog focused on the beverage industry (generally focused on beverages of the alcoholic variety) -- -- unearthed an approval of a powdered alcohol product dubbed "palcohol".  
As points out, most states lack policies about powdered alcohols, given that there are no such products currently authorized for sale in the U.S.  An exception is California whose Regulation 2557 covers such products.
Word of the approval of palcohol quickly spread.
Palcohol, its manufacturer Tempe, Ariz.-based Lipsmark LLC and the man behind it -- Mark Phillips (an author and broadcaster who was known for promoting wine to new audiences) – were quickly put in the spotlight.  Some of palcohol's statements raised eyebrows, including:

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 (via

We’ve been talking about drinks so far. But we have found adding Palcohol to food is so much fun. Sprinkle Palcohol on almost any dish and give it an extra kick. Some of our favorites are the Kamikaze in guacamole, Rum on a BBQ sandwich, Cosmo on a salad and Vodka on eggs in the morning to start your day off right. Experiment. Palcohol is great on so many foods. Remember, you have to add Palcohol AFTER a dish is cooked as the alcohol will burn off if you cook with it…and that defeats the whole purpose.


According to Gizmodo, the product also had the rather colorful disclaimer:

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.

...which was later changed to:

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.

Controversy aside, note the percent alcohol by weight -- 58 percent -- strongly hints at the traditional chemistry (cyclodextrin, which can absorb up to 60 percent by weight).  So while it might be a bit risqué marketing wise, in terms of chemistry, palcohol is likely sticking to well tread territory, albeit trailblazing in the U.S.
IV. ...But Leaves Us With a Hangover
So was a new age of powder alcohol dawning in the U.S.?
Not so fast.  Before the public could get its hands on palcohol's various flavors -- Cosmopolitan, Mojito, and Lemon Drop (plus two others) -- the TTB announced that its approval was in error, due to mistakes on Lipsmark's label in terms of the amount of powder in various servings.  The TTB offered no other explanation for the dramatic reversal.
Now the question becomes whether we're seeing a powder alcohol prohibition, or if it's just a bump in the road for a company that says it has been trying to get approval for its product for four straight years.

beer at the game
Powdered alcohol could create a headache for sporting venues that overcharge for their booze.
[Image Source: Yum Sugar]

Robert Lehrman, editor of, told USA Today that the surprise rejection struck him as suspect.  He remarks:

An oversight of this nature does not ring true to me.

He believes that likely the TTB is looking to buy time to allow states to prepare for the product, as many lack laws it.  Federal law does not regulate the sale of alcohol, other than to forbid the sale of alcoholic beverages to those under 21 years of age.  Given that alcohol is legal in the U.S. it seems unlikely that the TTB will be look to permanently keep palcohol and similar products off the market.
However, the surprise acceptance -- and then rejection -- does highlight the need for perhaps thought as a society and adjustment to this new form of one of mankind's oldest and most beloved intoxicants.
Powders, as Lipsmark's arena comment hints at, are much easier to disguise than beverages.  While there's always the legal threat of imprisonment for those under 21, a trickier issue is how powdered alcohol might affect businesses with policies against outside drinks or complete bans on alcoholic beverages.  In either case, the business likely has the means to kick unruly patrons out, but it'd be very difficult to enforce such rules.

Kirk gets drunk
In the future most of us will still likely get alcohol the old fashioned way -- by drinking it.

Concealment aside, from a health perspective palcohol probably won't be that much more dangerous and different than your standard alcoholic beverages sold as liquids, as it ultimately is consumed in liquid form as well.  The same cannot be said for other forms of fad alcohol consumption such as vaginal insertion (via soaked tampons), "eyeballing", or anal delivery (via alcoholic enemas or tampons).  
Such extreme forms of consumption are inevitably uncommon, but deserve more serious concern given the medical dangers.  In other words, palcohol may be a financial headache to sporting venues, but it's unlikely to be a killer buzz at fraternity parties -- unlike those alcoholic enemas.

Sources: Palcohol [homepage], BevLaw, USA Today, CNN Money

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I smell a lobbyist..
By Tunnah on 4/22/2014 11:42:44 PM , Rating: 5
Considering the US' frankly disgusting abuses of political power re: lobbying, it wouldn't surprise me if some sort of attractions or stadium owning consortium realized their profits would be hit because of the much easier chance to sneak alcohol and just paid off their local crook to make sure it gets banned.

Of all the things that go on in the US, how massively corrupt it's becoming through abuse of powers, this amazes me the most - companies just pay for the ruling you want..and it will never change, because the ones who can change it are the ones who would suffer if it was..

RE: I smell a lobbyist..
By Samus on 4/23/2014 1:09:46 AM , Rating: 4
Yep, somebody made a phone call to somebody and said "remember that $xxx,xxx.xx I gave you..."

RE: I smell a lobbyist..
By sorry dog on 4/23/2014 10:23:37 AM , Rating: 2
which is why making a big deal about it is stupid. I have a hard time picturing a mass of people sneaking alcohol packs into controlled venues.
I read MADD mothers are getting upset over it as well... then again they get upset over anything.

RE: I smell a lobbyist..
By bah12 on 4/23/14, Rating: -1
RE: I smell a lobbyist..
By wordsworm on 4/26/2014 8:36:50 PM , Rating: 2
Those cows grew too fat to stop. They got what they wanted, but now they're looking for and making up reasons to exist. It's time for them to go home.

RE: I smell a lobbyist..
By therealnickdanger on 4/23/2014 10:30:47 AM , Rating: 2
Not sure how to tell you this, but there is not a political system on earth where it is possible to avoid private interests from influencing public policy. Ultimately, isn't that the point of representation?

"I want X" or "I don't want X"
Candidate supports my view
Votes and monies to support candidate

I don't disagree that there is corruption or abuse of power, but I don't think it's as widespread or black/white as many people make it out to be.

If you disagree with a policy, it doesn't automatically mean it's corruption. Just once I'd like to see people post supporting evidence when making accusatory statements.

RE: I smell a lobbyist..
By Nutzo on 4/23/2014 12:16:16 PM , Rating: 5
You miss the whole point of limited government.

When the government is so large that it has it's fingers in everything, then the opertunity to pay off someone to get what you want is much higher.

RE: I smell a lobbyist..
By therealnickdanger on 4/23/2014 2:20:32 PM , Rating: 3
No, I haven't missed the point. The people who voted for the candidates that have been slowly-but-surely expanding the government for the past 237 years missed the point. LOL

I firmly believe that the larger the government, the smaller the citizen. This doesn't change the facts, however, that America is at this point due to Americans as a whole. One can't just sit around and cast blame on a particular politician, party, individual, or company, expecting that it will fix the problem.

How is this different?
By Reclaimer77 on 4/22/2014 10:06:59 PM , Rating: 2
How is this different than the little frozen packets of mixed drinks you find in the store?

Oh my god, one is powder and the other is frozen!!! LOOK OUT!!!

RE: How is this different?
By Reclaimer77 on 4/22/2014 11:29:26 PM , Rating: 2
Vote me down. I just don't understand why this would cause a controversy. It's powdered alcohol, get over it and move on.

RE: How is this different?
By iano80 on 4/23/2014 10:51:38 AM , Rating: 2
To be honest I doubt most people on here would have a problem with powdered alcohol, so why you were voted down is a mystery to me.

The only thing I can think of that might make this stuff controversial is the whole smuggling a few sachets and a bottle of water into a venue being easier than the liquid/frozen kind - but then I don't really have a problem with that either.

I suppose you'll also get some idiot putting multiple sachets into a single measure of water for a bet or something, but I can't see them being able to drink it very quickly, it'll probably taste awful.

RE: How is this different?
By Schrag4 on 4/23/2014 12:57:06 PM , Rating: 2
I suppose you'll also get some idiot putting multiple sachets into a single measure of water for a bet or something...

That's called winning a Darwin award. Darwin award winners are very useful as examples of what not to do, and why. Legislating away Darwin awards is actually counter-productive in the long run, IMO.

RE: How is this different?
By Reclaimer77 on 4/23/2014 1:27:13 PM , Rating: 2
Well right now you could pour straight Vodka into a water bottle and nobody would be the wiser.

I just don't understand why every goddamn new thing needs to be accompanied by a controversy. In the grand scheme of things, this product causes no more issues than what already exist with liquid alcohol.

RE: How is this different?
By jimbojimbo on 4/24/2014 2:44:04 PM , Rating: 2
I just see people eating it like pixie sticks.

It's easy to make it yourself
By tayb on 4/23/2014 11:20:28 AM , Rating: 3
It's not hard to make powdered alcohol. All you need is a powdery substance to soak up the alcohol and then the actual alcohol. You can buy the proper powder for about $6 per 100 grams.

The question is... why? Alcohol is already in it's purest form. Converting it into a powder form only adds volume. From the Palcohol site they say that 1/2 cup of powder equates to 1 drink. I think we can equate 1 drink with 1 shot of liquor, which is usually about 1.5 ounces. By choosing powder you are basically exchanging 4 ounces of powder for 1.5 ounces of liquor. Why?

There has to be some obvious benefit that I am missing because I fail to see why anyone would want this other than the novelty factor. If you can sneak a few cups of powder into a stadium you can sneak a flask of liquor. What's the difference?

RE: It's easy to make it yourself
By TSS on 4/23/2014 4:57:39 PM , Rating: 2
Well... think about what you said for a second. If you'd sneak alcoholic powder into a stadium, what would you mix it with? Stadium bought drinks?

I think the problem (and the potential) lies more in turning any drink into an alcoholic drink before it's snuck into <insert venue here>. It could even mean venues run into economic trouble as the current model relies on alot of profits being made through beverages. Chronic alcoholic drinkers are the biggest revenue source as well as the largest target group for powdered alcohol.

I'd also imagine beer/liquor brewers/vendors having a problem with it. Imagine buying 1 beer for the taste then dumping 2/3 packets in there on the cheap to create 1/2 beers to get drunk off, instead of having to buy an entire case for the right buzz. Sales would plummet. And we all know that mass-production would reduce your $6/100 grams figure to more like $0,60/100 grams, if not less. That's one cheap way to get smashed.

RE: It's easy to make it yourself
By futrtrubl on 4/24/2014 12:14:08 AM , Rating: 2
Imagine buying 1 beer for the taste then dumping 2/3 of a shortie of grain alcohol in there on the cheap to create 1/2 beers to get drunk off, instead of having to buy an entire case for the right buzz.

Anything you can say about this you can say about alcohol in liquid form. And there is no way 50% alcohol/ 50% cyclodextrin is going to be cheaper than 50% alcohol/ 50% water. And where do you think they got the alcohol to mix with that cyclodextrin?

RE: It's easy to make it yourself
By tayb on 4/24/2014 9:56:21 AM , Rating: 2
I don't understand your point. Even if mass production brought the price of the powder down to FREE it is still adding an enormous amount of volume.

Let's say I have a flask that holds 16 ounces. I can either fill it with Everclear and get 10-11 "drinks" or fill it with Palcohol and get 4 "drinks." Alternatively I would fill it with 6 ounces Everclear and 8 ounces of water and recreate the same strength as powdered alcohol.

Everything you said about mixing powder with other beverages or alcoholic beverages can also be said about liquor. With the only difference being volume, strength, and price... which all favor liquor.

No hangover ?
By M'n'M on 4/22/2014 10:12:18 PM , Rating: 2
The alcohol encapsulated in the powder is not ethanol but a different form, commonly known as TAA. People who've used that in it's liquid form report that it's more potent than ethanol and different in it's effect. Also it's said the hangover is less or non-existant !?!

Drawbacks ... TAA was used as an anaesthesia and is easier to OD on. And it's pure form is supposedly harsh and smelly, likened to naptha.

RE: No hangover ?
By FaaR on 4/23/2014 1:18:16 AM , Rating: 2
It's ethanol, it says cane spirits right on the package in the article...

Also, ethanol in any different form would not be ethanol to begin with, but something else (likely an even worse poison); hard to imagine what this would be, seeing as ethanol is such a simple molecule.

Also, drunkenness without hangovers is like the 100MPG carburettor - a figment of snake-oil salesmen's imagination. ;)

RE: No hangover ?
By daboom06 on 4/23/2014 8:43:53 AM , Rating: 2
taa is a pentanol byproduct of spirit distillation. it's not another form of ethanol and it's not in palcohol.

sounds like you've found yourself a conspiracy website.

States control drinking age
By androticus on 4/24/2014 12:24:19 AM , Rating: 2
Federal law does not regulate the sale of alcohol, other than to forbid the sale of alcoholic beverages to those under 21 years of age.

That is not true. The states control the drinking age. The federal government blackmailed all the states into raising their drinking age to 21, under threat of withdrawing highway funds. "He who pays the piper calls the tune."

RE: States control drinking age
By sorry dog on 4/24/2014 10:09:14 AM , Rating: 2
And then use tax stamps to discourage the arbitrage of transporting low tax state's liquor to high tax states.

You still see rum running is items like cigarettes. Had a friend from New York go through Georgia on his drive home to pick up 50 cartons since New York's tax makes each pack several dollars more expensive.

Hah! Indeed!
By Zok on 4/22/2014 10:32:35 PM , Rating: 2
Excellent typo. :)

Federal law does not regulate the sale of alcohol, other than to forbid the sale of alcoholic beverages to those under 21 tears of age.

who cares
By Fidget on 4/23/2014 8:34:14 AM , Rating: 2
I can see a bunch of stupid frat boys ODing on this by doing something stupid like putting the powder up their ass....and I'm okay with that.

First of all
By royalcrown on 4/28/2014 10:57:05 PM , Rating: 1
..the whole idea is stupid as shit. Why bother if it needs reconstituting via water or water containing liquid anyhow.

Second, can I use POWDERED water to reconstitute it ?

LASTLY, some idiots will poison themselves trying to ingest it dry in an attempt to get "Mega f..cked up dewd !"

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