Words by Jane Ryan
Powdered alcohol is exactly as its name describes, alcohol in a powdered form. The science behind the substance is tricky to say the least, and requires a fair amount of chemistry. As a product, sachets can be added to water to create mixed drinks in a variety of flavours, including classic cocktails.
Scientifically speaking there would only be one method to make unadulterated alcohol into a powder: freeze it solid. Of course the ramification of this means it would be so cold that it would cause havoc on the drinkers tongue even after it was mixed into water. So when we talk about powdered alcohol it isn't 100 per cent pure spirit.
What is it?
While the main brands aiming to sell their product in both Europe and America are very cagy about giving any details of production away, scientists have devised that adding alcohol to a highly sorbent powder would create powdered alcohol. This would only work if the alcohol is fully absorbed while the powders dry texture has remained.
A powder such as a modified starch serves as an excellent base, but most powders used in high-tech cooking for soaking up fats and oils work just as well for homemade powdered alcohol.
The most scientific approach is using cyclodextrines, a sugar derivate which alcohol can be absorbed by. When stored in small capsules the fluid can be handled as a powder. These cyclodextrines can absorb up to 60 per cent of their own weight in alcohol. The powder will remain as such until it is added to liquid. A US patent was registered for the process as early as 1974.
Can it be sold?
As a category powdered alcohol came to attention worldwide in April 2014 when the news story broke that a company called Palcohol had their product approved by the Alcohol, Tabacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in America for sale and distribution.
Across the world's press the story ran that the new technology would put bars and festival, concert and event pop-ups out of business. This followed the logic that the powder would be available relatively cheaply as opposed to mixed drinks. However at the time the story broke there were already products out there for sale. A German-based product called Subyou has been available online for a few years and now has a powdered energy drink sibling.
Dating further back was a project by Dutch students in the Netherlands who managed to create a powdered alcohol based on alco-pops with a relatively low abv. This was targeted towards a young drinking audience.
Palcohol, the latest company to emerge, is founded by a man named Mark Phillips whose background is in wine.
His product can supposedly be added to water, approximately 5 ounces or 140ml of water to a packet of Palcohol and an alcoholic beverage is created. There are four flavours currently: Cosmopolitan, Mojito, Powderita (Margarita) and Lemon Drop. One package has between 10-12% abv not the 65% which was being reported.
Since its approval the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has said Palcohol was approved in error because of a labelling discrepancy.
Exactly how the brand came up with the product is a little hazy but it says Mark Phillips spent a few years "of research, experimentation and consultation with scientists around the world, he finally came up with powdered alcohol and called it Palcohol." The site goes on to say "How is it made? If we told you, we'd have to shoot you. We are in the process of patenting it and it is currently patent pending."
This category looks as if it's posed to grow significantly but as of yet has not managed to gain much of a foothold in the alcohol industry and still has many technical questions to answer.