Powdered alcohol, otherwise known as Palcohol, is set to hit the market this summer. But unlike Tang and hot chocolate and so many other beloved powdered drinks, Palcohol’s journey from idea to assembly line to your kitchen has hit some major bumps. It turns out that when you combine two things people get nervous about — powder and alcohol — the government gets really nervous.
Palcohol (Pal, as in friend—get it?) began as a way to drink alcohol in the wilderness.
“I’m an outdoor enthusiast,” said Palcohol creator Mark Phillips, who’s tasted, written and talked about wine for the last two decades. “Wouldn’t it be great if I could carry alcohol to enjoy at the end of an activity without carrying the weight?”
A year-and-a-half after first asking that question, Phillips had created Palcohol, a powder that, when added to a liquid, becomes good old-fashioned booze.
There are five flavors, each of which comes in a one-ounce package. Two are straight liquors: rum (to which Coke can be added) and vodka (add orange juice). Three are cocktails to be mixed with water: powderita, cosmopolitan and lemon drop. Six ounces of liquid are added to a pouch and then shaken or stirred. The result is a little less than seven ounces of what looks like a mixed alcoholic drink. Rocks are optional – as always.
Phillips won’t disclose much about how Palcohol is made besides saying that the process also yields industrial-grade alcohol, and that it will soon be patented.
The toughest process of all, though, is breaking into the $23.1 billion distilled spirits market. The first step is getting Palcohol into stores, which has not been easy.
To bring a new alcoholic drink to market market it must be approved by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a group that, ostensibly, approves product packaging, not the products themselves. Then it’s up to the states to give a yea or nay to the sale of the beverage.
After getting, and then losing approval, in 2014, Palcohol’s packaging was approved again in 2015. As of April 2015, 39 states had raced to get bans on the books, though bills have passed in only six—Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.
Legislators say they’re concerned that minors will be able to get Palcohol more easily than regular alcohol, that people will snort it and sprinkle it on food and that people will sneak it into places they otherwise wouldn’t be able to drink.
Mind you, none of these things has actually happened. But they could happen, say state representatives who are punishing a company for abuses that have not been perpetrated by unknown people who likely have no idea this product even exists.
Some states, such as Delaware and Vermont, have instituted complete bans. Others, such as Minnesota, are taking a gentler approach and asking for a year delay so they have time to study the product.
“I don’t like banning products,” said Minnesota state representative Joe Atkins. “I think it’s a pretty drastic step to take.”
Over the next year Minnesota will study how Palcohol is being consumed in states where it is legal. Then it will reevaluate. That decision will be important, Atkins says, because other states tend to follow its example.
“The Minnesotas and Iowas and Wisconsins of the world — if we do it, then everyone thinks it must be reasonable,” Atkins says.
In Iowa, where a ban stalled, emergency medicine doctor Michael Takacs doesn’t look highly on Palcohol. He worries it will be easy to sneak the powder into schools and sporting events.
“My biggest concern is the accessibility and the way it’s packaged and the way it can be transported,” Takacs says. “The risks outweigh the benefits.”
Yet people have been sneaking liquid alcohol into places it’s not allowed ever since there have been places where alcohol is not allowed; somehow it remains legal.
Palcohol creator Phillips explains the product and addresses concerns in this video:
As for the argument that Palcohol could lead to excess? Baylen Linnekin, founder of Keep Food Legal, an organization that pushes for the deregulation of the food industry, points out that there are plenty of legal products that can be used to excess.
“The potential for abuse is no reason to ban a product,” he said.
But logic doesn’t always win out. Take Four Loko, that marvel of caffeine, guarana, taurine and alcohol that chose to reformulate without its energy drink component in 2010 after several state bans and while under pressure from the FDA and FTC. Four Loko as we knew it only exists on the black market now, but you can still buy vodka (if you’re 21) and Red Bull and mix them together.
As for the snorting and sprinkling concerns, an important aspect of drinking is that it’s an easy way to consume. People prefer ingesting things the way their body can most easily accept them. Drinking is certainly preferable to, say, putting tampons soaked in booze in various orifices, which isn’t actually a thing that is easy or enjoyable to do, breathless press reports to the contrary.
For the makers of Palcohol, getting their product to market won’t be as simple as adding water and stirring.
UPDATE: NEW YORK GOVERNOR BANS PALCOHOL