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Powdered alcohol approved (hiccup or hooray?)

In a decision that some might deem surprising, the Treasury Department has approved a patent for a product called Palcolhol, a powdered form of vodka and other drinks. And yes, you just add water.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Now you see it. Now you're drunk. Forrest Tanaka/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I have decided to start this week with optimism in my heart. And liver.

So might I first offer you the news that it's just fine to drink a bottle of wine a day. At least.

No, I haven't suddenly been certified. Not in medicine, anyway. This is the view of Dr. Kari Poikolainen, an alcohol expert who used to work for the World Health Organization.

Let this, therefore, be the large glass into which I pour my next piece of information: The federal government has approved for sale a brand of powdered alcohol.

You may not have considered something so ingenious. Yet, Lehrman Beverage Law reports that Palcohol -- such a teasing name -- has been given all the appropriate nods by the US Department of Treasury.

Naturally, the makers of Palcohol are celebrating. On its Web site, they explain that the brand was approved quite a while ago by the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. This latest approval is merely the cherry atop the cocktail.

Palcohol explains that its creator, Mark Phillips, is an active sort. But who wants to take a bottle of wine or a six-pack on a hike up a mountain?

He believed that someone must have already created alcohol in powdered form. Instead, he realized he had to make it himself.

Now, about that name. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Phillips is the author of "Swallow This," in which he offers his progressive approach to wine. How can one not imagine that Palcohol, due to go on sale this fall, isn't just another example of such progressivity?

There's something so beautiful about this line from the site: "It's not just for sportsmen." Not at all. The sedentary, too lazy to go to the liquor store or even the fridge, can just slip it into a glass of handy water and, goodness, it's now vodka.

I will attempt to refrain from making any reference about turning water into wine.

Especially, as with Palcohol, you can't do that yet. Instead, you can make rum, vodka, a Cosmopolitan, a Mojito, a Lemon Drop, and a Margarita.

Five ounces of water and a little powder apparently give you one standard measure. Oh, and it's gluten-free too.

Palcohol offered a seemingly tipsy introduction to its product at first. It suggested that this was a wonderful way to smuggle alcohol into sports events and concerts. It also offered that you could snort it and get drunk almost instantly.

This might remind some of a Philippe Starck spray that gets you drunk, but only for a few seconds.

Now that Palcohol has reached the public domain of both approval and censure, the makers say: "There was a page visible on this site where we were experimenting with some humorous and edgy verbiage about Palcohol. It was not meant to be our final presentation of Palcohol."

Some might wonder whether they wrote these alleged jokes because they never thought anyone would actually approve this idea. Indeed, Phillips said the approval process took four years.

Now, of course, the Palcohol site is full of exhortations to use it responsibly, safely. Yes, just like every other alcohol manufacturer -- many of whom spend 20 percent of their advertising budgets on social responsibility campaigns.

I asked Robin Akhurst, winemaker at Envy and Apsara in Napa, whether he could imagine such a thing as powdered wine. He told me : "I guess, from a wine standpoint it could be used to increase the alcohol percentage of a finished wine, like an extra shot of espresso in a latte, but there is no way you could use it to make wine by adding it to grape juice."

He added that the whole idea, though, smelled a little.

This might, indeed, be the case. The New Jersey Star-Ledger is now reporting that a spokesman for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the US Treasury Department said that the bureau had approved labels (not patents) for Palcohol, but that this had been a heinous mistake. This permission has now been withdrawn.

Personally, my own concern is that of taste. No one seems clear as yet whether powdered vodka would be at all palatable. When you think of any powdered product, how many make you want to smile at the pleasant surprise? And how many make you want to cough repeatedly?

I do understand the skittishness of those who believe that Palcohol will cause social unrest, teenage drunkenness, air passenger inebriation, drunken grannies at bus stops, sozzled judges offering lunatic rulings, hiccuping college students in class, and the nefarious slipping powder into your water glass.

But don't we have all that already?