The New Neo-Prohibitionist Hysteria: Palcohol

The New Neo-Prohibitionist Hysteria: Palcohol

The momentarily approved, then rescinded label for Palcohol, by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)

If you are involved in the science of ethanol or DUI or enforcement of either, it is hard to escape the sensational stories on a “new” product called Palcohol. You know it has reached new levels of hysteria when it reaches The Today Show chatter box show.

Let’s look at the science of Palcohol and not the hype.

Q: What is it?

A: In a nutshell, it is really simple an inelegant. It is dehydrated carbonated starch that allows for EtOH plus flavors to “stick” to it during the process. The resultant CO added makes it a preservative so it will last stably in this form for a long time.

When water is later added there is release of the EtOH and the flavors that were “stuck” to the starch base with a great deal of recovery. This ethanol containing solution, they call chemically bound water. If you have ever seen a dry sponge and a wet sponge, this is basically all it is. For those of you who are science geeks like me, here are 2 examples of how it can work:

Example 4.-Anhydrous ethanol-sorbed gelatinized tapioca starch An aqueous slurry of tapioca starch granules was dehydrated by means of suitable filtration to a wet starch cake having a moisture content of about 45%. The wet starch cake, in suitable cornminuted form, was simultaneously gelatinized and dehydrated by being passed between two heated rotating drying rollers having a sufficient temperature to produce a dried gelatinized tapioca starch having a moisture content of about 9%. The resulting commercially dry gelatinized starch was then subjected to a flash-drying operation wherein the 9% moisture tapioca starch particles were suspended in a dry atmosphere under proper temperature conditions to cause the removal of substantially all of the remaining moisture content. The resulting substantially anhydrous tapioca starch was transferred, in a suspended state, thru an anhydrous sealed chamber possessing the necessary means for avoiding the presence of moisture vapor. After the anhydrous tapioca starch was cooled to 140 F., anhydrous ethanol vapors were brought into contact with the anhydrous tapioca starch. This resulted in a sorbed anhydrous tapioca starch product that contained 11% of ethanol, based upon the weight of the starch.

Various other dehydrating procedures could be used for removing the remaining moisture from commercial starch containing 5 to 12% moisture. Examples are drying by various means such as high vacuum, freeze-drying, infrared, or dehydration with removable desiccants.

Anhydrous gelatinized starch solids have been found to be more efficient sorbents for certain food flavor vapors than anhydrous non-gelatinized starch or corn syrup solids. For certain food uses, adsorption compounds obtained from anhydrous gelatinized starch and food flavor vapors are advantageous because, simultaneously with the presence of the sorbed food flavor vapor, there is provided a starch colloid that is capable of creating a partial gel when suspended or partially dissolved in water.


Example 5.Anhydrous reconstitutable alcoholic beverage powder It has been found that eflicient sorbable anhydrous polysaccharides create a novel tool for producing readily reconstitutable dry beverage powders. Anhydrous modified starch products, particularly the corn syrup solids or roll gelatinized starch solids types are preferred for this type of application.

One example of a novel exploitation in this area is the production of a reconstitutable alcoholic beverage, namely beer powder. A barley malt containing 4.2% moisture was extracted with anhydrous ethanol. This produced an alcoholic extract containing some of the flavor, aroma and color principles of barley malt. A beer hop extract was obtained by extracting the ethereal oils of the hops with anhydrous ethanol. This produced an alcoholic solution of the bitter principles of beer hops which consists mostly of humulone and its transition products. The alcoholic extracts of the barley malt and hops were then mixed, and contacted with a desiccant such as activated alumina to remove any remaining moisture. The resulting anhydrous alcoholic extract was vaporized and the anhydrous vapors brought into contact with substantially anhydrous corn syrup solids. During the sorption of the vaporized alcoholic extract mixture by the substantially anhydrous corn syrup solids, anhydrous carbon dioxide was introduced. There resulted an adsorption compound consisting of corn syrup solids containing, in percent by weight of carbohydrate solids, 7% of ethanol, 4% of CO and 3.5% of a mixture of the ethanol-extractable flavor and aroma principles of barley malt and hops.

The resulting dry reconstitutable alcoholic beverage can be used either alone or in the form of blends with other sugars or malt extract materials as a beer base. If anhydrous malt syrup solids are substituted for corn syrup solids, a dry reconstitutable beer powder is obtained which more closely approaches the taste and flavor of regular beer. Various combinations or omissions in the aforesaid beverage powder can be practiced, depending upon the particular objective which is being sought. Thus, the carbon dioxide may be omitted from the beer powder and various beer constituents, in the dry form, can be blended with the basic anhydrous beer powder. Examples of blending materials which can be used to modify or influence the finished taste or flavor of the reconstitutable beer powder are soluble proteins, polypeptides, amino acids, or dry flavoring materials such as citric acid.

Q: Is it a new form of ethanol?

A: No. This is an old idea. The concept dates back to the space race and the time of Tang and dehydrated foods. The very first mention of this type of powdered ethanol product that is found in patent law is in the 1964 patent that was applied for by Harold E Bode. It can be found here: Preparation of an alcoholic dry beverage powder-US 3436224 A It was granted in 1969. So only if you think Tang is “new” should you think that Palcohol is new.

Later in the 1970s, according to the art (what patent lawyers call their body of work), General Foods looked to do something similar but a little different and recorded several patents.

US3956508 * Feb 28, 1974 May 11, 1976 General Foods Corporation Alcohol-containing dextrin powder
US3956509 * Feb 28, 1974 May 11, 1976 General Foods Corporation Alcohol-containing dextrin powder
US3956511 * Feb 28, 1974 May 11, 1976 General Foods Corporation Alcohol-containing dextrin powder
US3975547 * May 15, 1974 Aug 17, 1976 General Foods Corporation Process of making a dry-free-flowing beverage mix and product

So again, unless only if you think that bell bottoms and disco are new should you think that Palohol is new. There this new idea sat dormant until the 1990s and the new millennium.

Again, the art shows us the following a little later:

DE19500919A1 * Jan 13, 1995 Jul 18, 1996 Krueger Gmbh & Co Kg Alkoholhaltige Instant-Getränkemischung, ihre Herstellung und Verwendung
WO2013006206A1 * Jul 2, 2012 Jan 10, 2013 Schlakman Lori A novel method of making cocktails using tablets, a novel method of selling alcohol, and a novel kit.

According to the US Patent Office,

For applications filed on or after June 8, 1995, utility and plant patents are granted for a term which begins with the date of the grant and usually ends 20 years from the date you first applied for the patent subject to the payment of appropriate maintenance fees. Design patents last 14 years from the date you are granted the patent. Note: Patents in force on June 8 and patents issued thereafter on applications filed prior to June 8, 1995 automatically have a term that is the greater of the twenty year term discussed above or seventeen years from the patent grant.

So there is little mystery why this “old” technology and method gained new popularity and why recently a really smart person named Mark Philips looked to commercialize it.

Q: But the government approved it?

A: Well, that is what the media ran with and I am not surprised that this is what most people think of it now. In complete truth the issue surrounds the labeling. Since 1791, our federal government has taxed ethanol based products that are designed for human consumption. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is a bureau under the Department of the Treasury. Part of the process in America for legally selling ethanol and ethanol related products is to get approval for the labeling from the TTB for whatever you are going to sell that contains ethanol that is intended for human consumption. And that is precisely what happened. A label was approved. However, according to Palcohol’s website:

We are excited by the approval of our powdered alcohol product, Palcohol. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) actually approved it some time ago. However, we were caught off guard by the TTB making some of our approved labels public which we now know is standard procedure. As a result, people visited this website that we thought was under the radar because we had not made a formal announcement of Palcohol.

Q: I heard the government banned it.

A: According to published reports the rescinding has nothing to do with the product or its safety, but rather has to do with the amount of powder that actually is in the product itself. So, the company will have to resubmit the label with the correction which is what happens a lot with the TTB. All administrative decisions are always open for review, so who knows.

Q: There is a large potential for abuse such as snorting and it is very, very powerful stuff.

A: Any form of ethanol can be abused. A great many people are addicted to ethanol. This form is not any more addictive than the next. Your body treats all ethanol the same. Even Neo-Prohibitionists have to give the Palcohol people some credit. According to what I have read in the art and in the industry, the company was concerned about snorting. Even though the company is very clear it should not be insufflated, it went one step further. It added a lot of volume to the ethanol powder. In increasing the volume present, and the lack of topical anesthetics such as lidocaine in its mix, it will likely be very painful to snort. It is not super highly concentrated in terms of its ethanol content by weight (labeled only as 58%). As a result, it is too much to snort for far too little gain. However, if you are crazy enough and enough is snorted by your super nose, the absorption of the Palcohol into your system will be much quicker. All insufflation results in quicker adsorption. The quicker absorption will lead to a quicker effect on the Central Nervous System. It will not intensify the effects. Again, ethanol is ethanol.

There should be a concern both economically and also sociologically with this product.It should be debated.

This product makes ethanol much, much more portable. In addition to reactionary Neo-Prohibitionists, three groups of folks will likely be against it:

  1. the American Beverage Institute which is the restaurant and bar lobby,
  2. those who are legitimately concerned about underage drinking and its enforcement such as educational institutions, and finally
  3. those concerned with Drug Facility Sexual Assaults (DFSA).

Because of its extreme portability, it will be easy to sneak into night clubs and restaurants. Why not pay for a $3 cranberry juice instead of the $14 mixed drink? Just bring the pouch and dump it in to save about $7 per serving. That will cause bars and restaurants to loose a lot of money. Sports stadiums too.

The portability will make it easier for those underage drinkers to avoid detection. A six pack of beer is large in comparison to 2 or 3 pouches of this material. It is tough to be a parent these days and this may make it tougher. But then again, studies show that it is much easier for underage people to obtain prescription or even illicit drugs and use them than ethanol. I don’t see anything in this product that will likely change that reality.

Those concerned about DFSA will be concerned as this can be slipped into an unsuspecting person’s beverage or his or her food. While this is true, this is not like the proverbial “Mickey” that we see in a movie. When reconstituted according to the label, it is only 24 proof (12% ethanol by volume or ABV) which in its proper context is more than beer, more than standard wine, and only slightly more than classical fortified wine (such as Port, Sherry)  which is 14% to 22% ABV. It is far less than hard liquor which typically starts at 40% ABV. There are a few commercially available rums and whiskies that creep up to 43 or 46% ABV. Some “Cask Strength” whiskies and some Bourbon will go to 50% ABV and then there is Bicardi 151 (75% ABV) and grain alcohol (90% ABV). Currently, it is labeled as 58% alcohol by weight or 12% alcohol by volume (24 proof).

Q: It’s out now.

A: Nope. Again, the label hasn’t even been finally approved. I am sure the company is in talks with distributors, but from the looks of the company, it is a start-up with a smart person in the lead. It is one thing to have a product for sale, but it doesn’t matter if you cannot distribute it once it is made. So, unless the company sells out to one of the bigger vendors in the industry, it will not likely make a sustained push in the market. In fact, according to the website they are not looking for mom-and-pop places to sell it now. So, the infrastructure is not there yet.

Q: What is the future for this product?

A: If I had my guess, unless a major vendor buys it and develops it, it is likely doomed to be banned by state legislatures. You may recall the last fad in ethanol that came about: inhaled ethanol vapor or “smoking alcohol.” Just like that product, this product is way too hot to touch at the moment from an investment point of view. The media has sensationalized it. Accordingly, I fully expect a rash of Neo-Prohibitionist hysteria that will lend to state legislatures banning this product despite the science. Quite frankly, I am surprised that some attention grabbing Congressman or Congresswoman hasn’t yet jumped on the Neo-Prohibitionist bandwagon and demanded hearings. Maybe that will happen tomorrow.

Will we see headlines like this again with Palcohol?

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