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The Science Behind Powdered Alcohol 176

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the perfect-for-space-exploration dept.
Daniel_Stuckey (2647775) writes "Last week, the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved Palcohol, a powdered alcohol product that you can either use to turn water into a presumably not-that-delicious marg or to snort if you don't care too much about your brain cells. It's the first time a powdered alcohol product has been approved for sale in the US, but not the first time someone has devised one, and such products have been available in parts of Europe for a few years now. Now you may be wondering, as I was, how the heck do you go about powdering alcohol? As you might expect, there's quite a bit of chemistry involved, but the process doesn't seem overly difficult; we've known how to do it since the early 1970s, when researchers at the General Foods Corporation (now a subsidiary of Kraft) applied for a patent for an 'alcohol-containing powder.'" It turns out the labels were issued in error, so don't expect it to be available soon. But it does appear to be a real thing that someone is trying to have approved.
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The Science Behind Powdered Alcohol

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  • by billstewart (78916) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @02:34AM (#46812967) Journal

    In the US, "rubbing alcohol" usually refers to isopropyl alcohol, not ethanol, and it's medical-use purity. And you can absorb alcohol through your skin, so you wouldn't want toxic impurities in it.

    That's different from "denatured alcohol", which is usually some combination of ethanol and things that are bad for you, and it's the version that's not food-grade, it's paint-thinner-grade solvent.

    The strongest distilled ethanol-water combinations are about 96% ethanol, which has a lower boiling point than pure ethanol; if you want to get it any drier than that, you need to add some kind of other organic solvent such as benzene, so that you can boil off the alcohol-water-benzene mixture at an even lower temperature, leaving the ethanol and less or no water. But you're not normally going to do that for food-grade alcohols, because you don't want any remaining benzene, and because 96% is too strong to be actually drinkable anyway; maybe you'd want a stronger alcohol if you wanted to dissolve some flavoring that's less soluble with the remaining water content, but 96% is usually strong enough to do the job pretty well.

  • by swb (14022) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @10:51AM (#46815071)

    I've done work for a distiller. My contact there is a good guy and knows a ton about the products and how their made. I had seen some kind of advertising for vodka in that price range and was giving him a hard time, asking why I should buy his premium product when the cheap stuff was being advertised as four-column distilled.

    What he told me was that cheap vodka is made from a large percentage of what he called "blend" which is primarily a distilled alcohol product made from waste oranges. As a giveaway to the orange industry, waste oranges can be made into alcohol with a much lower excise tax than grain alcohol. He said you wouldn't make the excise tax on grain alcohol at $13 for nearly two liters, let alone any profit.

    I've always gotten rotten hangovers from cheap vodka and he says that "blend" is the reason why, it lacks the purity of grain alcohol.

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