Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Beer Government

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.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Science Behind Powdered Alcohol

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:15PM (#46811965)

    ...can turn water into wine.

    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:17PM (#46811975)

      ...can turn water into wine.

      Moped Jesus is pissed.

      • ...can turn water into wine.

        Moped Jesus is pissed.

        From reading the comments on the bevlaw link, it seems that NASCAR Jesus is pissed, too. In the US English sense, at least.

        • I saw more of the "wont someone think of the children" posts. Seriously people, if you are worried about your children getting alcohol you have weay bigger things to worry about.

      • Moped Jesus is pissed [wiktionary.org].

        If communion wine is really his blood, he must have been wasted 24/7.

    • Hey, I'm turning water into ale even as I sit here. Not that hard. A bit of barley, some hops, some yeast. I'd turn water into wine too but NC wine simply sucks, at least so far. Wrong climate, wrong soil, and who wants to turn water in the form of imported extract into wine?

      The difference between this ancient process of turning water into beer, ale, wine and adding a powder to water that releases alcohol is that one might actually want to drink the results of the former process and one might even find

      • by cusco (717999)

        Try something besides grapes for your wine. You have fairly decent peaches in that area if I'm not mistaken, and peach wine can be quite pleasant if you don't over-sugar it (which I tend to do). Just keep in mind that while commercial wines stop fermenting when the PH changes or they run out of sugar, homemade wines with wild yeasts stop fermenting when they've poisoned themselves with too much alcohol.

      • It's been suggested that it's just alcohol mixed with a highly absorbent tapioca starch sold as "N-Zorbit M", so at best, it would down into starch and alcohol.

  • by goombah99 (560566) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:22PM (#46811989)

    I recall powedered alchohol cans when in the 1970s. The alchohol was enclosed in vesicles.

  • Cocognacicaine
  • by macraig (621737) <(mark.a.craig) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:43PM (#46812095)

    What a boon for boozer backpackers: all the buzz but a tenth of the weight!

    • 120 proof in pure powdered form, if you mix it 1:1 by weight into water, you'll have something slightly less potent than Vodka or Rum, with 20% sugar in the mixture (from the powder coating.)

      • by dbc (135354)

        The real question is how it does at water purification. It should take care of bacteria, no problem. How it does on organisms like giardia, though, is more relevant to a backpacker. Compare the weight/bulk of powdered alcohol to other water purification methods, and you might have a winner.

        • by Typical Slashdotter (2848579) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:49PM (#46812355)
          This is not suitable for water safety, since you can't just drink alcohol to hydrate...
          • What about the times when people drank beer for all 3 meals because it was safer than the water?

            • by dbIII (701233)
              Unfortunately that has to be filed with Battle of Britain night fighter pilots having super night vision due to a high carrot diet - a cool sounding historical "factiod" that has caught on instead of being an actual fact. There was a paper about it within the last year that got a lot of press and it's probably even been used as a "weird news" filler in your local paper or morning news show.
              As other posters have pointed out there was also the low alcohol small beer but it turns out that water was drunk more
              • we,, I guess that went well where a clean well was available...

                So that paper is most likely right, but probably doesn't rule out that there were areas where beer was safer than water, it has been cooked at least once.

                • by dbIII (701233)
                  The disappointing thing is it seems they didn't drink beer because they didn't trust the water. Instead they drank beer because they liked drinking beer, just like today.
                  • by jfengel (409917)

                    Plus the beer had calories; it was a way of preserving grains in a ready-to-use form. It was more "thin gruel" than "beverage".

                • by jfengel (409917)

                  They had the (dubious) advantage of having already been exposed to whatever was in the local wells. You get the same thing today: go to any third-world country and you'll get sick drinking what the locals drink. After that, your immune system will be primed to whatever they've got.

                  The worst offenders are the wells contaminated with human waste, which brings you whatever bugs everybody else has. A good well is deep enough to avoid that contamination, and you keep your latrines downstream of it. Still... ever

  • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:50PM (#46812133)

    Can I smoke it?

    • by physicsphairy (720718) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @02:01AM (#46812887) Homepage

      Yes, although you wouldn't ignite it, you would simply apply a heat source to drive the alcohol out from the granules and into the vapor phase. You can do the same with regular alcohol.

      I wouldn't recommend it however: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

    • Forget smoking, I'm waiting for the first reports of someone ending up in hospital because they tried to snort the stuff.
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Forget smoking, I'm waiting for the first reports of someone ending up in hospital because they tried to snort the stuff.

        Sounds like they've already thought of that:

        "To take precautions against this action, we've added volume to the powder so it would take more than a half of a cup of powder to get the equivalent of one drink up your nose. You would feel a lot of pain for very little gain."

        I think snorting a half a cup of powder would take a pretty determined effort.

        Then again, I have no idea of the volume

  • Sounds like the perfect way to get rid of someone you don't like. They look like they drank themselves to death and you could slip it into their cheeseburger.

    • I'm pretty sure if you "slipped" enough powdered alcolhol to kill someone into their cheeseburger they would notice the taste. Hell, at those levels you could probably smell it from the next room!
  • From http://www.iflscience.com/chem... [iflscience.com]

    It has now come to light that Palcohol received approval for their label, not the product. A representative for the federal bureau said that the approval was made in error, though details were not provided about how the error occurred. Palcohol creator Mark Phillips was not available for comment, but agreed to surrender the approvals this afternoon. Phillips will likely re-evaluate the situation and try for approval on his labels again.

  • This will be approved when the powder has a weight, volume, and alcohol content comparable to the liquid forms currently on the market. Which kind of defeats the purpose.

    On a tangent, there is no technical reason for rubbing alcohol to be made of isopropyl alcohol (not fit for human consumption), rather than ethanol (basically the same thing as vodka.) There is no technical reason that vodka should cost so much more than rubbing alcohol. This is all due to government regulation. Powdered alcohol will not be allowed to fit through the cracks.

    • by careysub (976506)

      ... There is no technical reason that vodka should cost so much more than rubbing alcohol. This is all due to government regulation. Powdered alcohol will not be allowed to fit through the cracks.

      This should be news to no one. The high sin/public health tax on alcohol (theories of the tax vary) is a key and very prominent feature of public alcohol policy. Most people feel it should be heavily taxed - public discussion of the issue is limited almost exclusively to whether it should be higher still. Powdered alcohol will be regulated no differently.

    • It is so that rubbing alcohol may be sold without further precautions. That's why it's labelled 'denatured'. Anybody notice something about the price of rubbing alcohol (say, the 70%abv stuff) versus the potable variety?
      • by dbIII (701233)
        It's regulated in my country which makes it almost as much of a pain to get hold of as lab ethanol but more expensive.
    • by mewyn (663989)
      Food grade equipment and starting stock is the reason. Sure there's the "sin tax" for governments to get more money out of alcohol, but that's not the bulk of the difference. The bulk of the price difference is from the fact that you're starting with food grade materials and using food grade stills and other equipment. With non-food-grade alcohol distillation they can throw whatever they want in and, if it's a little impure, or contains some toxins it doesn't matter because no one is supposed to drink it
      • 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 drinkypoo (153816)

          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.

          I don't even use denatured alcohol for cleaning things. You can buy pure IPA in gallon steel cans (or even five gallon cans!) at most hardware stores. The only time I've gotten it cheaper is in those rare cases when the grocery outlet has 70% IPA, but usually it's only 50% and less than 70% won't adequately clean many varnishes and so on off of the metal surfaces where I tend to use IPA — in automotive applications. I refill my bottles and then add water to make my own 75%-ish bottles for less-demandi

          • You can buy pure IPA in gallon steel cans (or even five gallon cans!) at most hardware stores.

            You can buy beer in hardware stores?

          • by afidel (530433)

            Yup, my dad was lamenting the fact that you can't get good solvent based paints or cement sealers anymore, my brother has a house he recently purchased with wooden shake siding that's been neglected for probably 20+ years and it could really use the extra penetration of solvent based paint.

        • 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.

          So shouldn't I rather be worried if I can absorb those toxic impurities through my skin instead of absorbing the alcohol part?

      • by dbIII (701233)

        going over 95% ethanol is exceedingly hard to do

        Around a century ago in Germany there was some Schnapps just a bit beyond that point. Not so hard to distill off some more water with just a little bit of Benzene in the mix. Of course if it doesn't poison you immediately there is cancer to look forward to.
        I think there's some varieties of high purity lab ethanol with similar additives to make it easier to distill.

        • by jo_ham (604554)

          Lab ethanol (reagent grade) is 99.5% ethanol with 99.5% with less than 0.005% water.

  • either use to turn water into a presumably not-that-delicious marg

    Don't tell me to Google "marg", because if it is a word, it's a stupid word. I really doubt that it's a word, though.
    • by mjwx (966435)

      either use to turn water into a presumably not-that-delicious marg

      Don't tell me to Google "marg", because if it is a word, it's a stupid word. I really doubt that it's a word, though.

      Marg is a contraction of the name Margaret in Australia.

      To be honest, all of the Marg's I've met have been over 50 and definitely not what I'd call delicious.

    • by GrahamCox (741991)
      It's short for Margarine. I assume that's what they're talking about anyway. Very common short form where I come from (UK).
    • by pjt33 (739471)

      It's an abbreviation for "margarine", which is a butter substitute. I don't know what it has to do with powdered alcohol, though.

    • by starsky51 (959750)
      I assumed it was short for Margarita, a tequila-based cocktail which is not that delicious to start with.
      • by Talderas (1212466)

        Get out of here with your context sensitivity. Marg obviously stands for margarine, margaret, or marginal. In other cases it's a negative slang for Maginot Line.

  • Their site is irresponsible, and the evident reverse psychology of "do not USE IT EVERYWHERE" seems to be written by a 13-year old. Slashdot at its best...the moderation system is failing us.
  • Mix this with self-heating powder, and you can make the perfect on-the-go gluhwein!
    https://heatermeals.com/how-se... [heatermeals.com]

  • Alcohol stoves are fairly popular with backpackers. Would this powder be an effective way to carry more fuel? Would it be a fire hazard - especially if it became airborne?

    • Hmmm... let's do some quick math....

      If you carry 1 litre of denaturated ethanol (methylized) your fuel package contains 100% burnable fuel. I doubt you can squeeze more than 100% alcohol in a powder.

      • But it is easier to carry a box of powder than a bottle of liquid.

        • Why would that be?

          That's true if that "powder" was made in some process (usually freeze-drying) that removes water and thus decreasing the weight of whatever you're powderizing. When powderizing is done by adding substances, that's just more dead weight you have to carry.

          The only other point I could imagine would be easier handling, but liquid alcohol can be used as-is and does not require additional ingredient (water) and additional time to become useable. Depending on the grain size of the powder, a gale

          • Just because you can put powder in anything, while a liquid needs special liquid containers that might leak or shatter and for the most part will be solid instead of flexible.

            A bottle takes up a lot of room, is often going to be an inconvenient shape, and there is the whole breakage concern. Liquid would be easier to use, but powder would be easier to pack.

            • An EMPTY bottle would take up uneccsessary room. I don't know the specifics of the powdered alcohol, but my guess would be that it takes up MORE volume than liquid alcohol.

              Imagine the volume you need in your shopping bag to carry home 1 kg of sugar. you need roughly 300ml of water to put that into solution. So at least for sugar, you're decreasing the volume by storing it as a solution. (but of course increasing the weight by 300g) I'm pretty sure that that's the case too for alcohol, espescially if you hav

            • by afidel (530433)

              You're not worried about breakage of the container when backpacking, you use an anodized aluminum bottle with a plastic/rubber screw top stopper, something like this [rei.com]. They've really never been a problem with packing for me (the stove on the other hand..)

  • It's both a sugar AND an alcohol. It's been available in powdered form for a long time. I do not believe it can intoxicate humans, so perhaps not considered "Alcohol" by most people, but the article didn't mention ethanol by name.

  • by alfredo (18243) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @10:53AM (#46815097)
    In the movie an inventor comes up with a candy that had the alcohol content of a triple Martinis. Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall.
  • I'm going to be in Europe next week. I want to know what parts of Europe it's available in, because I'm rather curious what it was taste like and whether you could actually get successfully intoxicated off it. Where can you buy it?

(1) Never draw what you can copy. (2) Never copy what you can trace. (3) Never trace what you can cut out and paste down.

Working...