Ladies and gentlemen, once again, powdered alcohol is upon us. For real this time. That’s right, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has officially approved the substance, better known as Palcohol, meaning that by mid-summer we will have pulverized booze.
While folks are up in arms about the dangers of Palcohol—fearing it could be used for spiking drinks, snorting irresponsibly, and generally wreaking havoc—here at Fusion, we had some other concerns. Namely, what do the pros think?
If you couldn’t tell by its name, Palcohol doesn’t purport to be a replacement for a freshly and professionally mixed cocktail—a man named Mark Phillips invented Palcohol so he could have a nice beverage after going on a hike or bike ride without having to lug around bottles. But the powder isn’t going to be solely sold in REI—it'll be available to the general public like any other alcoholic beverage. (Well, if you don't live in one of the states that have banned it.) And so, we spoke with a master mixologist and sommelier about the substance's potential. Can it really compete with the cocktail?
Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book—a guide to the creations served at the New York City speakeasy PDT (short for Please Don't Tell)—said powdered alcohol is missing the point. “It’s not for me,” he told Fusion. “It seems like the purpose of [Palcohol] has to do with the alcohol content rather than the flavor. For me, the flavor is why I drink."
Meehan explains that as a bartender, he creates drinks that are meant to be an experience, in the same way that chefs create meals. Palcohol—which comes in a pouch and is mixed with water to become rum, vodka, a cosmopolitan, or a "powderita" (like a margarita)—seems more geared toward straight-up inebriation.
Meehan compares his craft to hiking up a mountain. “People who enjoy hiking don’t do it just to get to the top and look off. They enjoy the journey. The harder it is to climb sometimes, the more rewarding.”
He also said that his biggest concern didn’t actually have to do with the quality of the drink, but the safety. “Imagine someone who didn’t understand portion control, dumping five or six packets in a six-ounce glass and downing it like a shot,” he said. As if frat parties weren't fraught enough.
As for the mixologist community at large, Meehan doesn’t see powdered alcohol being accepted wholeheartedly, although he did make some creative suggestions for those willing to embrace it for its novelty.
“It’s only a matter of time before bartenders create cocktails that allude to cocaine. Instead of a sugar rim, they’d have a [powdered] alcohol rim, as a tongue-in-cheek craft use.” That one’s on the house.
Still, for other alcohol aficionados, the novelty only goes so far. "I'm not sure that I fully appreciate the controversy surrounding Palcohol since it's simply an alternative alcohol package. Sure, it might be easier to hide than a hip flask, but so what?" Doug Frost, Master Sommelier, author, co-founder of Beverage Alcohol Resource said in an e-mail to Fusion.
"For my part, the most interesting element to an alcohol beverage is its flavor and aroma. Powdered versions of spirits are as likely to be flavorful as powdered milk. And I don't appreciate that either."