'Powdered Alcohol' Is Now (Mostly) Legal

The Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has approved Palcohol, a powdered alcoholic drink mix, for sale and distribution.

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The Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has approved Palcohol, a powdered alcoholic drink mix, for sale and distribution.

Palcohol is exactly what it sounds like: Kool Aid for the 21+ set. (Don't worry, it's not actually affiliated with the Kraft Foods brand.) Simply add five ounces of water to the powder and enjoy a mixed drink that is “equal to a standard mixing drink” in strength. Created by Mark Phillips, a wine expert, the product took four years to get approved. 

The powder comes in four flavors: Cosmopolitan, Mojito, Powderita (which apparently “tastes just like a margarita”), and Lemon Drop. In an email correspondence from the brand, we have confirmed that no pricing information is publicly available yet, because you can't actually buy it yet, and might not be able to for some time. However, a prior draft version of the Palcohol website did allude that the product is marketing to cheapskates: “What’s worse than going to a concert, sporting event, etc. and having to pay $10, $15, $20 for a mixed drink with tax and tip. Are you kidding me?! Take Palcohol into the venue and enjoy a mixed drink for a fraction of the cost.” Because exactly what sporting events need is more drinking.

So, how did this thing actually get approved? Phillips told BevLaw that it took almost four years to get the approval, and that the TTB was very cautious. Because it contains liquor, even though it is a food product (the draft Palcohol site touts it as a potential seasoning for cooked food) it does not have to go through any FDA screening, only TTB.

It is unclear when Palcohol will hit shelves because the approval process is not quite over. Unlike food products where the labels are considered to be compliant unless proven otherwise, liquor product labels go through an extensive label approval process before they hit the market, and Palcohol's labels seem to have hit a snag. The original labels caused a stir (pun intended) due to a discrepancy on fill level, or the amount of powder in the bag.  As of 4:30 p.m. today, the TTB and Palcohol came to a “mutual agreement for [Palcohol] to surrender the labels.” 

John D. Messinger, attorney at Lehrman Beverage Law, explained in a phone interview with The Wire that not all is lost when a label is surrendered: “The TTB can put pressure on someone to surrender labels, a voluntary surrender of labels. The approvals belong to the permitee, like a driver’s license. The government can’t just take it away unless you go to court. The TTB can do that, but that would be a hearing process. To do it quickly, they put pressure on the permitee, saying ‘we need the label back’. I’m not sure what exactly happened in this insistence, but it appears that the TTB and the producer came to some kind of understanding and they surrendered the labels. I believe they will file new labels for approval.”

Palcohol is believed to the be first powdered liquor product of its kind in the United States, and the first Messingner has seen get this far in the approval process: “There may have been others 10, 20, 30 years ago, that were approved but did not get very far.”

Not that any of that will prevent the inevitable controversies that are sure to arise when parents find out about this newest innovation in drunkenness. Powdered booze will almost certainly join the glorious likes of Jell-O shots, alcoholic whipped cream, wine popsicles, and "alcopops" like Four Loko in the annals of questionable beverage options that just might appeal to teens. Not to mention the guys sprinkling it on their hot dogs at baseball games.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.