Food & Beverage

Instant Cocktail Goes Bottoms Up After Surprise Debut

Maggie Fox
'Powdered alcohol' stirs controversy

It was to be a quick and tasty "instant cocktail" — a specially encapsulated form of alcohol that would dissolve in water, something like a powder, to make an instant flavored drink.

But in the space of a few days, the would-be maker found his label approved, published on the internet, and the subject of wildly speculative media articles. Late Monday afternoon, the company withdrew its main license application.

"We are excited by the approval of our powdered alcohol product, Palcohol," maker Mark Phillips wrote on his company's website. "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."

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A beverage industry lawyer named Robert Lehrman had outed the substance, called Palcohol, on his blog.

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A startled Phillips took down a website that had suggested sneaking the product into sports venues. "There was a page visible on this site where we were experimenting with some humorous and edgy verbiage about Palcohol. It was not meant to be our final presentation of Palcohol," he said on the new website.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which approves new alcoholic products, did not respond to requests for comment. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't get involved in approvals of alcoholic products. But Phillips confirmed Monday that he and the TTB had agreed to reconsider the product.

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"This doesn't mean that Palcohol isn't approved. It just means that these labels aren't approved. We will re-submit labels," he told NBC News. "We don't have an expected approval date as label approval can vary widely."

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Phillips won't disclose how he makes the product, but Lehrman and news reports suggest the technology dates back to the 1970s. The alcohol is not made into an actual powder, but is encapsulated in a dissolvable shell — often a sugar — that releases concentrated alcohol in warm water.

"How is it made? If we told you, we'd have to shoot you. We are in the process of patenting it and it is currently patent pending," Palcohol makers say on the website.

Phillips said safety concerns were not the reason the approval went sour, despite worries from critics that the product might be snorted or might be easier to smuggle into forbidden places. He said he's reformulated Palcohol so it won't be quite so concentrated.

"We have been in touch with the TTB and there seemed to be a discrepancy on our fill level, how much powder is in the bag. There was a mutual agreement for us to surrender the labels," Phillips said.

A Japanese company tried marketing a similar product called SureShot in 1977. It's not clear why it never hit the market, Lehrman says.

"These Palcohol gents are certainly naïve," Mike Hill, who worked to market SureShot, wrote on Lehrman's blog.

By Maggie Fox of NBC News