Some truths we rarely question. The sky is blue. The sun rises in the east. Cocktails are wet. But a new product, called Palcohol, aims to crumble our everyday expectations. It’s an alcoholic beverage — in powder form. Carry a convenient lightweight packet of powder with you anywhere, and reconstitute it with water whenever you want a drink.
Palcohol will be available in vodka and rum varieties, as well as mojito, margarita, and other premixed cocktail flavors. It was officially approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) earlier this month, and Mark Phillips, its creator, says we can expect to see it in stores this fall.
But how does one make powdered alcohol? I contacted the company, but “due to the proprietary nature of it” they were unwilling to provide any details. As an incorrigible culinary experimenter, though, I happen to have some firsthand experience in this realm, so I’ll tell you how I make powdered booze.
How To Make Powdered Alcohol
The only way to make unadulterated alcohol into a powder would be to freeze it solid and serve it frozen. The temperature required to do that would destroy your tongue when you ate it though, not to mention certain other logistical concerns. The trick, therefore, is to start with a highly sorbent powder as a base, and add alcohol to it — just enough so that the alcohol is fully soaked up, but the powder remains powdery.
The best easily obtainable powder I’ve found for this purpose is a specially modified starch, a maltodextrin made from tapioca and sold under the name N-Zorbit M. Each granule of this light, fluffy starch has a micro-fuzzy texture that gives it a great deal of surface area so it adsorbs liquids very well. It’s popularly used in high-tech cooking to soak up fats, for instance in the “olive oil powder” recipe that appears in Modernist Cuisine. But it can also soak up alcohol pretty well.
It used to be hard to find in reasonable quantities for home use, but now you can buy it affordably from suppliers like Modernist Pantry or WillPowder. There’s plenty of other maltodextrin out there, but those won’t work for this purpose — N-Zorbit is the one you want. (Other starch derivatives, such as cyclodextrins, would probably be even better for this task than maltodextrin, but those aren’t as easy to find. Yet.)
1. Weigh out 100 grams of N-Zorbit into a mixing bowl. Because the powder is so fluffy and light, this will be a sizeable mound.
2. While whisking steadily, drizzle in 30 grams of high-proof spirit. I use Lemon Hart 151-proof rum. After you’ve stirred it in completely, the powder should be dry, but somewhat chunky. If it’s still moist, sprinkle in a little more N-Zorbit.
3. Sift the dry liquor through a fine sieve to break up the chunks and make a nice powder. If you’re making a larger batch, you can do it in a blender and step 3 won’t be necessary.
Voila! You’ve got powdered booze. It will be a slightly moist powder, because of the water in the liquor. You can stir the powdered booze into a mixer, to taste, to make a delicious sippable; sprinkle it on food (rum powder is great on desserts); or just lick a little bit of powder off your finger for the novelty. Be careful: it’s highly flammable! Don’t get it anywhere near a flame.
You may be able to use a lower-proof spirit, but that will require significantly more N-Zorbit to soak it up, and produce a damper, clumpier powder. And the more powder you add, the more weakly the flavor of the spirit will come through. On the other hand, if you have access to 190-proof neutral grain spirit, you can make a very strong powdered booze indeed. If you store your powdered alcohol in a sealed container with one of those (non-edible!) silica gel packets, some of the water will be selectively absorbed by the silica, and the powder will become more powdery.
I don’t know if this is similar to Palcohol’s secret method, which (according to the leaked label above) has close to a 1:1 ratio of alcohol to non-alcohol content by weight. But I look forward to trying their product when it’s ready!