Don't try this at home.
Photos by Meredith Jenks
Photos by Meredith Jenks
Editor's note: Please don't try any of this at home. You could get hurt, and anyway, it's a really complicated way to get hammered. Just sip on a martini or shotgun yourself a nice beer.
Last month the idea of powdered alcohol took the internet by storm when a website appeared for a product called Palcohol. "Sometimes liquid isn't convenient," read the site's original copy. "Because Palcohol is powder, you can take it just about anywhere to enjoy a cocktail! That's why we say: Take your Pal wherever you go!"
The future of drinking was here—then, suddenly, it wasn't. After the initial flurry of "LOL powdered alcohol!" articles came the "Say NO to powdered alcohol!" articles, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau—which originally approved seven Palcohol flavors—rescinded its approval. (They said it had been approved in "error," which may be code for, "We didn't realize it would make people so upset.") And New York Senator Chuck Schumer is calling for the FDA to block Palcohol once and for all.
But Lipsmack, the company behind Palcohol, thinks the powder is revolutionary and appears ready to fight back, releasing a YouTube video titled "The Truth About Palcohol" and redesigning its website to emphasize the product's "many positive" uses, not just the getting-fucked-up-on-the-road aspect of it.
Palcohol, the company says, will save space in your pack when you want to hike up a mountain and kick back, and it'll even shave some dollars off your next flight—since Palcohol weighs less than liquid booze, airlines can save fuel if they start stocking drink carts with the powdered stuff. Just add water, and your powdered martini is ready to drink. The future of America is drunken campers and cheap flights and powdered booze for all.
OK, sure. But I don't own an airline, and I won't be hiking up any fucking mountains anytime soon. When I hear that Schumer is worried about powdered alcohol being “sprinkled on food and even snorted,” I'm like, "Oh, good idea, Chuck!"
With Palcohol still a long way from the production line, I had to take matters into my own hands. Popular Science posted a recipe for powdered alcohol on its site, so I started gathering ingredients.
The two key components in powdered alcohol—powder and alcohol—were pretty easy to find. The recipe called for N-Zorbit M, a.k.a. maltodextrin, a powder that is great for absorbing oils. It seems like the kind of thing fancy chefs might use on a cooking show if they want to sprinkle a pinch of powdered watermelon juice onto a tart. But it can also apparently work with liquor—all I'd need to do, according to the recipe, was pour some booze into N-Zorbit M and stir it in.
Simple enough, but I didn't want to make wimpy powdered booze like Palcohol, which you need half a pouch of to make a single drink. I wanted something strong.
Everclear is legal in the State of New York (Chuck Schumer hasn't asked the FDA to ban it, yet), so I picked up a fifth of 192-proof Spirytus Wesoly grain alcohol. With 100 grams of N-Zorbit M under one arm and a fifth of hooch cradled in the other, I raided the VICE kitchen for everything else I'd need: a mixing bowl, a fine mesh sieve, a whisk, and a big Tupperware container so I could take the stuff on the road. Then I set up shop at VICE's newly installed wet bar and got to work.
The recipe called for 30 grams of alcohol, which is hardly anything. I kept pouring and stirring, and pretty soon I had half the fifth of everclear in the powder. It absorbed it all, leaving only a moist, flour-like powder. I knew I had the right mixture when my eyes started watering from the fumes.
Palcohol likely has a more complicated process (and it's probably much weaker), but I now had some powdered alcohol on my hands, which was great, since I love getting drunk but also enjoy awful hangovers and bloody noses. I'll get to that later.
I started shoving handfuls of the stuff into my mouth. It was around 8 PM, and the VICE office was still half-full of workers, diligently typing on their laptops. They didn't know what they were missing. Or maybe they did. I coughed and gagged whenever I choked down another fist of powder, but I didn't feel drunk.
People started putting their headphones on. I decided to leave. I shouldn't have been "drinking" on an empty stomach anyway—I needed pizza.
On my way there, I ran into my roommate, Charlie. I fed him a pinch of powder, and we set off together. The powder drunk creeps up on you, and sometime on the walk it kicked in. I went from mostly sober to buzzed to the kind of drunk where you already have a headache and can feel the hangover coming like a distant high-pitched whine.
Which is how I found myself staggering into the pizza place with a Tupperware full of white powder under one arm, and more powder smeared on my jeans and sleeves and stuck, like dandruff, to my hair. I'm a messy eater. I wandered up to the counter and set the tub down next to me.
"Do you have a parmesan shaker I can borrow? I want to fill one up with this stuff and sprinkle it onto a slice."
The kid at the register looked at me. I wiped my face and brushed powder from my cheek.
"Is that what I think it is?" he said.
"If you think it's powdered alcohol, then yeah."
He handed over an empty glass cheese shaker, and I sat down to dust my slice in booze.
I might just have been drunk and starving, but the powdered booze actually blended well on pizza. It melted into the grease and only added a few notes of poison to the flavor of the slice.
My Tupperware of powder started getting weird looks from other customers. They either wanted their own scoop of powdered booze or thought I was into some Scarface shit with a bowl full of cocaine.
Once upon a time, this part of Brooklyn was a working-class neighborhood with, presumably, some kind of value system in place—now you've got pale weirdos wandering around sprinkling powdered drugs on their pizza slices while someone else takes photos "for the internet."
Anyway, Charlie and I headed down to the water, where we could munch on my powder in peace. Then we decided to set some on fire.
It turns out my homemade powdered alcohol burns like napalm. Given the way it tasted, it may be most useful as an incendiary. I tried to stomp out a burning pile of it and ended up spreading flaming powder all along the rocky bank of the East River. Charlie's shoe went up in flames.
A few high-school-aged kids were smoking cigarettes a few yards away from us. They wandered up as I was stomping the burning dust into the ground.
"Powdered everclear I made," I said. "Have a scoop!"
I crammed another fistful into my mouth and struggled to get it down. The kids looked at my Tupperware of powder, then down at Charlie's flaming shoe, and slowly inched away.
The headache was getting worse. N-Zorbit M is made to absorb liquid—it had sucked up half a fifth of alcohol like it was nothing—and in my groggy, drunken state, I started to imagine N-Zorbit M soaking up all the water inside my body, drying me out from the inside.
But my job wasn't over.
See, when Schumer said he worried about people snorting powdered alcohol, Palcohol dismissed that fear as being ridiculous—someone would have to snort an ungodly amount of the company's stuff just to get buzzed. But this was powdered everclear, not their weak, wimpy powder. I had to give it a try.
We stumbled back to the VICE offices. I started racking lines.
Somehow, the powder turned straight into glue when it hit my sinuses. I was immediately plugged up. The fumes burned inside my nose, but only for the first minute or so. After that came an uneasy numbness. Maybe all the nerve endings were dead. There was no one left to sound an alarm.
The headache was still present—a throbbing pressure at my temples—but the powder drunk was giving me a weird, out-of-body feeling. If you like headaches and gummed-up sinuses and numb, dissociative drunks, you're going to go apeshit for powdered booze.
Charlie and I staggered home, I sucking air through my mouth because my nose was out of order and Charlie breathing easy because he had made the sane choice against inhaling grain alcohol in powder form.
We both slunk off to our respective bedrooms, hoping that unconsciousness might dull the throb inside our heads.
I woke up at 4 AM, with my face caked with blood from my nose. At least I could breathe again. The headache had dulled to a manageable form. I went out into the living room and found Charlie sitting on the couch, sucking on a beer. He handed me one. I slumped down next to him and took a drink. Delicious liquid beer. Cold, refreshing, non-powdered beer.
"How much is left?" Charlie said.
The Tupperware was across the room, on our dining room table.
"About a quarter container."
There was only one thing left to do. Light more stuff on fire.
River Donaghey grew up in a very loving home, so you can't blame his upbringing for these stupid, fifth-grade antics. Follow him on Twitter.
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