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Feds accidentally approve, then retract, powdered alcohol with snorting potential

Published time: April 22, 2014 22:53
Reuters / /Andreas Manolis

Reuters / /Andreas Manolis

News that a powdered version of alcohol, marketed as ‘Palcohol’, was recently approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau (TTB) left many scratching their heads. Now, the government has admitted the controversial approval was issued in “error.”

An industry blog run by Robert Lehrman first broke the story about the TTB approval, including marketing language from its producer touting Palcohol as a good way to sneak alcohol into venues.

According to a now-removed copy on the Palcohol website, “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.”

The current version of the website advertising Palcohol has since been tamed down, and the company says that language was not intended for a general audience.

“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.”

Bustle chided the company for its original language. “Palcohol offers a cheap (and potentially dangerous) alternative to traditional, more expensive drinks that one would normally order.” The article notes that Palcohol mentions consumers could snort the product. “But Palcohol is also diverse in its consumption methods, as its website boasts that you can, in fact, snort Palcohol, but that doing so would be “irresponsible.” Just like suggesting that your customers should snort your product.”

The powdered alcohol is actually encapsulated in a shell designed to dissolve in water, creating an instant cocktail, NBC News reports. On April 8, the TTB approved seven different kinds of Palcohol labels, covering five products made from either vodka or rum, including margarita, lemon drop and cosmopolitan flavors. Each package contains one ounce of powder to be mixed with five ounces of liquid, creating a drink that is 10 to 12 percent alcohol by volume, the company says.

“We are excited by the approval of our powdered alcohol product, Palcohol. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) actually approved it some time ago,” Palcohol creator Mark Phillips wrote on the company site. “However, we were caught off guard by the TTB making some of our approved labels public which we now know is standard procedure. As a result, people visited this website that we thought was under the radar because we had not made a formal announcement of Palcohol.”

On Monday, Tom Hogue, a TTB representative, e-mailed the Associated Press to say that the Palcohol approvals were issued in error. Palcohol agreed to surrender the approvals back to the TTB.

"An oversight of this nature does not ring true to me," Lehrman told the AP in a phone interview. He suggested that the bureau may have heard back from lawmakers wanting more information on the powdered alcohols.

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

He also said the approval retraction was not related to safety concerns, and that he’s reformulated the product so it will not be 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.”

Powdered alcohol is not a new product. The technology has been around since the 1970s, when a Japanese company tried marketing a similar product called SureShot, according to NBC News. Similar products are approved for sale in some European countries, AFP reports.

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