Written by Ken Carman
The Topic: Palcohol… A Brave Brew World, or Not?
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for close to 20 years.
Palcohol. Certainly you’ve heard of this controversial powdered form of alcohol that was, essentially banned, then recently approved.
Yup. Looks like cocaine.
How it’s made is proprietary, though I would guess the process may be similar to how powdered coffee creamer is made. Just a guess from the guy whose father invented the liquid form, but talked a lot about how both kinds were made.
Alarmists have wanted to keep it off our shelves because it would encourage underage drinking. Hey guys and gals: clue… that demon seeped out of Pandora’s Box long, long ago. Underage drinkers will get alcohol however they can. Does this make it easier? Eh, maybe a tad. But totally banning only encourages them to become more creative and takes essential control out of the hands of adults.
But how does palcohol relate to beer?
If it hasn’t happened yet, I imagine someone will buy some extract, boil, then add palcohol. Packages I’ve seen make the mind swim in the deep end of the Specialty Category pool.
Lemon drop palcohol and extract beer, anyone?
The problem here is all alcohol is not equal. OK, how we get to alcohol is crucial. Anyone who has had beer fermented with White Labs Abbey knows it is distinctly different than, say, Nottingham. Indeed, if you’ve been to homebrew club sessions where they take similar batches, but use different yeasts, it’s amazing how different they each are. A lot of these packages are labeled with rum, or cosmopolitan or… but, again, how did they get there is the important question. Another question would be how does the powdering process affect any alcohol that might be used to make beer when flavor nuances are so much more subtle, unlike a Harvey Wallbanger, or a Stinger.
Why is it I think we’re a hell of a ways from a palatable American Lager, or Kolsch, made with palcohol, and even more distant from a great example of any one of these styles?
I’m guessing those who make palcohol aren’t that particular about how they get to their powdered, proprietary, product. It would be a hell of a long time, probably, before palcohol comes even close to brew world except a few of us more creative souls. Any first attempt should probably be a Russian Imperial, or other complex quaff. I’m tempted to try, I admit. I LOVE to brew weird.
But, “Brew?” Dare we call this possibility that?
I’m sure the corporation that makes palcohol is far more interested in easy mix drink apps for now. But they would be bad businessmen and women if they just ignored a possible future market. So, in the future, I certainly think this might be a possibility, despite the probable first attempts being most likely defined as, “Horrific.” Kind of like the “brew in a liter soda bottle” system I saw in one store. Add yeast. Shake.
But, eventually, as advancements usually go, it will get better and better.
My first thought is the loss. There’s something about brewing all grain, or even extract/partial mash, that’s special and creates a unique product: unique to the brewer. I’ve had many clones, but usually find, no matter how good a clone it may be, the original is still unique.
But how fair is that? Grains used in brewing, like malted barley, are now highly modified. Less modified probably added uniqueness mostly missing now. Once all fermentation was wild, because they didn’t know about yeast. Mostly female brewers had brewing staffs, or sticks, that they stirred with. Unbeknownst to them yeast in the cracks and ridges in the wood held yeast that was pretty much their “house yeast,” as we refer to it now. And the wood should have added plenty of subtle flavor.
Was it perfect? No. In fact the results were far more unpredictable: a smaller plus than it was a negative. There’s a reason why IPAs being shipped often arrived contaminated, and thus sour: among other problems. Despite the idea hops preserve the brew’s character: far less than they thought back then, we still understood less about the far more important topics of temps, where, how and how long stored under what conditions, possibility of contamination.
High abv is a far better preservative, and ale yeast usually (not always) does better than lager.
We know more now, we have more control, yet, eventually, I imagine palcohol may be an advance that can offer more control, more consistency and quicker production.
Once proprietary goes away, could it be that some future BJCP judging forms, or computer program, will have, for palcohol entries, instead of mouthfeel, snortfeel?
Beyond doubtful, but funny to imagine.
Will it be worth it? At 61, I doubt I’ll find out in my lifetime. But I imagine homebrewers will still be brewing the old way, just like some have gone back to wild yeast, even collecting it aggressively.
I imagine most homebrewers look at palcohol as a joke, and some even think this a silly topic.
I don’t look at it that way. As a homebrewer who started in 1979 I have seen a lot of changes. As easy as it is to laugh at, and dismiss, the possibility, it’s likely palcohol will eventually affect homebrewing: if only the entrance level, extract, market. So for those who too readily dismiss advancements, changes, Al Jolson probably had the wisest line..
“You ain’t seen nothin yet.”
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”