Cocktails Reinvented: Could Synthesised Alcohol Be the Indulgence of the Future?

If you enjoy a perfectly chilled Grey Goose or can appreciate the perfection of Metaxa’s legendary AEN (and not simply for the amazing bottle), you’re in good company. Not in the sense of your refined taste, but rather that taking pleasure in the consumption of alcohol is hard-wired into our human DNA. So much so, that the worldwide market for alcoholic beverages is expected to reach $1.594 trillion within five years’ time.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with unwinding with a cold IPA, a finely crafted wine, or a top shelf martini, for too many people, enjoying a drink or – more likely, one too many drinks – can come with undesirable consequences. Whether we’re talking about an isolated lapse of judgment, a throbbing hangover, full-on alcohol dependency, or permanent liver damage, alcohol’s cost to society isn’t to be underestimated. Add up all of the missed work, alcohol-related violence or accidents, and personal tragedies wrought by addiction and the numbers are pretty staggering even without including fatalities. And that’s even scarier stuff. According to the World Health Organisation, just under 6% of all global deaths are attributed to alcohol consumption, with countries on the upper end of the economic scale having the highest per capita consumption and incidence of binge drinking.

So if a product came along that (a) delivered the same pleasurable effects as alcohol but (b) didn’t have any of its negative effects, imagine the impact it could have. And imagine the returns an early investment in such a product could generate. It’s actually not the stuff of pipedreams. Rather, it’s the outcome of a decade of scientific research and development, resulting in a synthetic alcohol.

The main brain behind the project is Professor David Nutt, a British neuropsychopharmacologist who was dismissed from the UK government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in a storm of controversy in 2009. His offense? Giving an accurate statement about the dangers of ecstasy (it’s not that dangerous). Since being relieved of his official position, Nutt has been fully focusing on developing a safer form of alcohol.

“About 10 years ago, I realised that whatever you did, you could never get rid of the intrinsic harms of alcohol because it is metabolised to acetaldehyde… a toxic substance,” Nutt explained in a recent radio interview. “If I can sober people up, the acetaldehyde’s still pickling their livers. If I stop them having hangovers, the acetaldehyde’s still damaging their brain. Having spent 30 years looking at the pharmacology of alcohol, I realised there were substances out there that actually could replicate some of the positive effects of alcohol but be much, much less harmful.”

During the development phase, Nutt and his team have patented 90 synthetic compounds. But they have now zeroed in on two that seem to hold the key to achieving a safe, alcohol-free buzz. The fruit of this labour is called Alcosynth. Its selling points sound like something out of a Huey Lewis and the News song:

– Delivers a happy, relaxed feeling
– Can be mixed with any of your favourite cocktail ingredients
– Has very few calories
– Plateaus after a few drinks – i.e. it won’t get people drunk to the point of vomiting, losing all coordination, becoming aggressive, or blacking out
– No hangovers
– Non-addictive
– Won’t damage the organs

While Alcosynth’s promises paint a compelling picture, it isn’t quite ready to come to market. Nutt and his colleagues have incorporated under the banner Alcarelle and are seeking investors. If you were tempted by the idea of a scotch whiskey fund, this “drink of the future” could offer a better payoff. Think of it as the e-cigarette for alcohol. The tobacco industry may have once scoffed at the thought of a “safe cigarette,” but they’ve since been tripping over themselves to cash in on a vaping market that will soon top $43 billion. Have a look at the figures for the global alcohol market above and consider this: the traditional cigarette market represents less than half of that.

So what will a future with synthetic alcohol look like? In addition to transforming the drinks industry, the whole culture around drinking will undergo a revolution: nights out with friends followed by hangover free mornings. What about the creative element of cocktail creation? The world already has its fair share of cocktail blogs, but what will the first Alcosynth blog be called? Ginocuous? Wholesomartini? A quick look at a website domain checker – which can be found on this site – shows a wealth of healthy drinks names still available if the entrepreneurial spirit really strikes. But whether you’re in on the original investing group or are simply ready to tap into a potentially massive new market, there’s no need to future proof your home cocktail bar just yet. With the estimated timeframe of release still a few years away, we still have several morning afters ahead of us.

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