Believe it or not, drinking isn't the only way to consume alcohol: You can inhale it, too.
It's a method some parents found out about the hard way, when their kids overdosed on "smoked" booze, but it's also a growing trend in high-end bars and restaurants.
To the average drinker, it probably sounds pretty weird, but fans of e-cigarettes and oxygen bars will understand why this is an increasingly popular idea. Vapors contain few calories, carry virtually no impurities, and are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. That means you get drunk more quickly and more efficiently, though the speed of absorption does raise some legitimate health concerns. (We’ll get to those a little later.)
The thing is, while these facts are pretty well-known, few care enough to concoct an elaborate heating vessel and carry it around with them just to get drunk a little more efficiently.
Enter the Vaportini. It's an alcohol vaporizer that, in theory, provides a safer alternative to makeshift vaporizing devices. The $45 "complete kit" consists of a glass sphere supported by a pint-sized glass container with a votive candle at the bottom. The sphere sports a hole into which the spirit of your choice can be poured, and through which a straw is inserted to inhale vapors emitted from the candle-heated booze.
Inventor Julie Palmer told us that she was inspired to make the Vaportini after a trip to Helsinki, Finland, where a friend told her that vaporized alcohol was a national tradition.
“You go into the sauna with a bottle of vodka, you pour it over the coals, you breathe in the alcohol vapors,” she said. “I was amazed that you could really feel the effects of the alcohol from breathing in the vapors.”
We had a chance to try the Vaportini at the 2014 International Home and Housewares Show and we have to say, we were impressed.
We sampled a vodka, a rye, a gin, and an infused vodka. The taste, if you want to call it that, is interesting. It retains the distinct flavor of whiskey, gin, or vodka, but completely eliminates the harsh burn of a shot of liquid spirits. Your taste buds register the vapors much like they would a pungent wine or e-cigarette, but the effect is a faint, airy presence of booze—and a very brief aftertaste.
We didn’t do enough to feel the effects, but we quickly grasped just how much booze you’d need to vape to get truly wasted (if that’s what you’re into). And that’s really the nub of the Vaportini: the inherent limit it places on consumption.
According to Palmer, the limited volume of the Vaportini glass combined with the slow-burning nature of the candles ensures that the alcohol in a given spirit is evaporated very gradually. She clarified that this means it takes about 20 minutes to consume just an ounce of alcohol. This is important, because the dangers of inhaling large volumes of alcohol are... well, let’s just say no doctor would recommend it.
As mentioned, inhaled alcohol enters the bloodstream directly through the lungs. That means it bypasses your stomach and liver—your body’s only safeguards against alcohol poisoning. Because inhaled alcohol can’t be forcibly expelled from the body like liquid can, it’s much easier to overdose. Furthermore, according to a recent story in the New York Daily News, the dehydrating effect of inhaled alcohol can significantly increase your risk of infection.
However, we feel that, as with any vice, moderation is key with the Vaportini. It would be reckless to huff a giant vial of alcohol vapor, just like it would be reckless to chug a liter of Old Grand-Dad.
While some states have already taken steps to ban alcohol vaporizers, it's too early to predict how the national conversation over this new kind of drinking will unfold. But given the extreme risk of abuse and the deeply entrenched habit of, y'know, actually drinking our drinks... inhalable alcohol might face a steep road to broad acceptance.