Anyone with a healthy thirst for the latest news in mixology knows that trends in cocktailing can be mystifyingly fleeting. One day cosmos are all the rage, and the next, Sazeracs have taken centre stage. But every once in a while there comes a game changer. Like the Vaportini, a new device that allows one to have a drink without actually drinking it. Yes, you can now get completely snapped on martinis without ever having to even take a sip. All you need to do is inhale.
It works like so. The key part of the Vaportini kit is a glass sphere with a small aperture just large enough to accommodate a straw. But wait. First you must insert a tiny funnel, and carefully pour in the booze. Next, place a candle in the base of a pint glass and light it. Rest the small metal stand on top of the glass and balance the sphere on top of it. Watch closely as the liquid heats up. As vapours begin to emanate from the warming liquid, you swap funnel for straw, lean in, and inhale them deeply. And—presto!—all blood departing lung for brain is suddenly packing something way more exciting than boring old oxygen.
This clever device was brought to market early this year by American entrepreneur Julie Palmer. Her inspiration was not some depraved gasoline-sniffing dipsomaniac but a friend she had visited in Helsinki. “He convinced me that it was a national tradition to go into your sauna with a bottle of vodka and pour it over the coals until you’re sufficiently inebriated,” Palmer explained in May, while exhibiting the new device at the National Restaurant Association exposition in Chicago. “It was so cool—it worked!”
So Palmer worked on duplicating the effect with something cheaper and more portable than a sauna. In 2009 she had her first Vaportini prototype. Three years later she successfully introduced it to patrons at her Chicago bar. She started selling online in January—and claims to have sold 100,000 units at $30 a pop in the very first week.
Vaportini markets the unit as a unique means to safely consume alcohol without caloric intake—because the alcohol in question never passes through the stomach. Excited Internet commentators push it further, venturing that alcohol consumed via Vaportini will barely register on a roadside Breathalyzer test or even give you a hangover. And there’s more. “Would this bypass the liver then? I’m not permitted to drink alcohol as I have liver damage from it, but I’m guessing this is a safer way to drink?” Roy from London asked in response to an article in the Daily Mail.
Unsure as to whether this revealed more about Roy, Daily Mail readers, or Internet chat room debate, I ordered a Vaportini of my own as soon as it was available in Canada, to explore what the fuss was about. First, the taste test. As the minimum recommended alcoholic content is 35 per cent, mixed drinks were out. Vaportini suggests using only the tastiest and most rarefied sipping liquors, like Don Julio tequila and Rémy Martin VSOP cognac. Dubious, I selected some Stolichnaya vodka, followed the instructions outlined above, and leaned in for a puff.At first, I just felt ridiculous. Then—yuck!—I felt ill and vaguely poisoned. Another puff established that yes, the experience delivers the diluted essence of the flavour of the liquor in the glass—but it also made me feel as if my lungs were collapsing. As for Vaportini’s claim that inhaled alcohol is non-caloric, I spoke with Dr. Bernard Le Foll, head of the alcohol research and treatment clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
“That isn’t true—because alcohol itself is caloric,” Le Foll told me. However you absorb the alcohol, you absorb the calories. Unsurprisingly, he also confirmed that alcohol consumed by inhalation would show up readily in Breathalyzer tests, and give you a hangover, too. In fact, he suggested the only difference in consuming alcohol via lung rather than stomach was that its relatively fast, unchecked delivery to the brain made it far more dangerous and addictive.
“Like, say, crack compared to ordinary cocaine?”
“Exactly,” he said.
So just as well that it tastes awful too.