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The Japanese invent powdered liquor

By
SHIRO YONEYAMA

TOKYO -- It's enough to fade the plaid on a Scotsman's kilt, but a Japanese food firm says it is set to market powdered whiskey and other alcoholic drinks to which you just add water and serve.

Technical problems related to Japan's liquor tax laws are holding up production of the packaged drinks, but the Sato Food Industry Co. hopes that marketing -- at home and abroad -- can begin this fall.

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The company's line will include powdered whiskey, brandy and sake. Sato chief Jinichi Sato, who invented the powdered drinks, said he succeeded in dehydrating liquor while retaining the taste and potency of the alcohol through the use of dextrin, a gummy, water-soluble substance that works as a binding agent. Just add water, hot or cold, and stir, he said.

Sato sales manager Toshio Nishiuchi says the powdered drinks should appeal to travelers and others for whom carrying or obtaining conventionally bottled liquor is an inconvienence.

'We are hoping we can start selling liquor powder this fall,' Nishiuchi said.

Sales thus far have been delayed by a pending revision of Japan's liquor tax laws, a task being taken up by the Japanese Parliament in May.

The big question, of course, is what does the stuff taste like?

Nishiuchi is not offering any samples -- 'it's still in the laboratory and I can't give it away' -- but he insists it is as good as ordinary liquor.

However, Jeffrey Wormstone, spokesman for the Scotch Whiskey Association, said in London that the producers of traditional scotch were 'not too worried' by the idea.

'It's not terribly relevant to us,' Wormstone sniffed. 'Besides, we already have an easy way of carrying whiskey around. It's called a bottle.'

Wormstone also said that dextrin 'might taste okay with sake but I don't think it will do much for 12-year-old scotch. My dictionary says its used to make postage stamps stick when you lick them.'

Actually, dextrin has been used as an adhesive in powdered food products for years.

Sato, which markets soy sauce and dried foods, says a modified form of its powdered liquor has been sold as a flavoring agent for cakes for the past 10 years, with annual sales amounting to 20 tons.

The Japanese tax agency says it will authorize the sale of the dehydrated liquor after Parliament revises the tax laws. The powdered variety will be classified as a 'mixed' drink and be taxed slightly higher than conventional, bottled liquor.

However, tax agency officials who sampled Sato's powdered sake disagree with the company's claim that it tastes as good as the bottled variety.

They said a reconstituted sample of sake tasted for 'analysis' purposes was somewhat inferior to regular rice wine because of the dextrin.

Will it catch on? 'Of course I will give it a try,' said one Japanese drinker. However, the drinker, who asked to remain anonymous, added he would drink almost anything.

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