Unintentional Science: “Smoking Alcohol”.

Long time readers will know that I have a penchant for videos that demonstrate scientific principles, especially if they’re somewhat unintentional. Usually the first video will lead me on a vast clicking spree as I search for another video explaining the phenomenon as whilst I pride myself on my enthusiast level of scientific knowledge I have a bad habit of getting key things wrong. I can often overcome this with some avid Googling and following the rabbit’s hole that is Wikipedia’s reference system but for this particular video I think I’m diving into new territory.

Now before you watch the whole thing I’ll warn you that the ending contains vomiting, the first minute or two is skippable and I’ll admit this isn’t the most high brow video I’ve linked here. All you really want to see is the demonstration of this rather fascinating process however, everything else around it is irrelevant:

The reason why I picked this particular one over the dozens of similar videos that are around is because he uses many different types of liquor and each of them has the same curious result of creating what appears to be ethanol vapour. One of the current top comments says that it is in fact just carbon dioxide, which was plausible given the carbonated beverages he was using initially, however he also uses boxed wine which doesn’t contain any carbonation and still yields the same results. Failing to find a decent explanation I consulted with my wife who’s currently studying chemistry at university and I think we’ve come up with a decent conclusion about what’s happening there.

For starters this is nothing like Alcohol WithOut Liquid gadgets which are technically called nebulizers and work by mixing your alcohol of choice with oxygen in a fine mist spray. This means that you’re still ingesting all of the drink in question anyway, you’re just not doing it through your stomach like you usually would. The reason we believe it isn’t working like this is because of the high amount of remaining liquid after the rapid de-pressurization is completed and the apparent effects on the person who’s imbibing in the resulting mist. From what we can tell it has to do with ethanol’s low vapour pressure.

Most people are familiar with the triple point of water whereby the state of said liquid can change depending on a couple variables, namely temperature and pressure. Now the pressurization of the bottle at the start would increase the boiling point significantly however upon releasing that pressure there would be a small vacuum created at the surface as all the air starts to rush out. This would cause the ethanol (and some of the water too, I’m guessing) to boil away from the surface rapidly and it would be dragged upwards with the escaping air creating the mist.

Now I might be getting the mechanism wrong here but this was the best explanation we could come up with after watching the process a couple times over. If you’ve got a much more scientific explanation than what we’ve come up with than I’d like to hear it as I’m sure there’s a bit more going on here than I can figure out. Still it’s a pretty interesting bit of accidental science going on here, even if the end result is somewhat…questionable 😉

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  1. this is exactly what I’m trying to figure out now; I don’t care about the hundreds of videos showing how intoxicated people get from this, I want to know what exactly the ‘vapor’ is and how it’s getting there. that will then allow me to infer how people are getting intoxicated. Question – can it be replicated with the same ‘used’ liquid over and over, or do you have to dump out the liquid after 1 depressurization?

  2. Yeah there’s definitely something interesting going on there and initially we thought he might just be flooding his system with CO2 (as that’d produce similar results to what you see here) but since the wine worked in much the same way it would appear that it is ethanol vapor.

    Now if that was true you could measure the specific gravity of the beverage before and after since if that really is ethanol vapor then the alcohol content should decrease. If it doesn’t change then there’s something else going on there and it could simply be nebulizing the beverage rather than extracting the ethanol.

    This could all be done with household grade equipment. I think I might’ve just found a weekend project 😉

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