The Goods

What, and Why, Is a Whisky Pod?

They are real, but they are not the future of beverages.

Three Glenlivet whisky cocktail pods of different colors.
A limited number of the whisky cocktail pods will be served at London Cocktail Week.
The Glenlivet Whisky/YouTube

How do you take your whisky: neat or on the rocks? Perhaps you’d actually prefer it in a thin membrane made of seaweed? This month, Scottish distillery the Glenlivet unveiled a series of “glassless cocktails” consisting of liquor and some other stuff in a “seaweed-extract casing.” Naturally, that started drawing comparisons to Tide Pods, which look similar but are filled with toxic laundry detergent. News reports have had to assure people that they are not a hoax.
You probably have a few more questions.

After you bite down and all the whisky comes out, what happens to the casing?

According to the press release, “it is simply swallowed.”

Can I try one?

Not unless you can make it to London Cocktail Week, where a limited run of the capsules is being served. No word on plans of future whisky pods, yet.

How many of these are you supposed to … eat … ?

At 23 milliliters, each pod is less than a shot’s worth of fluid. You’d probably need to have a few to get the equivalent of a drink, as the liquid is a cocktail, not straight whisky. They come in three flavors: “citrus,” “wood,” and “spice.”

Where did the idea for these even come from?

The company that made the packaging for the whisky pods has been making edible Tide Pod–esque blobs of water for a few years now. The startup behind all this, Notpla, refers to the packaging as “Ooho.” (Confusingly, this seems to be pronounced “oh-ho.)” At the London Marathon this spring, runners were handed Ooho-sealed blobs of sports drink, and last year, British food delivery service Just Eat did a trial run of Ooho ketchup and Ooho garlic and herb sauce. The art on the company’s website suggests a future in which we have everything in pods, from orange juice to ranch dressing.

How does the whisky or the ranch or whatever get in there?

This is actually interesting! It’s through a process called spherification. Sophie Bushwick made similar edible water blobs a few years ago for Popular Science. She mixed a chemical that comes from algae with water. Then, she dropped blobs of that into a solution with a kind of salt, which then forms a layer around the algae-water mixture. The resulting membrane blobs look like little jellyfish and, as Bushwick reported, were somehow both slimy and chalky.

But there are different recipes and ways to go about this. Rodrigo García González, inventor of the Ooho, told Smithsonian in 2014 that the membrane of his edible water blobs didn’t taste like much to him. Then again, he admitted, some testers reported at the time that they were “like breast implants.”

Is this how we’ll “drink” everything in the future?

Ooho is to beverages as Dippin’ Dots is to ice cream: They’re fun, but they’re probably not going to actually replace the original. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if other stunts like this roll out, or if a few bars start featuring alcohol pods as an off-beat menu item. Sure, they might become an offering at bachelorette parties. They’re novel! And the biodegradable packing is a kind of high-concept greenwashing. If you squint, the act of doing a shot, essentially, is good for the planet. Or something.

Is anyone really concerned about the carbon footprint of … dishwashing?

Ehhhhhh. It doesn’t really take that much energy to run a dishwasher. If you run an energy efficient dishwasher every other day, it uses less than 270 kilowatt-hours in a year (which one regular lightbulb can easily surpass in a year of use) and 3.5 gallons of water per cycle (less than you use in a two-minute shower). It’s hard to tell if this is a larger or smaller use of resources compared with making whisky pods—surely that entails the use of something that’s plugged in.

For Gatorade and ketchup, though, the seaweed packaging could replace plastic cups, or maybe, eventually, plastic bottles. Given that plastic can spend a hellishly long time on this Earth, you could argue that at large events like marathons these pod things really are a better route. Still: We’re not going to save the planet by replacing tiny scraps of plastic with complicated and ultimately functionally inferior packaging. Ooho is more of a feel-good solution than a helpful one.

We’re just going to be popping single sips of drinks into our mouths as the world burns?

Yeah, you get it.