How is vanilla extract NOT an alcoholic beverage?

Vanilla extract is around 35% alcohol. If it were sold as a beverage, it would qualify as hard liquor.
How is this stuff not subject to the Federal alcohol excise tax?
How can you legally drive around with an open bottle of vanilla extract in your car, but not an open bottle of weak beer?
How can I buy a bottle of vanilla extract at a store without showing I.D., when I need to show I.D. just to buy a 6-pack of non-alcoholic beer?

This article seems to answer it:

I skimmed…it goes to back to prohibition. The industry got a break because clearly if there were no alcohol, they couldn’t continue. The catch is that they have to demonstrate that it isn’t potable.

The unenviable job of testing vanilla extracts to make sure that no sane, mature, or mentally and emotionally healthy person would want to drink them straight? Yep, that falls to the TTB too, which subjects flavor extracts to a series of tests to make sure they’re not going to end up the next big thing at high-school post-prom parties across America.

ETA I’m going to guess something similar applies to cough medicines etc.

That’d be an expensive cocktail.

But has anyone tried it?

From the article cited:

In 2004, doctors in Seattle reported a notable case of intoxication in a 16-year-old boy who’d gotten drunk after his friends dared him to down a 12-ounce bottle vanilla extract.

Interesting. I remember having discussions with a co-worker who either was, or hung out with, recovering alcoholics. She said that if such a person is deprived of real alcoholic beverages, they will often “cheat” with concoctions like “Nyquiladas” or high-alcohol mouthwash.

Neither of which are taxed as alcohol or subject to the same legal restrictions as alcoholic beverages, either.

I’ve wondered about why isopropyl alcohol isn’t taxed and isn’t more of a problem. People have the idea that it’s toxic, but forget that ethanol (the alcohol you’re “supposed to” drink) is also toxic. And they’re only about a factor of two apart in toxicity. If you were going to do four shots of grain alcohol, you could substitute two shots of rubbing alcohol, and have an equal toxic effect.

Methanol and various other alcohols, I get – they are much more toxic. But isopropanol isn’t all that much different from the right kind.

I remember watching an episode of Intervention that featured an alcoholic who regularly consumed bottles of mouthwash. I tried to imagine myself being so hard up that I would resort to such measures, but couldn’t put my mind there. Addiction is a hell of a thing.

Apparently isopropyl alcohol tastes so bad, nobody would drink it unless of course they were REEEEEALLY desperate.

I remember the news reports about Kitty Dukakis drinking hairspray when she couldn’t get booze. More recently, she and Michael were featured in a “60 Minutes” episode about electroconvulsive therapy, the only treatment for depression (which she probably self-treated with alcohol) that had worked for her.

Alcohol in cough syrup, NyQuil, etc. is really there as a co-solvent; dextromethorphan, among others, is so poorly soluble in water, but more soluble in alcohol, so they dissolve it in just enough alcohol to do the job, and then mix it with an aqueous solution

A while back, I bought a fifth of the cheapest bottle of vodka I could find, along with some vanilla beans, and the teenage cashier asked me if I was headed to a party. I replied, “This kind of thing doesn’t happen at parties I would attend at my age” and told her what I was actually going to do with it. Do I want to pay $25 for 4 ounces (120ml) of real vanilla, or $25 for 750ml? I’ll do the latter, TYVM.

p.s. I’ve heard that cooking sherry is not sold as an alcoholic beverage, either, because it’s very salty and therefore tastes very bad on its own as well.

One of the Family Stories on my mother’s side involved an alcoholic relative during Prohibition who had a habit, when visiting, of consuming the mouthwash in the bathroom and the vanilla extract in the kitchen. Unverified, but alcoholics, being addicts, can drink stuff the average person wouldn’t…

And… I personally knew a drunk who’s beverage of choice was isopropyl. That was back in the days I worked in a clinic with a lot of addicts. Let’s just say drinking rubbing alcohol by choice was not this gentleman’s worst problem and leave it at that.

@nearwildheaven basically ninjad me in that one would expect a “beverage” to not make you instantly puke your guts out. As for vanilla extract, butanol, isopropanol, etc., I do not volunteer to find out.

Last year (that is, late 2020) when I was staving off the shakes from withdrawal from alcohol, I hit up the vanilla reserves in the house late one night when I had no other source of ethanol and all the liquor stores were closed (and, no, I wasn’t about to hit the mouthwash or isopropyl or anything like that.) Vanilla extract tasted fine enough to me. Just like strongly vanilla flavored vodka. Not exactly a cost-effective option, though.

As someone who went to college during the DXM craze (ie robotripping), I can tell you with first hand knowledge that, while it doesn’t taste particularly good, chugging an entire bottle of cough medicine in a few minutes really isn’t that difficult if you’re determined enough to do it (and we were).

On a side note, the “good” cough medicine (Tussionex) tastes really good.

I read this about 25 years ago. Is it what you’re referring to?

Guy drinks a bottle of cough syrup to see what all that dextromethorphan will do.
Very interesting stuff. Quoting:

At four o’clock in the morning I woke up suddenly and remembered that I had to go to Kinko’s copy shop and that I had to shave off about a week’s worth of stubble from my face. These ideas were very clear to me. That may seem normal, but the fact was that I had a reptilian brain. My whole way of thinking and perceiving had changed. I had full control over my motor functions, but I felt ungainly. I was detached from my body, as if I were on laughing gas.

So I got in the shower and shaved. While I was shaving I “thought” that for all I knew I was hacking my face to pieces. Since I didn’t see any blood or feel any pain I didn’t worry about it. Had I looked down and seen that I had grown another limb, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all; I would have just used it. Looking back, I realize that I had already lost all sense of time.

The world became a binary place of dark and light, on and off, safety and danger.

I know that there are some alcohol-free vanilla exracts such as this one.

It’s not just the extracts with alcohol added. Mouthwashes also have that. Personally, I go for the alcohol-free mouthwash. I had a great friend years ago who was a serious alcoholic, but he usually kept it in check. On the rare occasions he fell off the wagon, since he lived in a dry county, he’d buy a case of Listerine and drink it. I’ve no idea what that did to his body, but it freaked his wife out, of course.

Everyone’s experience with drugs is going to be different, but yes, that’s what I was referring to.

I probably should have mentioned when I went to college. It was 98-02 (so, about 25 years ago). Robotripping was pretty common back then. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done it, but it is an “interesting” trip. IIRC, it was closer to ketamine or mushrooms than acid. Which makes sense since it, like ketamine, is a dissociative.

I’ve never actually tasted real vanilla extract on its own. What about it makes it unpalatable? Is it just really bitter with how dense the vanilla is? So bitter that not even adding sugar would fix it, unless you also heavily diluted it? Or does it have something that would have other effects at sufficient concentrations (e.g., vomiting, as mentioned above)?

I personally mostly use the fake stuff, and I’ve tasted that straight. It didn’t taste more bitter than a weak coffee. But it also didn’t have alcohol in it.

(I’m assuming the ethanol itself is not the issue, since 70 proof alcohol is a thing.)

So far from the input on this thread, it seems that while vanilla extract and other alcohol-containing items like mouthwash can get you drunk, they generally taste so bad that virtually nobody except a desperate alcoholic or a minor on a dare would drink enough to get a buzz. Since the overwhelming majority of users of vanilla extract are not using it as an alcoholic beverage, it seems inappropriate to apply an alcohol tax.

When I get as quite young I used to make milkshakes. One day I was making a vanilla one, and had the odd thought that if the essence makes it taste so good, the raw essence should be a powerful hit of goodness. Nope. The shock of how bitter and awful it was to my 8 year old brain is still with me.

A Bulgarian friend of mine related how when he was doing compulsory military service he broke his leg and wound up in the military hospital. He took a toiletries bag, including some sort of aftershave. The guy in the next bed was most approving of this. My friend was taken to an examination room, and when he returned the guy in the next bed had a huge smile and the aftershave was empty.

A couple days ago I finished reading The Year of the Nurse, written by a nurse working in CA in the COVID wards during the first year of the pandemic. She literally had a patient who’d done a walkabout to multiple hand sanitizer dispensers in the hospital to fill up a huge cup with the alcohol-based gel. Which he then consumed.

From my experience, not that I noticed. It’s just a really heavy vanilla taste. Bitter? Not really what I would call bitter, but I loved my amaros and malort and other truly bitter alcoholic drinks. It’s just a bit too much of in-your-face-vanilla. I suppose you can just cut it with milk and have a very vanilla-y milk, but it’s nothing I personally found particularly unpalatable when it comes to the world of spirits.

The reason I never touched something like mouthwash is that there are other chemicals in there that are not good for you, methyl salicylate being one of them. You do need to drink quite a lot of it, but reading up on the toxicity of mouthwash was enough to scare me from using it as a straight alcohol substitute.