If you’ve ever seen the 2007 coming-of-age teen comedy Superbad starring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, you’ve heard of Goldschlager: the liqueur infused with flakes of real gold. In case you were unaware, this wasn’t just a made-up beverage from the movie, but a very real product that you can buy all throughout the world. And while most people of legal drinking age have passed a bottle of Goldschlager on a liquor store shelf, very few people seem to know much about how it came to be that this mysterious brand started putting real gold into their product.
On top of the mystery behind the origins of Goldschlager, there are several myths that have been floating around for years about this cinnamon-flavored, gold-infused schnapps. While some have claimed that the tradition of ingesting gold was meant to bring great health benefits, others have claimed that drinking this edible gold is actually very unsafe and could even cause death in some cases. Very few other alcoholic beverages have such a developed urban folklore around them, which is what makes Goldschlager such an interesting phenomenon.
This article will dive into what exactly Goldschlager is, the history of Goldschlager and edible gold in general, and the veracity of some of the myths surrounding this mysterious intoxicant.
What Is Goldschlager?
Goldschlager is a Swiss-made cinnamon-flavored schnapps that has flakes of real 24-karat gold floating around in it. It is 43.5% alcohol by volume at 87 proof; however, it was originally produced with 53.7% alcohol by volume equivalent to 107 proof.
While you might expect a bottle of liqueur containing gold to be wildly expensive, a 750-milliliter bottle of the stuff usually costs around $20 or $25. So, should you go out and buy a bunch of bottles of Goldschlager and start straining out the gold and trying to turn a profit? The answer is a definitive no. Each 750-milliliter bottle of Goldschlager contains approximately 0.1 grams of gold. And, since the price of gold was about $60 per gram as of May 2021, the value of the gold in one of these bottles of Goldschlager is only about $6.
While drinking gold may seem like the ultimate luxury, the metal actually has no taste whatsoever and adds nothing to the flavor profile of Goldschlager, or any other food that it’s in. Goldschlager is pretty much just your run-of-the-mill cinnamon-flavored booze, similar to Fireball. Well, apart from the fact that it gives drinkers the opportunity to drink (and then poop out) real gold.
At this point, you may be wondering how this whole thing started. Who was the madman who decided to start mixing gold into his overly-sweet hooch? How did he ever convince the general public that drinking gold was a good idea?
The History of Goldschlager
While Goldschlager is popularly known throughout the world as the “liquor with gold in it,” the Swiss maniacs who made the stuff actually took the idea from a German drink called Goldwasser that had been around for centuries. Goldwasser, a liqueur infused with 23-karat gold instead (1 less karat than Goldschlager), was first created in 1606 and soon became a favorite of legendary czars Peter the Great and Katherine the Great. Whether or not that old Goldwasser tasted any good is up for debate, but the czars probably just loved it because drinking a precious metal was a way of showing off their extravagant wealth.
While Goldwasser is still around today, and has been since its conception in 1606, its Swiss counterpart Goldschlager has enjoyed far more success on the international market. Goldschlager was originally sold in Switzerland in the 1990s, and the name comes from the German word for “gold beater” in reference to the profession of beating bars of gold into thin sheets of leaf, the product that is used for Goldschlager.
Goldschlager was produced in Switzerland until it was purchased by British multinational alcoholic beverage company Diageo, which also owns popular brands such as Guinness, Ketel One, Captain Morgan, Smirnoff, Crown Royal, and Don Julio. Once Goldschlager went under the Diageo umbrella, its production was moved to Italy.
In 2018, Diageo sold off the Goldschlager brand along with 18 other brands to United States-based Sazerac in a deal for $550 million. Since the ‘90s, Goldschlager has been consistently waning in popularity, and it looks as if the novelty of drinking gold flakes has worn off for a lot of people.
While Goldschlager itself seems to be all but dead and gone, the tradition of ingesting gold is still very much alive. People are putting gold on pizzas, infusing it into Stilton cheese, topping ice cream sundaes with it, and wrapping entire sushi rolls in gold leaf. People have been eating and drinking gold far before Goldwasser was ever a thing, and they’re doing it arguably more than ever today. So, what gives? Why and how did we start ingesting gold rather than just using it for watches and necklaces?
The History of Edible Gold
The history of edible gold can be traced back to many different parts of the world at different time periods. One of the earliest recorded instances of edible gold was in Egypt around 5,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians ingested gold because they believed it had divine powers and that it could purify the mind, body, and spirit. Alchemists in ancient Egypt created medicines and elixirs using gold, and it’s believed that Cleopatra would ingest gold every night, as well as take baths with gold and use facemasks of pure gold.
Similar traditions of eating gold and using gold for medicinal purposes are evidenced in Japan, China, and India dating back thousands of years. The first accounts of edible gold in Europe are from around the Middle Ages when they would use gold leaf as food decoration as well as for medicinal purposes. During the Renaissance in Europe, Paracelsus, the so-called “father of modern pharmacology,” was known to have used gold in a variety of pills and powders for medicinal purposes.
In the modern era, many of our flawed misconceptions about the medicinal benefits of gold from the past have been exposed through modern scientific investigation. Hopefully, no one in the modern age believes that drinking Goldschlager might give them eternal life, as the alchemists of ancient times might have believed. So, gold isn’t a panacea, but is it even safe to ingest? Could it poison you? Does it have any nutritional value?
Common Myths and the Medical Effects of Edible Gold
Alright, so if you eat a whole bunch of nickels, you’re probably going to get heavy metal poisoning. Does the same thing apply to gold? Well, drinking too much Goldschlager will make you sick, but it has everything to do with the high alcohol content and nothing to do with the gold flakes. Gold is a noble metal, which means it is extremely nonreactive. This means it will pass right through your digestive system without being absorbed whatsoever. Don’t be surprised if you see some gold flakes in your toilet after a night of Goldschlager shots.
With that being said, there’s a reason that only 24-karat gold is now used in food and drinks. Gold of inferior purity could potentially have harmful amounts of other metals, so it’s very important that vendors selling edible gold ensure its purity.
Another common myth surrounding Goldschlager is that the flakes can lacerate your esophagus or your stomach lining, causing you to get drunk way faster. This is entirely untrue. If you’ve ever touched gold leaf before, it is extremely soft and malleable, and there’s absolutely no way it could cause internal lacerations.
Contrary to what many of our ancestors in past ages thought, gold has no health benefits at all. Since it psses through the human digestive tract without being absorbed, it essentially has no health effects either negative or positive.
So, what’s the point of edible gold? Why do we drink cinnamon-flavored schnapps with gold flakes in it? Well, these days, it’s probably just because we humans like shiny things, and we like to appear to be wealthy and decadent even if a bottle of Goldschlager only costs $20.