Discerning drinkers might soon be able to branch out after Japanese researchers on Tuesday said they have invented a way of producing an alcoholic drink from wood.
Researchers at Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute say the bark-based beverages have woody qualities similar to alcohol, which is aged in wood barrels. They hope to have their “wood alcohol” on shelves within three years.
The method involves pulverizing wood into a creamy paste and then adding yeast and an enzyme to start the fermentation process.
By avoiding using heat, researchers say they are able to preserve the specific flavor of each tree’s wood.
So far, they have produced tipples from cedar, birch and cherry — 4kg of cedar wood gave them 3.8 liters of liquid, with an alcohol content of about 15 percent, similar to that of sake.
They experimented with both brewed and distilled versions of the beverage, but “we think distilled alcohol appears better,” researcher Kengo Magara said.
Wood fermentation is already used to produce biofuel, but the product contains toxins and is flavorless, making it far from a suitable cocktail component.
“But our method can make it drinkable and with a wood flavor, because it does not require high heat or sulfuric acid to decompose the wood,” Magara said.
The institute has a broad mandate for scientific study related to Japan’s extensive woods and forests, but Magara said that “wood alcohol” might not be the most obvious application for their research resources.
“We thought it would be interesting to think that alcohol could be made from something around here like trees,” Magara said. “It’s a dream-inspired project.”
The government institute aims to commercialize the venture with a private-sector partner.
“Japan has plenty of trees across the nation and we hope people can enjoy wood alcohols that are specialized from each region,” Magara said.
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