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Japanese Team Distill Wood To Make Alcohol

The expression ‘a stiff drink’ just took on a whole new meaning …

By: Tiff Christie|May 3,2018

If you ever wanted to branch out with your spirit choices, then you might be in luck. Japanese researchers have invented a way of producing an alcoholic drink made from wood.

The researchers at Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute have developed an alcoholic beverage made from tree bark, which they believe resembles the qualities of an alcohol aged in wooden barrels.

They hope to have their ‘wood alcohol’ on shelves within three years.

Now when we’re talking about “wood alcohol”, we’re not talking about the stand-in term for methanol, the main ingredient in racing fuel, moonshine and formaldehyde. After all, even drinking a small amount of methanol can make you go blind or kill you. 

What the Japanese researchers have developed is in fact Ethanol, and therefore completely safe. 

“Our method can make it drinkable, and with a wood flavour, because it does not require high heat or sulphuric acid to decompose the wood,” researcher Kengo Magara, Ph.D. told AFP.

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The new, intoxicating beverage has thus far been prepared using Cedar, Birch, and Cherry wood. Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute has a large remit to study the country’s woods and forests, but Mr Magara acknowledged that inventing a new form of booze was a little unusual.

Yet with the increasing desire for bespoke products, especially in the spirits world, Magara believes that the wood alcohol would definitely have a market. 

They hope to partner with a business to sell wood alcohol within the next few years, drawing upon trees from across Japan to create regional flavours and styles of hard alcohol.

“We thought it would be interesting to think that alcohol could be made from something around here like trees,” he said.

They began the process by mashing wood into a pulp, similar to the first step of making paper. But whereas paper makers would add bleach to the mix, they introduced active yeast and an enzyme to start the fermentation process, before distilled the mixture.  

Having experimented with both brewed and distilled versions of the alcohol, the team said that the alcohol presents better as a distilled beverage, with 4kg of cedar wood producing around 3.8 litres of liquid, with an alcohol content of around 15 percent, similar to that of Japan’s much-loved sake.

By avoiding using heat, the researchers believe that they are able to preserve the specific flavour of each trees wood, which they believe mimics the taste of liquor aged in a cask.

“Japan has plenty of trees across the nation and we hope people can enjoy wood alcohols that are specialised from each region,” Magara said.

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