Wood has been used to make alcohol since ancients times, but it tends to be of the toxic and disgusting variety reserved for illegal moonshine or antifreeze. It wasn’t until very recently that the Forest Research and Management Organization of Japan found a new way to make a far more palatable and non-lethal wood liqueur.
Unlike previous techniques such as the German wood spirit Holzbranntwein, these researchers developed a method to ferment wood without using any heat or strong acids to create a potable drink that also faithfully retains the aroma of the wood it is based on.
Instead, the wood is mechanically crushed into a paste and fermented with yeast and an enzyme, not unlike how rice is converted into sake. And much like sake, the Forest Research and Management Organization were able to brew the fermented wood paste into a drink with a roughly 15% alcohol content, but determined that the distilled version was better.
However, this was back in 2018. Occupied with their main tasks of researching and managing forests, this organization didn’t have the wherewithal to market and sell a whole new type of alcohol. So, this is where Ethical Spirits come in.
This Tokyo-based company specializes in creating alcoholic beverages out of things normally considered waste products. Their first hit was a gin made from the leftover sediment from sake brewing, known as lees. Last year they also released a line of gin made from Budweiser beer that went unsold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the case of wood, Ethical Spirits would use the Forest Research and Management Organization’s method to produce a distilled liqueur out of wood that normally have no industrial use, such as that yielded from forest thinning – the process of removing smaller trees from forests to help them grow and prevent fires.
The wide range of trees that exist will also result in an equally wide range of flavors, and not only the species but the age of the tree will have a factor in the drink’s taste. It’s similar to the way certain drinks are aged in special wood barrels, only this way you’re drinking the wood itself.
For their first batch, Ethical Spirits is planning on using the kuromoji, sugi, mizunara and cherry trees of Tokigawa Town in Saitama Prefecture. The latter two trees are said to produce a whiskey-like and fruity-tasting drink respectively.
Tokigawa is also the hometown of Hiroyasu Kayama, the proprietor of Shinjuku’s Bar Ben Fiddich, named one of “The World’s 50 Best Bars” and known for its organic herbal cocktails. Kayama is also heavily involved in this groundbreaking project titled WoodSpirits, so there’s high hopes for a tasty concoction.
However, before we can get our hands on perhaps the stiffest drink known to man, it still needs more research to confirm that it’s safe for mass consumption. The results are expected as early as 2022, after which anyone in Japan can enjoy a refreshing glass of wood.
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