Japanese Scientists Transform Stiff Wood into a Stiff Drink
Rather than tap trees for sap, a team of Japanese researchers branched out and developed a new way to make alcohol using wood. The "wood alcohol" could be served to customers as early as 2021.
The creation comes from the minds at Japan's Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute. The bark-based beverages would offer the same woody notes found in alcohol aged in wooden barrels (like bourbon).
The process is surprisingly simple, the team explained in a press release. Wood is pulverized into a paste. Then, yeast and an enzyme begin a fermentation process that transforms the paste into a drinkable tipple.
This also takes out the element of heat, which the researchers said better preserves the flavors unique to each tree and its wood. They've created alcohol from cedar, birch and cherry wood.
Kengo Magara served as one of the researchers for the unique alcohol. He said wood fermentation already helps make biofuels. However, that process leads to a toxic and flavorless result. Those creations are definitely not ones you'd want to put in mixers, Magara noted.
"But 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," Magara said.
Magara and the team discovered that roughly 4 kg (8.8 lbs) of the cedar wood yielded 3.8 liters (8 pints) of liquids. The alcohol content from the wood alcohol is surprisingly high, the team noted. The liquid comes in at roughly 15 percent alcohol content, rivaling Japan's popular sake and sake-inspired beverages.
"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."
Trees have historically been on of Japan's most reliable resources. Approximately 25 million hectares of forests cover the island, making up 67 percent of the country. That's over twice the global average for tree coverage. Japan's plantation tree population (including trees planted by man rather than in natural forests) largely consists of coniferous trees. Cedar, Japanese cypress and Japenese larch trees make up over 90 percent of Japan's plantation forests.
"Japan has plenty of trees across the nation and we hope people can enjoy wood alcohols that are specialised from each region," Magara said.
The Japanese government-run institute wants to commercialize the process and the business by partnering with a group in the private sector. The faster the group finds a business partner and perfects the 'brewing' methods, the faster this unique "good wood" alcohol can be on shelves and in the hands of consumers.