Alcohol made from wood looks set to become a reality

Alcoholic beverages with flavours reminiscent of whisky aged in wooden barrels have been produced by fermenting cedar, white birch and cherry trees.

Four kilograms of wood yielded 3.8 litres of liquid, with an alcohol content of about 15 per cent – similar to sake.

“We are looking forward to commercialising this ‘wood sake,’ so that the usage of wood will be expanded,” an official at the Institute of Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute said.

Alcoholic fermentation of wood is not a new concept, having long formed a crucial part of the process involved with the production of biofuels.

However, the major difference between this pre-existing method and the new method developed by the Institute is the elimination of the need for wood materials to be processed either with sulphuric acid or exposed to high temperatures to dissolve the plant fibres from which the alcohol is produced. This not only eliminates the distinctive woody flavour, but also renders the resultant alcohol unsuitable for human consumption, due to the presence of harmful substances.

The Institute’s method differs in that it has developed technology capable of crushing wood into microscopic chips, through churning wood in water along with a large number of tiny metal balls. Yeast and enzymes are therefore able to dissolve the plant fibres without the need for sulphuric acid or exposure to high temperatures, making it safe to drink and maintaining the aroma of the wood.

According to the Institute, this method is a world first.

Once safety and a number of other details have been confirmed, the Institute hopes to commercialise the world’s first wood-based alcoholic drinks within the next three years.