Japan's New 'Wood Alcohol' Made from Trees Makes You Drunk, Not Blind

This is the good wood alcohol.

Japan's New 'Wood Alcohol' in the glass
Unsplash / Jakub Dziubak

A particular ennui arises when you’re separated from the natural world, and the problem seems to grow more intractable by the day. But despondent urbanites might soon be able to reinvigorate that lost connection with nature through libations. A team of Japanese scientists has invented a new type of wood alcohol — and this one is safe to drink.

Generally, “wood alcohol” is a stand-in term for methanol, a main ingredient in racing fuel, moonshine and formaldehyde. Methanol is made by distilling fermented wood, and it is extremely toxic. Even drinking a small amount of methanol can make you go blind or kill you, because blood becomes dangerously acidic after the body metabolizes methanol. The researchers from Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute told AFP on Monday that their invention, however, is ethanol — and therefore totally potable.

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 to catalyze the fermentation process. Finally, they distilled the mixture, yielding eight pints of 30-proof liquor from almost nine pounds of cedar. They say it tastes woody, like liquor aged in a cask.

We already put leaves in our drinks. Why not go all the way?

Unsplash / Wine Dharma

Typically, the wood distillation process requires boiling a mixture of wood pulp and water. This method produces methanol, the kind of wood alcohol that you shouldn’t drink. But the researchers found a way to avoid using heat in production, thereby preserving the flavor and ensuring that the beverage was safe for consumption.

“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.

The new, intoxicating beverage was created by researchers at Japan’s Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, a government-funded venture that studies any and all things forest-related. Thus far, the team has prepared liquor using cedar, birch, and cherry. 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 flavors and styles of hard alcohol.

Wood alcohol will probably appeal to many high-minded alcohol lovers, given the bespoke cultural preferences of our time. It might sound a little pretentious, but who hasn’t wanted to drink a tree?

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