Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Nothing Sacred In Vodka And Wine

Tinkering and adult beverage creation seem to go hand in hand.

For example, the global explosion in vodka products in the past decade or so has caused no end of controversy.

Imbibers and producers alike seem to be divided into two camps. One regards any vodka made with anything other than potatoes or grains to be a pretender. In the other camp are those who see nothing wrong with using various fruits and vegetables.

That debate has been entered into at the highest marketing levels within the European Community as laws governing such things in international commerce are reviewed and rewritten.

Meanwhile, flying below the radar at the moment, are artisanal vodka makers in various parts of the U.S. who don't give a fig — and, indeed, may even be using them — what the EC thinks, blithely going on about their business with anything they can turn into a neutral grain spirit.

The same seems to be going on with wine. While the most common base by far is grapes, various fruits have been used for centuries to create wine. A couple of examples in a cluster where New York, Massachusetts and Vermont come together near Albany, N.Y.:

–The Brookview Station Winery at the Goold Orchard near Albany turns out a line of apple wines.

–The North River Winery has a tasting room in Bennington, Vt., where you can try some of their 18 different wines made from apples, raspberries, pears, blueberries, cranberries — even rhubarb.

–Nearby in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, the Furnace Brook Winery at Hilltop Orchards makes wine and cider from apples to supplement its line of grape wines.

While not widely known, these places are anything but secret. What is getting little notice is winemaking using very unusual ingredients in places not usually thought about in connection with wine.

Like India and Ethiopia.

Experiments conducted at the Tea Research Association's Jorhat facility have resulted in a new product that will be put on the Indian market in about six months.

Mridul Hazarika, director of the TRA's Tocklai centre in Jorhat, claims, "We brewed wine out of pure tea. Of course, we have used some other requisite ingredients to whet the fermentation.

"The uniqueness of our product is that unlike the Japanese tea-based wine we don't mingle red wine with the beverage," Hazarika told Commodity "The Japanese tea-based wine producers mix the red wine in specific proportion to make the drink. But our base would be pure tea with some added flavors to exude the exotic aromas of Darjeeling and Assam teas."

The TRA earlier created tea tablets, ready-to-drink tea and tea biscuits. Pradeep Ghosh, a TRA senior consultant, explained: "The tablet is basically a fine form of quality brew carrying the flavor of popular varieties like Darjeeling and Assam. Consumers can chew it or can dissolve it in a cup of hot or cold water and then relish it as a drink."

In strife-torn, starving Ethiopia, a medical doctor/scientist has developed wine from khat, a leaf commonly chewed in East Africa and parts of the Middle East to extract its narcotic properties.

Dr. Eyasu Haile Selassie, who has made and distributed 500 bottles of the wine so far and is working on plans for full-scale commercial production, told the Retuers news agency, "Khat wine is just as good as any wine produced from grapes and has been well-received by wine drinkers."

Lest you think his wine would have a double-whammy from khat's amphetamine properties and the alcohol, Eyasu says khat leaves lose their narcotic qualities within 48 hours of harvest.


              (William M. Dowd covers the adult beverage world at

              c.2008 Hearst Newspapers