TSUKUBA, Ibaraki Prefecture--Scientists have developed a method to produce liquor from trees, but the beverage is not out of the woods just yet.

The Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute said its alcoholic drinks made from cherry, Japanese cedar and Japanese white birch trees feature not only unique aromas but also flavors similar to brandy and wine.

The research team plans to make the world’s first “alcoholic beverages made from wood” commercially available within three years.

But the wood-brewed liquor must first pass safety standards and obtain licenses for production and marketing from tax authorities.

Yuichiro Otsuka, a senior researcher at the institute, said a number of drinks are flavored with wood through aging in barrels or casks, but no alcoholic drinks have been produced directly from wood.

The difficulty lies in the cell walls of trees; they are so hard that micro-organisms cannot decompose or ferment them.

Chemical agents can decompose the cell walls, but this process creates an alcohol unfit for consumption, so it is used for fuel or other purposes.

The researchers developed a chemical-free method to break down the cell walls.

They removed the bark and soaked the wood in natural water, then processed it with ceramic balls 2 millimeters in diameter in a blender.

The processed wood was fermented in tanks for two to four days, during which time yeasts and other ingredients were added. This produced an amber-colored liquid of 2 percent alcohol by volume.

Distilling the liquid resulted in 30-proof clear alcohol.

The drink brewed from cherry trees features a subtly sweet flavor like wine. The one based on Japanese white birch tastes like brandy, while the Japanese cedar liquor boasts a dry aroma of conifer wood.

“There are many other kinds of trees in Japan,” Otsuka said. “I want to produce liquor based on them and make the drinks available.”