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Nutraceutical-Enhanced Alcoholic Beverages Gaining Popularity

Aug. 7, 2008
The idea of “better-for-you booze” might seem like an oxymoron, but brewers and distillers are toasting the emerging market for nutraceutical-enhanced alcoholic beverages.

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You could say the idea of healthy booze began with the so-called “French Paradox.” When researchers found the French, who drink wine and enjoy rich cheeses and butter, had lower rates of cardiovascular disease rates than Americans, some reasoned that it must be something in the wine. It turns out they were correct, at least in part.

Today, a slew of compounds in wine are known to help protect against heart disease and cancer. Quercitin, ellagic acid, resveratrol and other polyphenolic compounds are examples of such ingredients. Ethanol itself is also known, in moderation, to help prevent heart disease. In fact, new research suggests a number of other heath benefits springing from both polyphenols and ethanol, including cold and flu prevention and the bactericidal action against the Streptococcus mutans bug, which is implicated as the cause of cavities.

While there are no intrinsic health components in a malt beverage, a splash of pomegranate can turn a wine cooler into a nutraceutical.

However, not everyone drinks alcohol, and even those who do might not necessarily desire to consume enough to derive sufficient physical benefit. Still, there’s no denying the value of such beneficial compounds.

Over the past several years, this has translated into a growth market for companies extracting the valuable wine phytochemicals and providing them to a rapidly growing healthy food, beverage and supplement industry. Companies such as San Joaquin Valley Concentrates (www.activin.com), Fresno, Calif.; Polyphenolics Inc. (www.polypheolics.com), Madera, Calif.; and Metagenics Inc. (www.metagenics.com), San Clemente, Calif. now form a part of this multimillion-dollar business.


Infusing nutraceutical compounds or botanical extracts into alcohol makes sense. Even up until the beginning of past century, pharmacists often made medicines in the same manner. Pharmaceutical labs today often use ethanol in similar, albeit more complicated, lab-controlled processes.

Last year, p.i.n.k. Spirits Co. (www.pinkspirits.com), New York, rolled out its line of infused spirits. The company’s six products in the line include vodka, tequila, rum, sake, white whiskey and gin, all laced with guarana and caffeine. Guarana, a berry grown in the northern regions of Brazil and Venezuela, contains a caffeine-like compound called guaranine. However, its effects are said to be more “even,” without caffeine’s jittery side effects.

As the “first company in the world to create ultra-premium alcohol that does not make the consumer tired,” the p.i.n.k. line was created “to enable consumers to enjoy their favorite cocktails while experiencing the benefits of caffeine and guarana,” according to David Mandell, president and CEO.

The p.i.n.k. line was created to enable consumers to enjoy their favorite cocktails while experiencing the benefits of caffeine and guarana.

The challenge, however, is that guarana is dark colored and has a tart, almost bitter flavor. “It took nearly two years to create a formula that would not compromise the integrity of our vodka,” explains Mandell. “Working with Clarendon Flavor Engineering (www.clarendonflavors.com), Louisville, Ky., the p.i.n.k. Spirits Co. developed a unique process to extract the all-natural functional components of the guarana berry, while removing its native dark color and tart flavor.” The result is a flavorless blend of caffeine and guarana, which the company infuses into an ultra-premium Dutch vodka base following distillation.

The new San Francisco-based distillery Lotus Vodka (www.lotusvodka.com) launched its core brand vodka enhanced with B vitamins — allegedly in such concentration that two drinks provides all your daily B needs. “Allegedly” because legally the company cannot make any such vitamin or health claims about its product. Lotus recently followed with its Blue Lotus brand vodka containing caffeine, taurine and guarana.

Green Drinks

The organic side of the health equation has made big leaps. Although organic wines have been around for years, only lately have makers of vodka, gin, whiskey and rum caught on to the marketing — and possibly health-related — positives of going organic.

It’s “London Dry” and a product of England, but Maison Jomere/Organic Spirit’s gin wears the USDA organic seal.  Sometimes “better-for-you” is about what's been left out as opposed to what's been infused in.

Maison Jomere Ltd./Organic Spirits Co. (www.maisonjomere.com), Plaistow, N.H., pioneered the production of organic whiskey from its 350-year-old distillery. Research is suggesting there could be some important health benefits to people who drink single malt whiskies. Single malts contain the phytochemical ellagic acid, studied as a powerful anti-cancer antioxidant. In fact, whiskeys have more ellagic acid than red wine.

Other phytochemicals are being discovered in aged spirits and are believed to be derived from the wood, such as oak, of the barrels in which they are aged as well as the botanical ingredients from which they are derived.

“Our spirits are better for you and better for the Earth in that we not only make an organic product from organic ingredients but our packaging, too, is from sustainable sources and recycled materials,” explains Paul Davis, president of Maison Jomere Ltd./Organic Spirits Co. (www.maisonjomere.com), Plaistow, N.H. “Organic, from any ethical point of view should also be sustainable.”

Although Organic Spirits’ health angle is more about what hasn’t been added than what has, Davis points out the undeniable advantage of a pure, organic product. “Our distillate is totally free of congeners [impurities, such as PCBs or natural but undesired chemical compounds produced or added during fermentation] and virtually free of trace methanol. We infuse this pure distillate with organic botanicals.”

Whether enough phytochemical content from these botanicals ends up in the final product to make a significant difference healthwise requires more research, “but removing negatives,” reminds Davis, “is also a positive.”

This trend is far from a fad. Not only are restaurants and bars clamoring for “better” alcohols, some hotel chains have bought into the long-term value of providing organic and sustainable amenities.

“Marriott are so sincere in their dedication to ‘going green’ they’re working with us to supply them with our organic white rum — made from pure sugar cane from a single plantation in Paraguay — and gin,” says Davis. The company’s organic commitment also extends beyond what’s in the bottle. Its products come in100-percent recycled glass and are packaged in biodegradable packaging.

Sake2me LLC’s self-named Japanese-style sake is a new entrant in the flavored alcoholic beverage category. Inherent health benefits are not apparent, but it trades on the health association of its flavors: Green Tea, Ginger Mango, Asian Pear and Yuzu Citrus.

Last summer, McCormick Distillery Inc. (www.vodka360.com), launched its brand of eco-friendly spirit, 360 Vodka. 360 is bottled using 85-percent recycled glass and biodegradable packaging. Also, as a part of its overall green efforts, McCormick donates $1 to environmental organizations for every 360 Vodka bottle closure returned through its “360 Close the Loop” program.

Grown from the hardy and healthful agave cactus, tequila is one of the most likely candidates for an organic revolution. But so far the only certified organic tequila readily available is from 4 Copas USA Inc. (www.4copas.com), San Clemente, Calif. The company’s multigenerational distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, uses pure blue agave grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Although the health benefits of agave syrup are well known, it remains to be determined if they make it through the distillation process intact. Following other “good for you, good for the Earth” paradigms, 4 Copas also markets a limited edition “sea turtle” bottle with proceeds going to Seaturtle.org, a non-profit organization for sea turtle conservation research.

While the wine and beer industries have been engaged in promoting their respective health benefits or organic offerings, spirits are a comparative Johnny-come-lately. But the demand for alcohol with a different sort of kick has allowed them to enjoy a healthy share of the healthier-drink marketplace.

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