Quinoa is making the transition from your salad to your whiskey, but it’s not as strange as it sounds.
Whiskey is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain, also known as a “grain” spirit. Currently, under federal law, grain is limited to corn, rye, barley, and wheat, but this is soon expected to change.
According to a proposal distributed by the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Burea (TTB), the grain family is on track to include a new member. It suggests a new definition for which crops count as grains in reference to the labeling of wine, beer, and spirits.
Per the new TTB proposal, the list of whiskey grains now includes cereal grains and the seeds of the pseudocereals amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa. The proposal further states that the Food and Drug Administration has also created a drafted guideline in which pseudocereal will be classified in the same category as whole grain.
The proposed document is up for public comment until March 26, 2019. If it receives positive feedback, the beverage industry will have a whole new mandate of ingredients they can experiment with and advertise on their packaging.
Even though the proposed legislation hasn’t been passed, some distillers have already been utilizing the seeds in the creation of their spirits for years now. Corsair Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee has been incorporating quinoa in their distilling process to formulate whiskey since 2011.
The whiskey’s product description on the Corsair website reads that “Quinoa adds an earthy and nutty flavor to the whiskey. Quinoa seeds come in red, white, and black varieties. This whiskey uses red and white quinoa grains.” The founder of Corsair Distillery, Darek Bell, said he was initially encouraged to test out whiskey because of its perceived health benefits.
“We started looking at a whole lot of grains that were coming out of sort of the health food movement, the green movement,” Bell said to NRP. “We’re thinking, ‘What would it taste like to distill this?'”
Initially, the TTB wanted Corsair’s whiskey to be classified as a “quinoa rum” or as a “neutral spirit.” However, the name was not reflective of the distilling process used to create the drink. Ultimately the United States Department of Agriculture agreed that the product met the required grain count the be classified as a whiskey after approval from a member of the TTB.
This discussion sparked the TTB to submit the formal proposal to include quinoa as a whiskey grain on December 3, 2018. After public comment, the proposal will then be subject to approval by the Treasury Department. However, there is no timeline for final approval.
Colin Blake a director of spirits of education at Moon Shine University, states that this change in ingredients makes for an exciting time in the beverage industry,
“And I think it’s fantastic for the category that people can start making what can be classified as whiskey with these new grains,” Blake said to WFPL.
Thus, opening the door for students and distillers to explore new ingredients and create innovative products.