A new vodka developed by an ISU professor guarantees to leave consumers with less of a hangover the next morning compared to any other brand.
Johannes van Leeuwen, professor in the department of civil, construction and environmental engineering, has succeeded in developing the purest vodka in the world.
Van Leeuwen said the vodka is fully produced in Iowa with Iowa corn and by Iowa entrepreneurs. IngeniOz — a combination of “ingenious” and “ozone” — has established an unmatched standard for vodka.
Van Leeuwen, originally born in Gouda, Netherlands, lived in South Africa and Australia before moving to the United States in 2000. He developed an interest in distillation from his brother, who made moonshine with a distillation kit when they lived in South Africa, where making moonshine is legal.
Using ozone, a gas produced by ultraviolet light or electrical voltages, for water purification is something van Leeuwen has been doing all his professional life. The idea to apply it to alcohol occurred to him 10 years ago.
“The idea just hit me — maybe it can also work in alcohol?” van Leeuwen said. “Nobody’s ever tried that, and bingo — it works!”
The distillation of alcohol was developed about 1,200 years ago by an Arab alchemist, van Leeuwen said. The process has improved somewhat since then, but it is still the same concept.
“This is the first additional technology to distillation in 1,200 years to improve alcohol products,” van Leeuwen said, an achievement that awarded him the title of Innovator of the Year in 2009 by R&D Magazine.
Van Leeuwen and his team began researching the ozone purification process of alcohol in 2006.
Jacek Koziel, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, made an important contribution to the research by using sensitive analytical equipment to determine the presence of impurities in vodka. Koziel’s equipment combined advanced separation techniques along with the trained human nose, which enabled the development of the purification process.
Van Leeuwen and his researchers won the grand prize for university research for their process in 2007 from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers.
“Since then, we’ve still been working on it and refining it [to be] better,” van Leeuwen said.
The purification process is a way of removing impurities by adding oxygen to the impurity molecule and then the oxygen-added product can be removed by activated carbon and nano-gold filtration, van Leeuwen said.
Ozone alone does not oxidize the impurities in alcohol away — it just changes them in a way they can then be removed more easily, van Leeuwen said.
Through ozone oxidation, activated carbon absorption and nano-noble-metal filtration, van Leeuwen achieved the point where there were no impurities left.
Impurities, or congeners, are the toxic chemicals formed during fermentation. According to research, the amount of congeners consumed contributes to the negative physical effects resulting from excessive drinking. The fewer the congeners, the less of a hangover consumers experience. While alcohol remains the main cause of hangover effects, removing all impurities can help, van Leeuwen said.
“At the same time, nobody should ever drink to the point where they get a hangover, and you won’t have that problem anyway,” van Leeuwen said. “Alcohol should always be used in moderation.”
Based on tests conducted on other vodkas for van Leeuwen’s research, Titos was found to have the highest number of impurities with 49, Ciroc with 39 and Absolut with 16. A list of the impurities in 14 top vodka brands is attached to each bottle of IngeniOz.
Van Leeuwen said that the significance of this new purification process extends beyond supplying the “prudent vodka drinker” with a vodka that is as pure as possible. Along with the scientific reasons for decreasing hangover effects, IngeniOz also creates another opportunity for an additional byproduct of the corn in Iowa.
“Iowa is the largest producer of corn in the world, but Iowa is not particularly known for making more byproducts out of the corn,” van Leeuwen said. “Having this additional product coming out of Iowa, rather than importers from all over the world, keeps the buck in Iowa and also creates job opportunities.”
IngeniOz, housed in Oz Spirits, LLC, is purified and bottled out of Iowa Distilling Co. in Cumming, Iowa. It is only being sold in Iowa currently. A 750-mililiter bottle sells for about $24.
In order to best appreciate the quality and smoothness of the vodka, van Leeuwen recommends drinking IngeniOz neat — undiluted — or by diluting it 1:1 with water.
Evan Chiappinelli, senior in design, was eager to try IngeniOz right after van Leeuwen recommended it. After taking his first sip, his reaction was as clear as the vodka itself.
“Oh my god," Chiappinelli said. "It’s super smooth, super sweet. It tastes exactly how vodka should taste."