Lifestyle & Culture

Disrupting the Spirit Space with Molecular Made Alcohol

Is whisky a product or a process? A more complicated question than you might think.

14.05.2019 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by Endless West on Endless West
Photo by Endless West on Endless West

Churchill, Sinatra, Faulkner — just a few of history’s famous whisky drinkers — the epitomes of gentlemanly masculinity and poster boys for high-functioning alcoholism. What would they think of molecularly made whisky that has skirted barrel ageing and distillation and can be made overnight? Maybe it is best that they are not around to be served Glyph, the spirit that employs these blasphemous processes to create a beverage that, well, tastes and looks a lot like whiskey.

Enter Endless West, the California based company that creates Glyph.

The distinctive and sought after aromas, tastes and fiery warmth in the mouth of traditional whiskeys are owing to hundreds (sometimes thousands), of molecules that develop during the process of distillation and barrel ageing. These molecules are the building blocks of all spirits. However, Endless West claims that by identifying the exact types of molecules, proportions and isolated compounds present in the worlds finest aged whiskeys, they have managed to create a biochemical equivalent.

“To make Glyph, we source these molecules directly from plants and yeasts, rather than obtaining them through distilling and ageing. By using the same building blocks as conventional distillers, we create fine spirits through a process we’ve developed called note-by-note production,” explained Endless West on their incredibly sleek website.

The process involves 3 main steps. Firstly the scientific brewers map the constellation of the molecules (or notes) to create the profile of the spirit — its precise flavour, aroma, and mouthfeel.

Then using a grain neutral spirit derived from corn as their source of alcohol and their blank canvas for flavour they gather those molecules mentioned above from resource-efficient natural sources — esters found in fruit, sugars found in cane and corn, and acids found in citrus and wood.

Lastly, they blend their ingredients together in small batches and hand-bottle the finished product in the historic and artsy Dogpatch neighbourhood in San Francisco.

The pale amber whiskey apparently yields subtle aromas of vanilla, roasted hazelnuts, and hints of caramel and honey with a spicy/woody medium-bodied palate, whispers of black-fruit and a firm-earthy finish.

Despite what whiskey sommeliers may feel about their beloved beverage of choice being created in a hipster area of California — overnight, having never seen the inside of a barrel — molecularly made alcohols may well be the future of drinking.

In recent years, as whiskey has regained popularity and is appealing to the millennial market, supply has struggled to keep up with demand and the long, costly ageing times have become a luxury.

One of the problems that Endless West has faced though, is that without being aged in a wooden barrel, they cannot class their product as straight whiskey, but it also goes deeper than that. Each country has its own legally-determined definition of what makes a whiskey, and sub-types must adhere to different production and maturation methods in order to earn legal classification.

Still, many of your favourite legit whiskey’s may be full of additives, E numbers and colourants. For example in Scotland, even the top shelf single malts can legally add E150 or caramel colouring to add that distinctive honey brown hue and in Canada up to 9.09 percent of a bottle can be made up of any wine.

In the US, Glyph legally qualifies as a ‘spirit whiskey’ but given the products radical and relatively cheap production process that produces a great tasting product — Endless West may have lit the fires of a revolution that could disrupt the global whiskey market.

Arvind Gupta, founder IndieBio, one of Endless West’s investors certainly seems to think so: “The potential of this business is on the scale of an Uber, where you can reinvent an industry through changing scarcity to abundance. If Endless West can create extremely well-designed beverages that rival what is extremely expensive, for not quite as expensive, then what are those traditional industries going to have to do? They’re going to have to evolve and provide a better product at a lower price point. And that’s just great for everybody.”

Glyph is currently available at select bars and retailers in San Francisco, CA and Brooklyn, NY, with more locations to come.

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