By Kirk Miller / May 14, 2019

Can You Create Great Whiskey In a Lab? This Startup Says Yes.

We had a taste of Glyph, a molecular whiskey that uses science in lieu of aging

Glyph
Glyph is a new whiskey that can be created in a lab overnight (Endless West)

Like any whiskey maker, San Francisco’s Endless West has a great story behind their hooch.

But their story doesn’t involve bootlegging or secret mashbills passed down for generations. Theirs is a story of science.

Endless West recently debuted Glyph, a lab-made whiskey that claims to replicate the flavors and aromas of a spirit that’s been aging in barrels … without the actual aging or barreling.

“Glyph is biochemically equivalent to the finest aged whiskies,” they say, and while it did get government approval, it’s being sold not as whiskey but as “spirit whiskey.” One rep for Glyph told us, “A lot regulations at the TTB have been around since Prohibition, so this is sort of new territory for them.”

So why and how did they do it? And most importantly, is it any good? We recently shared a tipple with the creators to find out exactly that.

What was the thought process?

“We asked, ‘Can you take something like a whiskey or wine, so steeped in tradition and history, and deconstruct it in a way that looks at everything that makes it uniquely itself at a molecular level?’” says Alec Lee, the CEO and co-founder of Endless West. “Can you source individual molecules from a plant, a yeast or a fruit, somewhere in nature, and can you treat those like pigments of paint, recombine from scratch, build from the ground up and create a unique expression?”

What do traditional distillers think?

“Other distillers have been mostly open to us and curious. Some even collaborative,” said Mardonn Chua, the CTO and co-founder of Endless West. “I think they’re tasting it and it’s opening them up to new ideas — if you can make whiskey this way, how much more can we push whiskey on how its made and its flavor?”

What do we think about this?

Chua told us Glyph took its inspiration from the softer flavors of Japanese whisky and sherry-casked Scotches like The Macallan. And that seems fair — this is a very smooth whiskey without a lot of heat (or, admittedly, character); there’s little on the nose, and it tastes young, but it’s no white dog. It was perfectly fine to sip on its own, a bit weak-kneed with ice but pretty solid in a cocktail.

Will this work?

Neither big nor craft whiskey companies have anything to worry about, at least for now. But the mere existence of Glyph proves there’s more than one way to craft a spirit, and it could lead to an entire new category of booze — and one that should improve with, ironically, experience.

Where can I try this?

Glyph is available in San Francisco and New York. You can also try it at the Wall Street Journal Future of Everything Festival in New York from May 20-23, where Endless West will be bringing their lab.