To quote Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum), “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” He was referring to cloning dinosaurs, but he could have just as easily been talking about booze made in a lab.
As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday, startup Endless West has unveiled a pair of “molecular” spirits meant to resemble Italian sparking wine and Japanese sake. Made not from grapes or rice, but water, ethanol and flavoring molecules, the drinks can’t legally be sold as wine or sake. Instead, Gemello (Italian for “twin”), their Moscato-substitute, is labeled as “neutral spirits with carbonation, natural flavors, caramel color and beta carotene for color.”
Endless West uses a process of gas/liquid chromatography, common in the world of perfumes, to analyze spirits and give them a list of molecular “ingredients” to build a synthetic version in a laboratory. The startup hopes that one day this technological process may allow for the recreation of rare, or no-longer-produced spirits for mass consumption.
While the new creations may represent a step forward for booze science, don’t expect the project to turn out reverse-engineered Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon or Macallan 1926 just yet. There are still some issues to work out in the flavor department. One VinePair reviewer noted that Glyph, Endless West’s “whiskey,” which debuted in 2018, tastes like “imitation vanilla, schoolyard wood chips, and rubbing alcohol” — so synthetic whiskey isn’t exactly the polyester of booze just yet.
Just like Robert Oppenheimer, Endless West has opened a technological door that can’t be closed. Nevertheless, maybe the old methods are still the best.