Endless West are forgoing distilleries for the science lab to reinvent the ancient art of whiskey making, winning awards along the way. CTO Mardonn Chua explains how.
Backed by Hong Kong-based and Li Ka Shing-led Horizons Ventures, backers of the likes of Siri and DeepMind, Endless West is a San Francisco-based molecular spirit brand that wants to transform the way we think about how spirits are made. Overturning the traditional means of ageing whiskey in wooden barrels, Endless West’s whiskey Glyph is concocted in a lab, synthesised from start to finish, and the first of its kind in the liquor market. Founded in 2015, the company launched its first product in 2018 and is now focused on expanding its reach in Asia – a continent home to some very avid whiskey drinkers. “The way we create Glyph unites both art and science. We want the marriage between craft and innovation to shine through our brand,” says CTO Mardonn Chua. He talked to Hive Life about forsaking distilleries for a science lab.
Coming from a biochemistry background, Mardonn and his cofounders have always believed in the creative capacity of science. “From a young age, I’ve been captivated by the creative potential of science. I am fascinated with examining how things work, how one can take things apart and rebuild them anew.” Endless West aims to breakdown the essence of what traditional whiskeys are made of, quite literally. And it all rests on their core thesis that everything can be distilled down to its natural components and remade. “We map the molecular composition of whiskey. This means understanding what components contribute to a drink’s aroma, flavour, and texture. Then, we create a formula and blend all our ingredients together to create Glyph.”
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Embossed in gold, Endless West’s motto is accentuated on the Glyph bottle: “Tradition is born from rebellion.” This process of making whiskey molecule by molecule is part of their larger goal to challenge the status quo of ancient, long-practised production methods. “A glyph is a symbol that represents a larger idea or action. We call our product “Glyph” because, as the world’s first molecular whiskey, it symbolises a modern approach to crafting spirits. Glyph challenges conventional wisdom about whiskey, and Endless West rethinks how we approach production in the industry as a whole,” says Mardonn. “When refrigeration was first invented, ice freezers were referred to as ‘artificial ice,’ whereas ‘ice’ was meant to refer to the frozen lakes. Nowadays, does it matter where your ice comes from?”
So, how is their hard stuff actually made? “We use analytical chemistry for the identification and quantitation of molecules.” It sounds like a complicated process, but Mardonn explains that those molecules are actually found close to home. “We source them directly from nature, from items such as plants and fruits. Some examples are ethanol, which we obtain from corn, different acids from citrus, and sugars from sugar cane. Glyph combines different molecules to create a whiskey that’s ready to drink in a day – there is no need for ageing, fermentation, or distillation.”
Encased within their glass bottles is a medium-bodied, pale amber whiskey with warm aromas of vanilla, hazelnut, caramel and an earthy finish. “Our goal was to create an exceptionally smooth, easy-sipping beverage that could be enjoyed by those who are new to whiskey and longtime fans of the spirit. We have been thrilled and honoured to have entered and won several spirits competitions with Glyph. I think the awards speak for themselves with regards to the taste and quality of the product we have created,” says Mardonn. Glyph’s unique taste has allowed them to rack up Gold Medals in both the 2019 North American Bourbon and Whiskey Competition and the San Diego Wine & Spirits Challenge. But, does it stand up to traditionally-aged whiskey? “Scientifically, we can identify the molecules that give aged whiskey its taste. But, we can’t manufacture the romance that some people associate with an aged whiskey. Even if we could, I don’t think we would want to. Our story is different, and that’s what sets us apart from all the other brands,” explains Mardonn.
Already available in over 400 bars and retailers across the US, Endless West now has its eyes on Hong Kong. “Horizons Ventures helped pave the way for the accelerated launch of Glyph in Hong Kong. With a diverse restaurant and bar culture, Hong Kong is an ideal market for us. I think a product that challenges conventional wisdom is inherently intriguing no matter what country you’re from,” he says. And, although Glyph may be its first product, the company doesn’t plan on stopping here. “We’re creating a new method of production that can have far-reaching sustainability and ethical advantages,” says Mardonn. “I hope it will force the industry to create food and beverage products of higher quality. What if we, as a society, can produce any food anywhere, with a touch of a button? Sustainability and ethics are a much larger driving/purchasing force for younger generations. We’ll continue to see profound change.”