Investment

Whiskey without grain, wine without grapes – now being backed by family offices

Unlikely as it seems, Endless West of San Francisco has started to use molecular science to manufacture white wine without grapes and sake without rice.

Their launch this year follows Endless West’s earlier production of whiskey without grain. The venture is backed by several family offices and wealthy individuals.

Gupta does not lack vision. He believes the human race will have no option but to reinvent its “ruinous” means of production to avoid planetary doom

Endless West mixes molecules from a range of sources to develop flavours which replicate the taste of traditional manufacture, with a twist.  

It is part of a digital trend revolutionising food manufacture through processes which have won the backing of several wealthy individuals such as Bill Gates. 

Meatless ventures made from plants or animal cells include Beyond Meat, Redefine Meat and Impossible Foods. Another start-up called NotCo uses AI to mix together plant-based alternatives for a range of foods. 

Drinks companies like Replica Wine and Cleveland Whiskey use technology to enhance traditional products, but Endless West is going the whole way. 

Its backers are led by Arvind Gupta (also a backer to NotCo) who started his career as an options trader with Microsoft and went on to back biotech ventures now worth billions.  

He has repeatedly backed Endless West for IndieBio, as well as its parent SOSV, although Gupta decided to quit them to join Mayfield, a rival venture capital firm, in June.

Gupta does not lack vision. He believes the human race will have no option but to reinvent its “ruinous” means of production to avoid planetary doom.  

He reckons its re-engineering could lead to opportunities worth $100 trillion. He sees a big future for sustainable ventures like Endless West, arguing it has the potential to scale up like Uber.

Horizons Ventures, led by Solina Chau and backed by billionaire Li-Ka Shing has also included Endless West on its roster. 

North-East Family Office of Denmark is another investor. Chief investment officer Jan-Ole Hansen views molecular science as important to its VC portfolio, as Family Capital explained recently.  

Ataria, which finds opportunities for family offices in Latin America, has invested along with FJ Labs, backed by Fabrice Grinda of France, a prolific angel investor. 

Endless West, then called Ava Winery, started its molecular alcohol business in 2016 by manufacturing a whiskey spirit called Glyph, using water and ethanol as a base solution. 

Rather than going through the costly and time-consuming process of distillation and lengthy maturation, it identified the molecules which produced a good whiskey and mixed them into a spirit resembling the real thing, as if it had matured in sherry casks. 

The product tasted like a whiskey, but didn’t pass itself off as the real thing. Endless West says it wants to exist alongside traditional manufacturers, rather than seeking to supplant them.

Reviewers were not entirely convinced Glyph deserved its $40 a bottle price tag. But it enjoyed strong support from its distributor, Blackwell’s Wines and Spirits. It has won three silver blind tasting awards, plus accreditation from the American Distilling Institute.  

This year Endless West produced a synthetic wine called Gemello, at $15 a bottle, and a sake called Kazuku, at $10.

To illustrate its technique, chief executive Alec Lee points out molecules which taste like sauvignon white wine can be found in green peppers, as well as grapes. Drinks needing vanilla can use pods or use the same molecules, available from wood, fungi or yeast.  

In each case, the proportion of different molecules used for each spirit makes a big difference, as with cocktails. 

Endless West’s products require fewer natural resources and generate less carbon than alcohol would require. They use less water and land. Because drinks can be mixed locally, shipment costs can be avoided. 

All this makes a sustainable package capable of catching on if, of course, Endless West passes the taste test. 

 

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