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A sustainable toast

A lab-made wine and spirits has a new formula to reduce carbon emission by shaping molecular alcoholic beverages.

by Anna Volpicelli
03 June 2020
6 min read
byAnna Volpicelli
03 June 2020
6 min read

Wine and spirits tastings have always been a means of pleasure and carrier of old traditions. While drinking a good glass of red or a whiskey on the rocks can delight one's palate, the environment could suffer because of it.

Research from the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) shows the carbon footprint of spirits' distillations account for between 36% and 40% of these emissions. A spirits' glass bottle contributes to between 19% and 20%. The remainder is accounted for by warehousing and transportation, which makes the greatest carbon print via air shipment and trucking.
Endless West, a San Francisco-based start-up, is trying to change that. Founded in 2016 by Alec Lee, Mardonn Chua and Josh Decolongon, who met at the British Columbia University in Vancouver while studying science, the company is disrupting the beverage industry by making the world's first molecular spirits and white wine.According to Alec Lee, co-founder and CEO of Endless West, the company's goal is to make high-quality wines and spirits more accessible to a broader audience, but more importantly, to withstand the unpredictable changes in climate that are affecting the industry.

A molecular spirits and wine lab

Far beyond the use of traditional techniques, like barrel aging, for instance, Endless West uses a fraction of the usual resources: less wood, water, energy, and land. Everything is made in its 1,800-square-foot labs, located in the Dogpatch district, where a group of scientists and chemists are led by Josh Decolongon, 26, Endless West's co-founder, chief of product and sommelier. The team produces a series of molecule alcoholic beverages by using gas chromatography, mass spectrometer machines and a liquid handling robot, which features a series of test tubes that are filled with liquid from wines and spirits.“There is nothing in our process that isn't found in the traditional one. The difference is that we look at traditional beverages at a molecular level to figure out the taste of our products. We found these molecular components in nature, like fruits, vegetable, and yeast," explains Decolongon.Endless West's molecular process is developed in a few steps. It starts by extracting the natural components of carbohydrates, sugars, proteins, amino acids and lipids that are included in the wine or spirit, then isolates the neutral distillates or grain alcohol and adds everything to the recipe to synthetically formulate the beverage. “As we make everything in the lab we can craft our flavors profile overnight," says Decolongon.

A note-by-note wine and spirits making process

In almost four years, the company has already brought to market a molecular whiskey, Glyph; a molecular white wine, Gemello; and a sake, Kazoku. Each product requires 90% less of wood and 40% less agricultural land and water than traditional methods. In addition, there are no pesticides. By using the same building blocks as conventional distillers, they create fine spirits throughout a process they called note-by-note production.Gemello, for instance, contains no grapes and is made entirely from flavor and aroma molecules sourced more efficiently from plants, fruits, and yeasts, like the ethyl butanoate found in peaches. Kazoku is made without fermenting rice, and Glyph ingredients are directly sourced from plants and yeasts.“Our whiskey has a 9% water reduction, and our —95% less water. Most of all our product [generates] 45% less in carbon emissions," says Decolongon.
As the company is located in San Francisco they are able to reduce the carbon emission related to the transportation.“Vineyards are far away from the city, and the transportation [methods] required to carry the bottles to the city harm the climate," says the sommelier "We can open a lab in any metro area and make our products available to the boutique retail wine and spirit stores, avoiding all the carbon emission spread by the transportation."At the moment, Endless West products are available in the US, primarily in the Bay Area, New York, and major cities, as well as Hong Kong, as one of their investors is based here.If Endless West is the first US company to produce sustainable alcoholic beverages, Europe has been already experimenting with new green techniques. Founded in 2012 The Sustainable Spirit Co., a company based in London, UK, specialises in making high-quality and planet-friendly bottles. The array of products includes gin, vodka, rum and prosecco, all produced without using artificial additives or flavor. Most importantly all the spirits are available in Eco-pouches, 2.8L poly-laminate and reusable packaging, which has helped the company decrease carbon emission impact and wastage. According to the company website, in 2019, they have saved over 300,000 bottles from being thrown away, enough to cover 33 tennis courts. Over 200,000kg of carbon dioxide savings have also been made since introducing the Eco-refill concept.Other major companies like Diageo, Bacardi and Pernod Ricard are including in their business models the importance of sustainability by making their supply chains more eco-friendly.

As people are becoming more aware of their lifestyles impacts on the environment, the industry is trying to keep up with thoughtful ideas of wine and spirits making by respecting nature and is developing new packaging and transporting methods to reduce carbon emissions. As we all know changes come with daily gestures and as drinking a good glass of wine or a tasty rum is part of our culture, companies are committed to shift their productions by putting the care of the plant on the front line.

The author: Anna Volpicelli

Editor and journalist Il Sole 24 Ore, The San Francisco Chronicle, SOMA MAGAZINE, D la Repubblica delle Donne, L'Espresso (print & web), Marieclaire.it, A, Leiweb.it, Yoga Journal Italy, Vogue Sposa & Vogue Bambini.