I was contacted this summer by writer Alan Goldfarb of The Verge to solicit my opinion on ‘synthetic whiskey’ as part of his dissection of a company called “Endless West.” I enjoyed our conversation. I enjoyed learning about Endless West even more. The goal of CEO (and Harvard MBA) Alec Lee is straightforward. Create a whiskey to love by mixing the constituent chemicals in alcohol and water. How hard could that be? After all, a typical bottle of whiskey is 40% alcohol, 60% water and only 1% additives. In truth, it should be simple if you know the components. The challenge is that we don’t know what all these molecules are nor how subtle changes in composition affect how they interact.
But how can’t you love what Lee and Endless West are up to? Indeed, Alec Lee may be my new hero. Here’s why. Chemists of today are different than those from earlier generations. Gone are the days of using chemistry sets unsupervised in the basement with the desire to create something dangerous that, ideally, would ignite or at least produce a stench. I didn’t get that chance. Most of us missed it. We were left out. Prudence prevailed. But now, we have people like Alec who have discovered a brand new chemistry set to play with. And while explosions are not likely to be outcome, from the sidelines, I do hope to watch things catch fire for him.