Disruptive technology may change the whisk(e)y industry

Mar 07, 2019

IT IS HARD to imagine a manufacturing process more sluggish than making whiskies. The most revered are aged for between 10 and 20 years. Innovation has also been slow. The last big breakthrough, patented in 1830, was a more efficient still. Barrel-ageing, which takes place after distillation, has been around for centuries. Without it the liquid has no colour and is unpalatable. Nor can it be called whisky under Scottish law.

Because whisky (or whiskey as it is known in Johnny-come-lately jurisdictions such as Ireland and America) takes such a long time to make, planning for fluctuations in demand is difficult. The industry often sounds the alarm about catastrophic shortages on the horizon, although this could, in part, be to drive up prices. Developing new recipes can also take decades. Any distillery wishing to try a new flavour or process has a long wait to sample the results. Often it is not very good. If it is, there will be another long wait to make more.

Cumbersome business models like this are catnip for companies seeking to shake up an industry. Endless West, based in San Francisco, is one such. It has done away with barrel-ageing entirely. Using a gas chromatograph, which separates a mixture into its constituents and then spits out an analysis of that mixture’s make up, the firm’s researchers claim to have...

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