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Mace & Crown | April 29, 2017

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Whiskey... From Spaaace!

Whiskey… From Spaaace!

Ross Reelachart
Tech Editor

It is one small step for man, and one wobbly stumble forward for drunk astronauts as Ardberg distillery has released their findings about maturing whiskey in space.

Four years ago, as an experiment to test the effects of micro-gravity on the maturation process of scotch whisky, US-based space research company NanoRacks sent several vials of Ardberg scotch whiskey to the International Space Station. The vials orbited the Earth more than 15,000 times before coming back home to be tested and tasted.

In the meantime, the chemical composition was monitored using several different techniques including gas and liquid chromatography, which were used to analyze the chemical compositions of the whiskey over time. A separate batch of the whiskey was kept on Earth as a comparison, and subjected to the same monitoring.

The whole idea of aging booze in space may sound like a marketing gimmick, but the experiment was actually completely serious. Ardberg has even released a White Paper that explains the experiment, and the results, in scientific detail. The paper was titled “The Impact of Micro-Gravity on the Release of Oak Extractives into Spirit.”

Normally scotch whiskey is matured in oak barrels (and under normal Earth gravity). But since an entire barrel of malt whiskey is impossible to bring into space, each vial of whiskey also contained a “small quantity of charred oak wood shavings” to simulate being in a barrel. From there, the natural aging processes were allowed to take place.

When the Earth and Space batches were compared for both aroma and taste, there was a distinct difference between the two.

The quotes from the paper used all of the fancy spirit vernacular, like saying that the Earth batch had a “woody aroma, reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style, with hints of cedar, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar as well as raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges,” and that the Space batch was “Intense and rounded, with notes of antiseptic smoke.”

In short, the whiskey aged in space did not extract as much flavor from the oak as the Earth batch, and the result had a much stronger taste and aroma.

This may have all been part of a scientific experiment, but what if we actually wanted our astronauts to have the opportunity to have a drink or two while floating in the infinite frontier that is space?

Well, it turns out that, in a startling coincidence, Ballantine’s of Scotland has developed a whiskey “glass” precision engineered for drinking in space. Using 3D printed plastic, 3D printed rose gold, a one-way valve and a 10kg pull magnet, the glass is specifically made to hold the liquid booze in a contained environment while also allowing all the usual pleasantries of swirling and sniffing the spirits.

This is all built into a fancy-glass that would be a great talking point here on Earth. The rose gold is used to “hold” the whiskey in place using the inherent “stickiness” of liquids in micro-gravity, and a mouthpiece is used to drink the spirits whenever a hypothetical space man feels the need for a class drink.

Ardberg is looking into running more experiments in whiskey maturation in space, and aims to send more vials for testing. They see that there might be a future market for literal out-of-this-world spirits. In a future where space tourism is an actual prospect for a few companies now, it might just be the next big thing.

But this idea is also not without competition already. Japanese whiskey-maker Suntory also hopes to send their own drinks into space for experimentation.

In the future, the International Space Station might need an official designated pilot.