April 12, 2012
Space Scotch? New ISS Study To Focus On Whiskey Maturation Process
Scotch and malt whiskey connoisseurs should take note of a new experiment en route to the International Space Station (ISS): a study that will gauge the effect of zero gravity on the maturing process of the popular alcoholic beverage.
As reported Thursday by MSNBC.com's Alan Boyle, Slashgear's Shane McGlaun, and others, Ardbeg Distillery, a liquor company headquartered on the island of Islay, Scotland, announced earlier this week that they had sent vials of raw malt ingredients to the ISS on board an unmanned cargo flight which departed from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last October.
Among the materials headed for the space station are unmatured malt and charred oak, which were mixed together once they arrived at the facility, according to The Mirror.
The ISS crew will not be involved with the experiment, Boyle said. Rather, it is being facilitated by NanoRacks, a Houston, Texas-based space research firm which helped make the travel arrangements for the distillery. The whisky vials are to remain on the ISS for a minimum of two years' time.
"By doing this microgravity experiment on the interaction of terpenes and other molecules with the wood samples provided by Ardbeg, we will learn much about flavors, even extending to applications like food and perfume," NanoRacks Chief Technical Officer Michael Johnson told Brid-Aine Parnell on Tuesday. "At the same time it should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavor spectrum."
The results of the experiment, which according to the BBC is believed to be the first to study these molecules in nearly zero-gravity conditions, will be compared with a second experiment, measuring the interaction of the terpenes and the other substances at normal gravity here on Earth.
Ardbeg Distillery representatives are planning to compare and contrast the differences between the particles' maturation processes, but science aside, as Parnell puts it, "whisky-lovers will no doubt be hoping for the first bottles of space-distilled malt."
"This experiment will throw new light on the effect of gravity on maturation," Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Ardbeg, said during the announcement of the study during the research at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. “We are all tremendously excited -- who knows where it will lead?”
"This is not a taste-testing exercise," added NanoRacks' Managing Director Jeffrey Manber during an interview with Boyle. "It might lead to new insights into how these molecules behave in zero gravity," Manber said. "It could have applications in beverages -- beer, whisky -- and it could have applications in perfumes, in cosmetics. In short, this is really good commercial space research."