In 2011, Scotch distillery Ardbeg collaborated with Texas-based space research company NanoRacks to examine the effects of maturation in a micro-gravity. To do so they blasted a vial of new spirit with oak chips up to the International Space Station to spend 1,045 days orbiting the Earth in zero gravity (aka micro-gravity).

Space Drinking

A wee dram in micro-grav.

Naturally it’s at this point that most will ask what relevance anti-gravity maturation may have on the spirit industry as a whole. And in all truth the answer would be found somewhere between zero to bugger-all but look at it this way, what isn’t cool about space?

At the heart of the experiment is a humble little organic compound called terpene. A primary constituent of many types of plants and flowers and an essential hydrocarbon which acts as the primary building-block of flavour and aroma in ferments and distillates. To understand how terpenes react in micro-gravity helps us to further understand the limitations to growing and manufacturing food goods in space. The test involves mirrored experiments both aboard the ISS and back at the Islay distillery where the only variable between the samples above and below, is gravity.

Whatever the real applications, it’s more than clear that space is as much a tool for spendthrift marketeers as scotch and cigarettes were for Don Draper. And it’s nothing new.

ardbeg space sample

Micro-gravity sample returned from space to Ardbeg distillery for analysis.

In 1996 Pepsi filmed a TV advert inside the Russian MIR station at a budget of USD$5 million [BBC News] followed by an Israel milk company the year after. Pizza Hut paid around USD$2.5 to have their logo branded 30 foot high on a Russian Proton rocket in 1999 [NY Times] while global icon Coca-Cola naturally took it a bit further sponsoring four separate flights aboard a US Space Shuttle, experimenting with zero-grav carbonated drinking cups and even installing a bespoke FGBA – Fluids Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (aka coke dispenser).

To help mark the start of the experiment back in 2011 the brand delivered us a cool new bottling under the name Ardbeg Galileo (damn good liquid too) and the promise to share the final results with us some three-ish years later.

And last week, these results were made public.

After surviving re-entry and being subjected to cool things called ‘gas chromatography-mas spectrometry’ and ‘high performance liquid chromatography’ (which I can only hope included lasers), the following results were concluded;

 

Earth Sample:

ardberg-space

Aroma – Very woody, hints of cedar wood, sweet smoke

and aged balsamic vinegar. Hints of raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges. Very reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style.”

Taste – Dry palate, woody/balsamic flavours, sweet smoke and clove oil. A distant fruitiness (prunes/dates), some charcoal and antiseptic notes. The aftertaste is long, lingering and typically Ardbeg, with flavours of gentle smoke, briar wood, tar and some sweet, creamy fudge.”

 

Space Sample:

Aroma – Intense and rounded, with notes of antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious, perfumed note , like cassis or violet. Powerful woody notes, hints of graphite and some vanilla. This then leads into very earthy/soil notes, a savoury, beefy aroma, and then hints of rum & raisin flavoured ice cream.”

 

Taste – A very focussed flavour profile, with smoked fruits (prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries), earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham. The aftertaste is pungent, intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke.”

 

The long and short of the experiment revealed slightly higher phenolic (smoky flavour) results from the spirit matured in a micro-gravity but a much higher oak interaction rate to that from the gravity rich environment. Most interesting of all results however came not from any of the scientific conclusions but rather from the nosing and tasting where Ardbeg’s scientist-in-residence Dr Bill Lumsden describes discovering “a whole new range of samples, [with] some flavours I hadn’t even encountered before” [for further details read the White Paper results HERE].

Below is a short video discussing the results with Dr Bill Lumsden, whisky legend Charlie MacLean and Nanoracks representative Jeff Manber;

With the likes of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic in the advanced stages of becoming the worlds first commercial spaceline, HD images of the surface of Mars, probes landing on comets, Pluto photographed up close for the first time and even Matt Damon taking a Martian holiday, space has once again began to capture our fascination. So let’s put on our velcro shoe covers, step through the digital bi-fold doors of our future orbital cocktail bar and order up a classic or two. Just be sure you’ve practiced your drinking technique.

 

Martini:

Zero Gravity Project martini glass – c/o Cosmic Lifestyle Corporation

Thanks to a touch of crowd funding and the very definition of niche, the Cosmic Lifestyle Corporation was established to supply practical design solutions for recreational tools needed in “off-world” use. Known as the ‘Zero Gravity Project’, the team have begun with designing a martini glass which they believe will work perfectly in zero gravity.

Designed to have the cocktail fed through a one-way valve in the base of the glasses stem, the micro gravity liquid – now a gelatinous orb – sticks to the grooves in the glass keeping it from drifting off while also directing it towards your awaiting mouth [See full production video HERE]. Just don’t ask for an olive, garnish becomes a whole other research project.

 

Tumbler:

Designed in partnership between the Open Space Agency (OSA) and blended scotch brand Ballentine’s, the aptly named ‘Space Glass’ takes the conceptual micro-gravity receptacle to a new level by thinking not just about the logistics of micro-grav drinking but also the drinking experience as a whole.

Ballantine’s Space Glass

Made predominantly from 3D printed hardened plastic, the Space Cup has a rose gold textured convex base plate to increase the surface area needed to grip the floating liquid. The remaining helix glass body uses straw-like channels to direct the liquid to your awaiting mouth which is resting on a rose gold mouthpiece so you still have that “evocative cold touch” feel on the lips as you drink. As with the martini glass the Space Cup also utilises a base-loaded valve but in addition also comes with a strong magnet bottom to allow imbibers to “place their glass down” on the closest conductive surface to hand. Best of all perhaps is that this glass also works on earth [See full production video HERE].

No matter what anyone says, space remains today as cool as it was when the Russians chose a stray dog from the streets of Moscow to be the first living organism to orbit earth in 1957. And it’s not just me who thinks so. In July this year Japanese whisky giant Suntory Holdings Ltd announced their own plans to send two collections of six different whiskies (one of which includes a 21 year-old) to the ISS for further study into the effects of micro-gravity has on aging. Add to this the plans to build the UK’s first spaceport in Scotland by 2018 and it seems our relationship between space and scotch is only just getting started. To which I say ‘bring it on!’. Because let’s be honest, what isn’t cool about space?

 

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This was the Musings of a Barfly by:

Rusty Hawthorn

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