Several years ago, Ardbeg Distillery sent vials of its whisky into orbit aboard the International Space Station as part of a science experiment to see how microgravity might alter the flavor profiles of its spirits. Now the space-aged whisky has returned to Earth, and the verdict is in: it tastes like no whisky ever aged on Earth, reports CNET.
"I was quite astonished at how different the samples were," said Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's director of distilling. "It was a whole new range of samples, some flavors I haven't encountered before."
So what exactly does it taste like? Lumsden goes on to give a detailed description: "A very focused flavor 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."
Though whisky aficionados may balk at the part about antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke, overall it sounds like an appetizing blend of flavors.
The key to the whisky's distinct profile, it turns out, was a surprise. The original focus of the experiment was to see how the conditions of space might affect the maturation of terpenes, compounds common in nature that contribute to the flavor and aroma of whisky. But it turned out that the biggest difference between Ardbeg's space whisky and the control batch left to mature normally on Earth had to do with the oak that the whiskies were aged in. It seems that microgravity conditions on the Space Station inhibited oak extraction.
This is an important finding for scotch makers, because it reveals a novel discovery. Basically, it means that gravity itself is an essential component to the process of how flavors develop. In an indirect way, the experiment might be said to have revealed the flavor of gravity, at least in regards to how it evolves in a bottle of scotch.
At the risk of overstating the importance of the experiment, it could have significant implications for the whisky industry as a whole. Imagine a future where whisky makers manipulate gravity during the maturation process to alter the profile of their brew. Whisky labels could detail how many years the batch had been aged, the location of the distillery, and perhaps the gravity level under which it was aged.
At the very least, Ardbeg is intrigued enough to start planning for future space experiments so that more data can be gathered about the importance of gravity in the maturation process of the whisky. And, interestingly, Ardbeg may soon have some competition. Japan's Suntory whisky is also currently on its way to the space station as part of a similar experiment.