Few things in life make a better pairing than science and Scotch. Now a new experiment involving both Ardbeg Distillery and the International Space Station is combining these joys in a way never imagined before: by aging whiskey malt in space, reports the BBC.
Scientists at Ardbeg are hoping to learn how a zero-gravity environment effects the maturation of whisky malt, with the ultimate aim of one day enhancing the flavor spectrum of their product. That's right, whisky aficionados: "space-aged Scotch" could soon become a part of your palate.
Compounds of unmatured malt (or "new make spirit") and particles of charred oak were blasted to the International Space Station last October. There, scientists will observe how the flavor elements of the malt and oak interact chemically over two years. These observations will be compared with two identical control experiments being conducted back on Earth, one at a facility in Houston, Texas, and another at a warehouse at Ardbeg Distillery in Scotland.
"This is believed to be the first time anyone has ever studied terpenes and other molecules in near zero-gravity," writes the team at Ardbeg on their website.
Terpenes are compounds common in nature that contribute to the flavor and aroma of whisky. They are the primary constituents of many essential oils that are derived from plants and flowers, and have also been used as additives to enhance the flavor and aroma of food or perfume. So understanding how these compounds mature in zero gravity could aid how products are made in a variety of industries.
"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," said Michael Johnson, chief technical officer of NanoRacks LLC, a U.S. company working with Ardbeg on the experiment. "At the same time it should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavor spectrum."
The folks at Ardbeg are already calling this "the most audacious adventure ever undertaken" by any distillery. At the very least, it's certainly the coolest. But if you're interested in sipping a sampling of the space-aged dram, you may want to get in line — and get out your checkbook.
"We'd love to stock this, although I'd be a little concerned with the astronomical price — and the hefty carbon footprint," said Arthur Motley, a buyer for Royal Mile Whiskies in Edinburgh. "I've sampled some of Scotland's most heavenly whiskies, along with some rocket fuel, but nothing quite so intergalactic."
It's probably also worth asking: Can it still be considered Scotch whisky if it's aged in space, rather than in Scotland?