A vial of whisky sent to the International Space Station by a Scottish distillery in 2011 has just returned to Earth, bearing notes of “antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish.”
Photo via Flickr user Virtous One
The solar system is a constant source of fascination. From Galileo and his game-changing telescope to Brian Cox's mum-titillating gesticulation over the origin of black holes, mankind's greatest minds have been tackling the secrets of the Milky Way for centuries.
And then there are the ones who just want to send shit up to space and see what happens.
This propensity seems to apply particularly to marketers of booze. Earlier this year, it was Japanese brewery-distillery Suntory sending a sample of the "world's best whisky" to the International Space Station (ISS) and before that, the rather disappointing maiden space voyage of a John Smith's 12-pack, which ended in a field somewhere near York. Did you ever stop to think that extraterrestrials might actually prefer a lime and soda, guys?
Launching an alcoholic beverage into space may sound like the result of an ill-timed, Friday afternoon PR team brainstorm, but it seems zero gravity could actually impact the flavour of certain drinks. This week, a whisky launched to the ISS in 2011 by Ardbeg Distillery returned to Earth with unexpected results.
In an experiment to test the impact of micro-gravity on terpenes—the flavour building blocks for many foods and wines—a vial of the Scottish distillery's unmatured malt whisky was sent to the ISS in October 2011. A second sample was kept at the distillery for comparison.
And what does orbiting the planet for nearly three years at 17,227 miles per hour do to a whisky? Smoky stuff, apparently.
In a statement, Ardbeg's director of distilling Dr Bill Lumsden explained the differences between the two vials: "The space samples were noticeably different. When I nosed and tasted the space samples, it became clear that much more of Ardbeg's smoky, phenolic character shone through—to reveal a different set of smoky flavours which I have not encountered here on earth before."
The literal out-of-this-world flavour of the space whisky is even more apparent when reading the tasting notes from the experiment.
In fairly standard whisky-tasting talk, Ardbeg's Earth sample is described as having a "woody aroma" with hints of "sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar," as well "treacle toffee" and "vanilla."
Things get freaky when the whisky connoisseurs turn to the space vial: "Its intense aroma had hints of antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish, along with a curious, perfumed note, like violet or cassis, and powerful woody tones, leading to a meaty aroma."
Ending up with a drink that tastes like herring doused in Dettol after three years and thousands of pounds worth of space travel may sound like an expensive let down but Lumsden maintains that the experiment will allow for further advancements in whisky distilling. He said: "Ardbeg already has a complex character, but the results of our experiment show that there is potentially even more complexity that we can uncover, to reveal a different side to the whisky."
If this "complexity" means more fishy aromas, maybe we should stick to ageing whisky back on old-fashioned planet Earth.