There are some whiskys out there that taste out of this world, but there’s a chance that in the future, they’re actually going to be out of this world.
No, astronauts are not trying to figure out how to get tipsy in space (even though that would be fun). NanoRacks LLC, a Houston based research firm, is conducting an experiment to see how the absence of gravity affects the maturation process of malt.
Scotland’s Ardbeg distillery supplied malt that had not matured yet and it was sent in vials to the International Space Station. The unmanned cargo spacecraft took off in October 2011 with the malt and particles of charred oak. The study is supposed to last for two years.
Michael Johnson, chief technology officer at NanoRacks, told Wine Enthusiast Magazine that “…it should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavor spectrum.” They will be keeping their eye on molecules known as terpenes that are a set of chemicals known to impact aromas and flavors; they want to see how the zero-gravity environment affects them.
As cool as it is, this isn’t the first space/alcohol experiment. In 2001, NASA experimented with brewing beer in space with the help of Coors, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Coca-Cola. One of their experiments proved that fermentation was more efficient and happened faster in space. In 2008, barley was grown on the International Space Station and then made into beer by Japanese brand, Sapporo.
If fermentation was proved to move along faster, it will be interesting to see if the malt matures just as efficiently. The researchers anticipate that this will not just affect the whisky industry, but other commercial industries as well.