Since the dawn of the Space Age, boffins have worked on how to provide astronauts travelling to distant worlds with food, water, and oxygen. But what about the big question? What about drinkies? Scotland’s Ardberg distillery is working on how to provide future explorers and colonists with a wee dram with an experiment in how whisky matures in zero gravity.
The Isle of Islay-based distillery’s first space whisky experiment was launched in 2011 atop a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station (ISS). No, they didn't send of a keg of raw spirit, but rather vials of terpene molecules and bits of charred oak. Terpene compounds are aromatic hydrocarbons found in pine tars, termites, hops, and swallow tail butterflies, and is one of the ingredients that give whisky its flavor and aroma.
Sent to the ISS at the invitation of NanoRacks LLC, the purpose of the experiment was to see how zero gravity affects whisky maturation; the process where the terpene and other compounds interact with the charred oak that lines whisky barrels as the spirit ages. As the vials on the ISS orbited the Earth, identical samples back in Scotland acted as a control for comparison.
Now the experiment is coming to an end as it is scheduled to return to Earth on September 12 aboard a Soyuz spacecraft for a landing on the plains of Kazakhstan. Once back on Earth, it will be shipped to Houston, where scientists, including Ardberg’s Bill Lumsden will study the results with a view toward publication in an upcoming paper.