Forgive the title but given that Ardbeg have described the results of their experiment as “groundbreaking” and paving the way “for unprecedented flavour profiles” I couldn’t resist. For those not in the know Ardbeg beat Suntory in sending a sample of their whisky to the ISS around 4 years ago, and the long awaited results are in. The study looked at the effects of micro-gravity on terpenes during the maturation process has resulted in “major differences” between the two samples.
Whisky Maturation In Orbit
In October 2011 vials containing Ardbeg new-make spirit distillate and shards of Ardbeg casks were launched by Soyuz rocket from Baikonur to spend almost three years 200 miles above Earth, orbiting at 17,227 miles per hour. The terpenes (aromatic and flavour-active hydrocarbon chains which give whisky its floral and fruity flavours) by all accounts underwent considerable changes in microgravity, Dr Bill Lumsden noted that 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”. That being said Bill described the aftertaste as “pungent, intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke” which sounds like more than a few Ardbeg’s to me!
Chemical analysis revealed significant different ratios of wood extractive compounds between the space based sample and the control samples on earth. Dr Bill continued “In the future, the altered range of wood extractions could lead scientists to be able to detail the ratios of compounds expected in whiskies of a certain age.” while we’re unlikely to ever find a vial of Ardbegs space aged whisky on master of malts or the whisky exchange this development might open the door for considerably different whiskies so watch this space. Sorry!
It Came Back Whisky But It’s Not A Scotch
In case anyone was wondering why the whisky spent three years in orbit around the earth, that’s the minimum period of time new make (not yet matured) spirit needs to sleep before if can be called whisky. Despite being distilled by Ardbeg’s Islay distillery the vial returning from orbit doesn’t technically qualify as a Scotch as it was not “Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres (185 US gal; 154 imp gal) for at least three years”. Sadly there can never be such a thing as space aged Scotch!