Spirit that tastes out of this world

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

THE re­sults of Ard­beg’s pi­o­neer­ing space mis­sion in which the dis­tillery be­came the first ever to send spirit into or­bit, have far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions for the un­ortho­dox sin­gle malt – and per­haps for the en­tire whisky in­dus­try, ex­perts say.

Nearly four years ago, Ard­beg dis­til­late was sent into space as part of an experiment to in­ves­ti­gate how mi­cro­grav­ity (near zero grav­ity) would af­fect the be­hav­iour of ter­penes, the build­ing blocks of flavour for many foods and wines as well as whisky spir­its.

This mat­u­ra­tion experiment was un­der­taken as re­search into ter­penes in mi­cro- grav­ity was lim­ited, and its find­ings are ground­break­ing.

They pave the way for un­prece­dented flavour pro­files, par­tic­u­larly for Ard­beg, the world’s peati­est, smok­i­est, Is­lay sin­gle malt scotch whisky.

The experiment be­gan in Oc­to­ber 2011, when vials con­tain­ing Ard­beg new-make spirit dis­til­late and shards of Ard­beg casks, were sent to the U. S. Na­tional Lab on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion by the dis­tillery’s part­ner, U. S. space re­search com­pany NanoRacks LLC. Some 200 miles above Earth, the vials or­bited the planet at 17,227 miles per hour, for al­most three years.

Fol­low­ing their re­turn to earth, the sam­ples were an­a­lysed along­side con­trol sam­ples that had been kept at the Ard­beg dis­tillery by Dr Bill Lums­den, Ard­beg’s Di­rec­tor of Dis­till­ing and Whisky Cre­ation, in­de­pen­dent whisky ex­perts and sci­en­tists.

In three of the four stages of anal­y­sis, ma­jor dif­fer­ences were iden­ti­fied be­tween the two sets of sam­ples.

Dr Lums­den said: ‘ 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.’

Dr Bill added: ‘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.’

Fur­ther anal­y­sis, look­ing at ra­tios of dif­fer­ent types of wood ex­trac­tive com­pounds, found sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences be­tween the two sets of sam­ples – de­mon­strat­ing that grav­ity has a very real ef­fect on the mat­u­ra­tion of spirit.

Dr Lums­den added: ‘Our find­ings may also one day have sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions for the whisky in­dus­try as a whole. 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.’

Jeffrey Man­ber, CEO of NanoRacks who part­nered with Ard­beg on this experiment, com­mented: ‘It’s hard to find com­pa­nies will­ing to be pioneers.

‘ To have a part­ner like Ard­beg will­ing to make this sort of com­mit­ment au­gurs well for the fu­ture of com­mer­cial space re­search into flavour­ings and what it changes for con­sumer prod­ucts in gen­eral.’

Ard­beg would like to thank NASA and the Space Sta­tion Pro­gram for al­low­ing this experiment to be un­der­taken.

SU­PER­NOVA: Ard­beg Su­per­nova 2015 con­tains the most highly-peated Ard­beg, pro­vid­ing an in­ten­sity rem­i­nis­cent of the

ex­plod­ing star af­ter which it is named.

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