Spirit that tastes out of this world
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.
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