Producing a good whiskey is very much a science. The mix of ingredients react in complex ways to make the special flavors, so when the question arose whether zero gravity might change the reactions, the scientists on-board the International Space Station were up to the task of finding out.
As part of a two-year experiment, a Scottish distillery sent compounds of un-matured malt along with particles of charred oak up to the ISS. These elements are introduced into the barrels during aging, and are responsible for influencing much of the taste of whiskey via their complex molecules called terpenes.
The goal is to find out whether the terpenes — which affect flavor and aroma — behave differently in zero gravity. If so, does it produce a better tasting blend? Depending on what the research uncovers, the research team hope to apply the results to improving their maturation and blending process here on Earth.
The Ardbeg Distillery from the Scottish island of Islay has been in production since 1798 so it has a pretty good handle on what happens here on Earth. To see how zero-gravity might change the equation, Ardbeg's teamed up with Houston based research company NanoRacks who will oversee the zero-gravity side of the experiement.
It's believed this research will be the first time terpenes molecules will have been studied in zero gravity, and could shed new light on how gravity affects flavor and aroma.
Not only could this research affect how Ardberg uses these compounds to blend its whiskey in the future, it could also affect the work of other industries where taste and aroma are important — such as perfumes or food.
Dr. Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whiskey creation at Ardbeg, proved his gift for understatement when he told the BBC: "We are all tremendously excited by this experiment — who knows where it will lead?"
Who knows indeed, but I suspect the team over at Virgin Galactic will be looking on with interest — a touch of ridiculously delicious space whiskey could be just the ticket for long haul space trips or a romp at their intergalactic Playboy Bunny Club.