Where no dram has gone before: Whisky company matures new malt in zero-G on the Space Station
- Whisky mixed with charcoal to see how zero-gravity affects flavours
- Mix will remain on Space Station for two years
The astronauts on the International Space Station are used to rocket fuel - but even so, a delivery of a container of rough, unmatured whisky must have come as a surprise.
Thankfully, the delivery was for an experiment, rather than an impromtu celebration, so the astronauts carried out their duties with their usual sober dedication.
The Ardbeg Distillery on Islay blasted compounds of unmatured malt - known as new make spirit - to the International Space Station (ISS) in an unmanned cargo spacecraft on October 30 last year.
The Ardbeg Distillery on Islay blasted compounds of unmatured malt - known as new make spirit - to the International Space Station (ISS) in an unmanned cargo spacecraft on October 30 last year
The unmatured whisky was mixed with charred oak on board the space station to see how low gravity affected the maturation process
It also sent up particles of charred oak and, once the spacecraft docked at the ISS, the two sets of molecules were mixed.
Scientists want to understand how the two sets of compounds interact at close-to-zero gravity.
The molecules are tiny parts of the two substances known as terpenes - a set of chemicals which are often aromatic and flavour-active.
It is believed the experiment is the first time anyone has ever studied terpenes and other molecules in near-zero gravity.
The team are also measuring the molecules' interaction at normal gravity on Earth so they can compare the way the particles mature.
The molecules will stay on the ISS for at least two years so scientists can understand how they change in a near-zero gravity environment.
The normal, earthbound approach to distilling Islay malt: The Ardbeg Distillery usuallly relies on traditional methods, and Earth gravity, to create its award-winning malts
The experiment, unveiled at the Edinburgh International Science Festival today, is led by US-based space research company NanoRacks LLC.
The results could be used for different industries, including future generations of Ardbeg whisky.
Michael Johnson, chief technical officer of NanoRacks LLC, said: ‘By doing this microgravity experiment on the interaction of terpenes and other molecules with the wood samples provided by Ardbeg, we will learn much about flavours, even extending to applications like food and perfume.
‘At the same time it should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum.’
Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Ardbeg, who unveiled the experiment, said: ‘This experiment will throw new light on the effect of gravity on the maturation process. We are all tremendously excited by this experiment - who knows where it will lead?’