Scotch in Space

Unfortunately, the first batch of Scotch whiskey brewed in outer space is not destined for drinking.

This week, Ardbeg Distillary, based in Islay, an island off the Scottish coast famous for its single-malt Scotches, released details of a two-year booze research project that launched back in October.

Ardbeg sent a few vials of micro organic compounds to the International Space Station via a Russian satellite with the help of NanoRacks. The mixture is essentially unmatured malt, the mash used to make scotch. It is made up of mostly of terpenes, unsaturated hydrocarbons that are found in plants. In the normal method of making scotch, that malt might mature in an oak barrel. Hence, the experiment's woody particles.

The ingredients will reside at the space station for at least two years. (It would have to sit for at least three to count as "Scotch" whiskey.) Earth-bound control samples of an identical mixture are being stored at both Ardbeg's Islay distillary and NanoRacks' Texas facility. The focus of experiment is to see whether zero-gravity will change the chemical reaction that occurs when the terpenes meet the charred oak.

Ardbeg isn't the first to wonder what space might do to booze's ingredients, though they believe they are the first to whisk whiskey beyond the Earth's atmosphere.

In 2008, Japanese beer company Sapporo Breweries sent barley seeds up to the International Space Station. Was space barley any different than Earth barley? No, MSNBC reported. Five months in space didn't stress the seeds out at all. They were later fermented and served up for consumption -- a special batch of space beer that Sapporo sold for charity.

But it's doubtful that anyone will be drinking this batch of space scotch. Only 5 milliliters of the mixture were sent into orbit, about an eight of a shot, MSNBC reported. That's not really enough to go around, after the researchers take their share.

Ardbeg didn't offer a guess at what effect zero-gravity might have on the process. But they're hoping that it might lead to something marketable in the future, they said in a statement. Maybe even a bottle you could buy. It wouldn't be the first time alcohol advanced science, from Wilma the drink-fetching robot and Barbot, the automated bartender, to beer-inspired nanotechology.

Cheers, Ardbeg. Cheers.


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