Scotland business

Ardbeg reveals results of 'space whisky' experiment

Ardbeg distillate from space and a mixstick
Image caption The vial of unmatured malt whisky spent nearly three years in space

A distillery that sent unmatured malt whisky into space to study the effect of near-zero gravity on flavour has described its findings as "groundbreaking".

Ardbeg Distillery, on Islay, sent a vial to the International Space Station in a cargo spacecraft in October 2011.

Another vial of the same whisky was kept at the distillery for comparison.

The distillery said its space samples were "noticeably different" in terms of aroma and taste.

The company had set up the experiment to investigate how micro-gravity would affect the behaviour of terpenes, the building blocks of flavour for many foods and wines as well as whisky spirits.

It has now identified "major differences" in its analysis of the two sets of samples.


Ardbeg tasting notes from experiment:

Earth sample: "The sample had a woody aroma, reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style, with hints of cedar, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar, as well as raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges.

"On the palate, its woody, balsamic flavours shone through, along with a distant fruitiness, some charcoal and antiseptic notes, leading to a long, lingering aftertaste, with flavours of gentle smoke, tar and creamy fudge."

Space sample: "Its intense aroma had hints of antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish, along with a curious, perfumed note, like violet or cassis, and powerful woody tones, leading to a meaty aroma.

"The taste was very focused, with smoked fruits such as prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries, earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham. The aftertaste is intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke."


Ardbeg said the maturation experiment paved the way for "unprecedented flavour profiles".

Image copyright NASA
Image caption The vial of Ardbeg malt was blasted up to the International Space Station in 2011

Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's director of distilling and whisky creation, 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 Lumsden 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."

Ardbeg was invited to take part in the space experiment in late 2011 by Texas-based space research company NanoRacks.

The vial was launched by Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan and spent nearly three years in space.

NanoRacks chief executive Jeffrey Manber said: "It's hard to find companies willing to be pioneers. To have a partner like Ardbeg that is 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."

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