Could we one day see shelves stocked with space whiskey? Perhaps so, assuming an experiment launching vials of limited edition whiskey into space goes well.
Scottish distillery Ardbeg teamed up with the International Space Station last year to test the effects of near zero gravity on the maturation process. Of interest to scientists are the micro-organic compounds known as "terpenes" inside the whiskey, which was launched into space via rockets from Kazakhstan last year. The experiment is the first of its kind.
It came about when Texas-based space research company NanoRacks invited the distillery to take part. It's hoped that studying the terpenes -- large, complex molecules -- might help discover new information about the effects of near zero gravity and potentially help the distillery develop new whiskey flavors.
The vials will spend a total of two years in space -- they have another year to go -- but in the meantime Ardbeg has released "Ardbeg Galileo," a special-edition single malt whiskey to celebrate the space whiskey milestone. Ardbeg describe the flavor as sweet and creamy with fudge, smoked apricots, ripe banana and spices with a smoky but sweet finish. The nose is said to feature spicy toffee notes with hints of tropical fruit.
Unfortunately, Ardbeg Galileo is only affiliated with the space whiskey in name. A spokesman for the company conceded that the spirit "in no way resembles the actual experiment going on in space."
Ardbeg only delivers in the UK, according to its website, but we're not sure it matters -- Ardbeg Galileo already seems to be sold out.
It's unclear if the International Space Station whiskey will actually be consumed in space, but it seems that might present an entirely new set of challenges. Speaking to Discovery Channel, astronaut Paul Richards explained that food and drink can actually taste differently in space than it does on Earth.
“Your taste buds actually change in space, so sometimes the food that you test on the ground that you like, you don’t have an affinity for in orbit ... You might try somebody else’s food that you really didn’t care for on the ground, and it tastes pretty good — because your body goes through a lot of changes in orbit, and taste buds and the taste sort of changes a bit.”
The experiment recalls a few other out-of-orbit alcohol events. In 2008, Japanese brewery Sapporo made beer with barley grown at the International Space Station, and Natural Light became the first beer in space in late 2011 when its Facebook fans launched a can to an altitude of more than 90,000 feet.