In 2011 research company NanoRacks, a privately owned company focused on space research, in partnership with Ardberg Distillery, a Scottish whiskey manufacturer located on the island of Islay off the western coast of Scotland, sent unmatured whiskey with charred oak wood shavings to the International Space Station. Now, four years later, those samples have been returned to Earth and according to Dr. Bill Lumsden, Ardberg’s director of distilling, the whiskey now tastes and smells different then it did before it began it’s voyage where no whiskey has gone before.
According to a report made publicly available by Ardberg, the purpose of the experiment was to see if gravity, or the relative lack thereof, effected “the range of naturally occuring terpene compunds” or the “extraction of key flavour-active compounds in oak wood by Scotch malt distillate” among other things. Lumsden told Sky News “When I nosed and tasted the space samples, it became clear that much more of Ardberg’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’s full report found that the returned samples smelt “intense and rounded , with notes of antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious, perfumed note, like cassis or violet. Powerful woody notes, hints of graphite and some vanilla. This then leads into very earthy/soil notes, a savoury, beefy aroma, and then hints of rum & raisin flavoured ice cream.” The flavour, meanwhile, was “A very focussed flavour profile, with smoked fruits (prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries), earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham. The aftertaste is pungent, intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke.” This differed wildly from the control samples left on Earth.
Ardberg is preparing to enter discussions with NanoRacks to continue with similar tests going forward. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll all be able to sample space whiskey that tastes like antiseptic lozenges and smells like a lead pencil dipped in ice cream.