Ardbeg releases findings from space experiment

Gaëlle Laforest

07 September 2015

It's time to put your science hats on — Ardbeg has released its findings after analysing the whisky distillates it sent into space four years ago, and the research shows that gravity has an impact on the flavour and ageing of whisky.

The experiment, led in association with NanoRacks and NASA, aimed to look into the behaviour of terpenes, which are chemical elements responsible for flavour in many foods, wines and whisky spirits, in a near-zero gravity environment.

Samples of Ardbeg new-make spirit and shards of charred oak cut from the inside of Ardbeg casks spent three years orbiting some 200 miles above Earth on the International Space Station, and came back last September. They were analysed by Dr Bill Lumsden (pictured above), Ardbeg’s director of distilling and whisky creation, independent whisky experts and scientists; and differences were found between the space samples and the control samples that remained on Earth.

Dr Lumsden 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. 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.'

Some of the tasting notes picked up by the expert panel in the space samples included aromas of antisceptic smoke, smoked fish and a perfumed note, and flavours of smoked fruits, smoked bacon, peppermint and aniseed.

Additional analysis into the patterns of extraction of wood components into the spirit showed major differences between the samples: the space samples contained less of the wood components that contribute to flavour, which means that gravity inhibited extraction of flavour from the wood.

'Our findings may also one day have significant implications for the whisky industry as a whole,' Dr Lumsden added. 'In the future, the altered range of wood extractions could lead scientists to be able to detail the ratios of compounds expected in whiskies of a certain age.'

You can find the full findings in Ardbeg's white paper on this experiment.

Photo by Phil Wilkinson

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