Back in 2011, Ardbeg Whisky boldly went where no whisky had gone before — into space. Seeking to answer one of life’s most delicious dilemmas, that is, the “effect of micro-gravity on the behavior of terpenes, the building blocks of flavor for whisky spirits as well as for many other foods and wines,” a single vial of Ardbeg’s whisky orbited Earth for three years alongside shavings from a charred American White Oak ex-Bourbon barrel.
Like any good experiment, Ardbeg made sure to include a control sample, kept here on Earth for the same amount of time. And after tasting both drams, the findings reveal “major differences” between the two. The control sample, which reached an alcohol by volume (a.b.v.) of 58.4 percent (reduced to 26 percent for tasting purposes), had an aroma described as follows: “Very woody, hints of cedar wood, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar. Hints of raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges. Very reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style.” As for its taste, connoisseurs noted, “Dry palate, woody/balsamic flavours, sweet smoke and clove oil. A distant fruitiness (prunes/dates), some charcoal and antiseptic notes. The aftertaste is long, lingering and typically Ardbeg, with flavours of gentle smoke, briar wood, tar and some sweet, creamy fudge.”
As for the sample that spent some time on the International Space Station, its natural a.b.v. was a touch lower at 56 percent, though it was also reduced to 26% for tasting. As for its aroma, Ardbeg described it as, “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 savory, beefy aroma, and then hints of rum & raisin flavored ice cream.”
The taste of the space spirits is more intriguing still, described as “A very focused flavor 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.”
Ultimately, Ardbeg concludes, the differences afforded by these two maturation conditions produced “dramatically different flavor profiles,” which the distillery believes “will give rise to the potential development of new flavors, and in particular new Ardbeg whisky expressions.” Moreover, the extent of the disparities is so great that “further analysis will be carried out to elucidate the creation of the different flavors.”
So get ready, whisky lovers. There’s a new kind of liquor that may soon be on your shelves. And it’s aged in space.