Scotch in Space?

A new study launches maturing Scotch into a zero-gravity landscape.

While astronauts aren’t yet relaxing with a dram of whisky in hand, an ambitious experiment using malt from Scotland’s Ardbeg distillery has effectively launched Scotch into space.

Vials containing compounds of unmatured malt were sent to the International Space Station in an unmanned cargo spacecraft in October 2011, along with particles of charred oak. Experiments using the malt are being carried out to see how the absence of gravity affects the maturation process.

Of particular interest are molecules known as terpenes—a set of chemicals that often impact aromas and flavors. The study will last for at least two years.

NanoRacks LLC, the U.S. firm behind the research, believes the findings could aid other industries, such as food and perfume. “At the same time, it should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavor spectrum,” says Michael Johnson, chief technology officer at NanoRacks.

“This experiment will throw new light on the effect of gravity on the maturation process,” adds Dr. Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Ardbeg, who will be monitoring control samples of the molecules from the distillery on the Scottish island of Islay. “We are all tremendously excited by this experiment—who knows where it will lead?”

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