You'd be forgiven for immediately branding this as a marketing/pr stunt, designed for chatter purposes rather than to push the boundaries of ageing a whisky. Apparently that would be wrong though….
The project, set in motion by famously peaked / smokey whisky Ardberg, is to send a barrel of whisky into space and compare how the ageing process differs depending on whether it is at zero gravity or not. On a chemical level we are still getting to grips with the exact process of how a barrel and whisky interact. There have been many ideas on how to speed up the process or reach the same results artificially however most have landed short behind the tried and tested natural process.
The company responsible for hosting the whisky is NanoRacks, who provide space for experiments on the International Space Station. Ardberg have sent up a sample of unaged whisky in a charred oak barrel which will remain in space for 2 years and then be compared with a sample stored on earth.
The experiment is slated to find out more about how terpenes and other molecules interact with charred oak, leading to wider applications across other spirits, food, alcohol and perfume. A few scientists have already expressed doubt, and wonder if gravity will have any measurable effect at all and one also pointed out how this would impact the cost of future barrels. Maybe a zero gravity super premium section on a drinks menu to be consumed within the zero gravity lounge by booking only……
Ty Tyler, liquor scientist had this to say…
"Without the interference that gravity provides, there could be chemical attraction factors that would make bad components, like acids and minor alcohols, combine to form the good-tasting esters more efficiently. Also, there is a good chance that bad-tasting congeners, not normally produced in amounts large enough to taste, could appear. My bet would be a wait-and-see, with chances of being better by being in space being less than 50/50."
Sheer curiosity and an open mind will certainly have us revisiting this project in a couple of years. Lets see what happens.