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Space Whisky Really Does Taste Different, Report Finds

Scottish distiller Ardbeg reveals how microgravity affects aging whisky.

Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Space whisky really does taste different. A new report published last week by Scottish whisky maker Ardbeg and US-based space research company NanoRacks finds significant differences in aroma and flavor of microgravity-matured whisky compared to samples aged on earth. The study aimed to show terpenes — the building blocks of flavor for whiskies and other foods and wines — act under near zero-gravity conditions.

Researchers first collected samples of un-aged Ardbeg distillate along with shavings from the inside of charred American White Oak ex-bourbon barrels. The samples were then packaged and rocketed to the International Space Station. Upon arrival at the space station in January 2012, both test samples and earthbound control samples began aging at the exact same time. Last September, the space whisky made its journey back to earth for extensive scientific testing and comparative analysis.

"I was quite astonished at how different the samples were."

While researchers uncovered some small differences in the amounts of compounds found in the space-aged whisky, the biggest finding was in smell and taste. "When myself and my team went to nose and test the samples... I was quite astonished at how different the samples were," Dr. Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's director of distilling and whisky creation, says in a video recap. "Up in the space station it was a whole new range of samples — some flavors I hadn't encountered before." The study describes the space station whisky as giving off a "intense and rounded" aroma with "antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious, perfumed note, like cassis or violet" (yum?). Tasting revealed:

A very focused 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.

The researchers concluded that microgravity terpenes do behave differently and suggest that more extensive studies could pave the way to major breakthroughs for the food and beverage industry.

Ardbeg isn't the only company to send booze on a galactic trip. Japanese whiskey distiller Suntory recently sent a variety of whiskeys to the International Space Station to study "mellowing" in a microgravity environment. Brewers are also big fans of space stunts, rocketing everything from yeast to cans of John Smith's out of this world. Watch Ardbeg discuss the findings below: