Almost four years ago, Ardbeg grabbed all the headlines by sending a sample of unmatured whisky to the International Space Station, to study the effects that near-zero gravity would have on the character and flavour of the spirit. A control sample was kept at the distillery on Islay, with the company looking to see how the conditions would affect the behaviour of terpenes – the building blocks of flavour for many foods and drinks.
After just under three years rotating the Earth – long enough for it to be officially called whisky, naturally – travelling at 17,227 miles per hour, the sample touched down in the deserts of Kazakhstan on 12 September 2014. And after much scientific analysis, the resulted of this ground-breaking experiment have finally been revealed.
The sample went through a four-stage analysis, under the direction of the infamous Dr Bill Lumsden – Ardbeg’s Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation. During this analysis, major differences were identified between the two sets of samples. Dr Bill 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.” So whisky that is out of this world then!!
For comparative purposes, here are Dr Bill’s tasting notes:
Earth sample: The sample had a woody aroma, reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style, with hints of cedar, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar, as well as raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges. On the palate, its woody, balsamic flavours shone through, along with a distant fruitiness, some charcoal and antiseptic notes, leading to a long, lingering aftertaste, with flavours of gentle smoke, tar and creamy fudge.
Space sample: Its intense aroma had hints of antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish, along with a curious, perfumed note, like violet or cassis, and powerful woody tones, leading to a meaty aroma. The taste was very focused, with smoked fruits such as prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries, earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham. The aftertaste is intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke.
Unfortunately, I’ve no tasting notes of my own to share for this dram. However, I’ve also found the inextricable links between science and whisky absolutely fascinating. Although there may already be experiments taking place which you and I aren’t privy to, I hope the example set by Ardbeg (and more recently, Suntory) will encourage the Scotch Whisky industry to take more risks, thereby creating an export which can continue to fight it out on the world stage for years to come.