Ardbeg, a whiskey distillery in Scotland, is gearing up to unveil its third edition of “Supernova”, a new single malt, by sending a bottle of its newest, unmatured malt into outer space for three years and recording its maturation in close-to-zero gravity.
Technically, Ardbeg sent terpenes (flavor molecules) and charred oak in tubes into space, not actual whiskey, to simulate how malt matures in oak barrels. The vial of Ardbeg flavor molecules have been orbiting the earth since October 2011 in the International Space Station at 17,227 mph, 15 times a day for 1,045 days.
But the whiskey brand didn't get all the way up there on their own. Texas-based space research company NanoRacks helped Ardbeg take its whiskey out of this world. NanoRacks has been offering lab facilities and space access on the ISS (International Space Station) for roughly $60,000 since 2010.
NanoRacks’ CEO Jeffrey Manber told Fusion they have several commercial customers that are changing the way we view the earth and study materials, “but have few consumer customers, and that is due to the perception that space is too difficult for the average company,” he says.
Apparently, Ardbeg wasn’t phased by the average person’s existential crisis every time they try to make sense of the universe. Their attitude: It’s just space, guys.
“Ardbeg approached us,” Manber says. “NASA is doing a large number of medical projects and we have had several researchers from pharmaceutical projects use our hardware … But to date, we have yet to have [a customer] that has attracted the media like the Ardbeg project!”
The Ardbeg vial is estimated to land back on Earth in Kazakhstan this Friday, where it will be sent to Houston, Texas for some serious “lab work” — ie. body shots at the office.
The researchers/mixologists (hereafter “science-ologists”) kept a second vial of the same malt isolated on earth for the same amount of time as the other bottle was in orbit. The science-ologists will run tests on the space whiskey, as well as the controlled whiskey that didn’t make the cut for the three-year joyride with the stars.
Manber says Ardbeg’s creative team can “see around the corner, no doubt.” Ardbeg wanted to send their product into space but NASA insisted on an educational component because you can’t just use the ISS to come up with new autumn recipes for hot toddies. NanoRacks and Ardbeg then came together and decided that its educational component would be learning more about the reaction of terpenes in zero gravity.
“No one has studied terpenes in zero gravity, and given the implications for new food flavorings, we all, including NASA, thought this was a great research project,” says Manber.
So why send the terpenes into space? Surely, there are earthbound anti gravity machines that could do the job.
Well, who are we to argue with NASA?
Findings are expected by 2015, assuming the science-ologists don't imbibe too much of their test subject material between now and then.
Romina Puga is a pop culture reporter and producer for Fusion. You can find her on "Fusion Now," Fusion's daily TV updates, going over new movies, music, apps, and why D'Angelo is still sexy.