Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Are You Ready for Zero-Gravity Whisky?

One of the more profound insights of Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was the observation that every culture in the cosmos had some variant of the noun phrase “G and T,” the implication being that one could chill out with gin and tonic no matter where one happened to be in the universe.  Whatever the future of gin may be, it would appear that we are on the threshold of the first episode of (with apologies to the Muppets) Whisky in Space.  At least that seems to be what we can conclude from the following report that appeared on the BBC News Web site last night:

Experiments using malt from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay are being carried out on the International Space Station to see how it matures without gravity.

Compounds of unmatured malt were sent to the station in an unmanned cargo spacecraft in October last year, along with particles of charred oak.

Scientists want to understand how they interact at close to zero gravity.

NanoRacks LLC, the US company behind the research, has said understanding the influence of gravity could help a number of industries, including the whisky industry, to develop new products in the future.

The experiment, unveiled at the Edinburgh International Science Centre, will last for at least two years.

Ardbeg happens to be very dear to my heart.  I am pretty sure that this was the distillery that produced the most expensive bottle of spirits I ever purchased, a single-cask offering that I discovered in Menlo Park back in better days.  My wife and I knew this was a one-of-a-kind experience;  and we were pretty good at making that bottle last.

Still, given the perspective of my own experience, I have to say that I find this a rather elitist project in the midst of difficult economic times.  Unfortunately, NanoRacks is not doing much to allay these feelings.  Here is what Michael Johnson, their Chief Technical Officer, has to say:

By doing this microgravity experiment on the interaction of terpenes and other molecules with the wood samples provided by Ardbeg, we will learn much about flavours, even extending to applications like food and perfume.

Goodie.  As far as I can tell, all that will result is that the most expensive bottles of Scotch and perfume will be superseded by new bottles that are even more expensive.  However, when the new brew comes down to Earth after two years, if Ardbeg is looking for volunteers for any taste-testing, I shall be only too happy to hear from them!

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