Ardbeg, a Scotch distillery on the west-coast isle of Islay has become the focus of the Edinburgh Science Festival. In October last year, the ingredients for one of their single malts was blasted into orbit to join the International Space Station in an attempt to discover the effects of gravity on the maturation process, specifically on terpenes- the molecules which give a whisky its aroma and flavour.
The American company responsible for the research, NanoRacks LLC, hopes that the experiment will help other industries in the development of new products, both in and outside the world of food.
Despite the whisky’s origin, thanks to the strong guidelines on what makes a scotch, Scotch the unmatured malt in orbit can only be labelled as ‘crafted molecules’ as it will not have been matured in oak casks on a Scottish isle for 3 years, as the rules dictate.
Any hope of a revolution in flavour development will have to wait however. Scientists will not be able to test the new substances until 2014 when the cargo spacecraft returns to Earth. Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Ardbeg, (pictured) nevertheless remains optimistic: ‘We are all tremendously excited about this experiment- who knows where it will lead?’