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Spirits

Whisky aged in space tastes different, study says

Want to try whisky that’s really out of this world?

It turns out that whisky aged in space really does taste different to samples aged on earth.

In Jan. 2012, Scottich whisky maker Ardbeg partnered with NanoRacks, a U.S.-based space research company, to see how alcohol flavors and aromas changed under conditions of near zero-gravity. Three years ago, researchers collected samples of un-aged Ardbeg whisky as well as shavings from inside charred American White Oak barrels used to age bourbon. Half of the samples were sent up the International Space Station, and the rest were sent to aging facility on planet earth.

Last September, the space samples made it safely back to earth and the team of researchers began comprehensive testing and analysis to some surprising results.

"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, explains in a video about the project. "Up in the space station it was a whole new range of samples — some flavors I hadn't encountered before."

It might be hard to say whether the space whisky tasted better, but, according to the study, researchers noted distinct differences in the final samples.

The sample aged on earth had a “very woody” aroma with “hints of cedar wood, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar.” But the space-aged whisky had an “"intense and rounded" aroma with "antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious, perfumed note, like cassis or violet.

Smoked fish…yum?

Those who prefer a more savory whisky may prefer the space aged variety as tasters noted “smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham” flavors along with smoked fruits like raisins and prunes. But the earth-aged whisky had a “long, lingering” aftertaste with “flavors of gentle smoke, briar wood, tar and some sweet, creamy fudge.”

But researchers say that more research must be done to work out the complexities of the aging process, which can have far-reaching impacts for many food and beverage companies down the line.

Ardbeg isn't the first to wonder about the impact of space on the taste of whiskey. 

Earlier this summer, Japanese whiskey giant Suntory sent a variety of samples to the ISS to examine the liquor’s mellowing process at zero-gravity.