Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt scotch, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan moonshine made from bananas. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.
Back in 2011, Ardbeg Whisky did something awesome. It filled up a vial with whiskey, put it on a rocket, and blasted the booze into orbit. The goal of the mission? To see how lower gravity affects the aging process — or more specifically, examine “the effect of micro-gravity on the behavior of terpenes, the building blocks of flavor for whisky spirits as well as for many other foods and wines.”
Well now, after three years of aging in space (with shavings from a charred American White Oak ex-bourbon barrel), the vial has returned back to Earth for tasting. The verdict is finally in on the difference in taste — and it’s not what you’d expect.
Like any good scientist, Ardbeg made sure to include a control sample in the experient: a vial of whiskey (also with barrel shavings) kept here on Earth for the same amount of time. Here’s how the terrestrially-aged booze differed from the space-aged stuff, according to ardbeg’s panel of whiskey connoisseurs:
The control sample, which reached an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 58.4 percent, had an aroma described as follows: “Very woody, hints of cedar wood, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar. Hints of raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges. Very reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style.” As for its taste, connoisseurs noted, “Dry palate, woody/balsamic flavours, sweet smoke and clove oil. A distant fruitiness (prunes/dates), some charcoal and antiseptic notes. The aftertaste is long, lingering and typically Ardbeg, with flavours of gentle smoke, briar wood, tar and some sweet, creamy fudge.”
The space sample was quite a bit different. It came out with an ABV that was just a touch lower (56 percent), and featured an aroma that Ardbeg described as, “Intense and rounded, with notes of antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious, perfumed note, like cassis or violet. Powerful woody notes, hints of graphite and some vanilla. This then leads into very earthy/soil notes, a savory, beefy aroma, and then hints of rum & raisin flavored ice cream.”
The taste of the space spirits was even more intriguing. Ardbeg’s tasters noted that the whiskey had “a very focused flavor profile, with smoked fruits (prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries), earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham. The aftertaste is pungent, intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke.”
When it was all said and done, the tasters concluded that the differences afforded by these two maturation conditions produced “dramatically different flavor profiles,” which the distillery believes “will give rise to the potential development of new flavors, and in particular new Ardbeg whisky expressions.”
In other words, keep your fingers crossed, and in the future, Ardbeg might release a space-aged whiskey to the masses.