back to article SPACE WHISKY: Astro malt pongs of 'rubber and smoked fish'

A Scotch whisky that spent almost three years maturing on the International Space Station (ISS) boasts an "intense aroma" with hints of "antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish". That's the verdict of Dr Bill Lumsden, director of distilling and whisky creation at Ardbeg Distillery, which sent vials of its pre-maturation …

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  1. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Mixing whiskey with shavings from a bourbon cask - they should strap the moron who thought that was a good idea to the outside of the ISS for a few years and see what happens to him/her.

    1. Drudgery Leak

      That is how some malts are matured - in barrels previously used for such things as bourbon, or sherry etc.

      I tried an Ardbeg recently and it wasn't bad, even though I generally prefer the sweeter types from Speyside.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Go

        Not just Malts.

        Havana Club rum uses old Whiskey barrels as well.

        1. Gazareth

          Tobasco sauce too.

      2. Thoguht Silver badge

        Yes, in barrels made of solid wood, not wood shavings.

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Which presumably are a tad on the large side to ship up to the ISS and then have laying around there for a few years.

          Hence adding the shavings to the liquid is the next best thing to having it in contact with the inside of a barrel. Thus also leading to the use of the word "simulated" in the quotes one would presume.

          1. kiwimuso

            "adding the shavings to the liquid is the next best thing to having it in contact with the inside of a barrel"

            Well, judging by the report, obviously not!

        2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Real vs Fake

          Yes, in barrels made of solid wood, not wood shavings.

          That is real. If you want it fake you add wood shavings activated by either flash-microwaving them for 30seconds or running a gas lamp over them and leave the maturing "cask" at ~ 30+C for two months.

          The technology differs depending on the volume - up to 3l vessels need nothing more but to be forgotten for 2 months on a Southern European latitude balcony in mid-summer. More than 3l requires active steering of the wood shavings in the spirit. This is the same technology as used by some distilleries to produce a rather authentic looking whiskey, brandy, slivovica, etc at low cost. Just they use actively mixed autoclaves at 60C+ for up to 3-6 months instead.

          The end result if done right is achieving the taste equivalent of 3-7 years of maturation in 2-3 months. I have done that plenty of times with home made brandy in the days when I used to "advise" my dad on how to do it.

          However, as a professional chemist by trade (which has long surrendered to the dark side of IT), I can tell you that the experiment was pointless outright. YOU CANNOT MATURE A SPIRIT IN ZERO G. It is the same problem as using larger than 3l vessels in fake maturation. You need convection for the activated wood to pick up the "crap" out of the spirit and for the spirit to pick up the flavour and colour out of the wood. No convection will result in a fraction of the process happening in the boundary layer. Everything beyond that will remain unmatured crap.

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: Real vs Fake

            That is real. If you want it fake you add wood shavings activated by either flash-microwaving them for 30seconds or running a gas lamp over them and leave the maturing "cask" at ~ 30+C for two months.

            Also well-known in the wine world, where it makes the difference between a subtly oaky wine matured in oak barrels, and the headache-inducing super-oaked cheap stuff that is swilled around in stainless steel vats with oak shavings. "two buck chuck" being an example.

          2. Drudgery Leak

            Re: Real vs Fake

            "I can tell you that the experiment was pointless outright. YOU CANNOT MATURE A SPIRIT IN ZERO G. It is the same problem as using larger than 3l vessels in fake maturation. You need convection for the activated wood to pick up the "crap" out of the spirit and for the spirit to pick up the flavour and colour out of the wood. No convection will result in a fraction of the process happening in the boundary layer. Everything beyond that will remain unmatured crap."

            That is the hypothesis they have been testing. What if it turns out better than expected?

          3. JDX Gold badge

            Re:YOU CANNOT MATURE A SPIRIT IN ZERO G

            >>I can tell you that the experiment was pointless outright. YOU CANNOT MATURE A SPIRIT IN ZERO G

            If all our questions could be answered using theory, we wouldn't rely on experiment and empirical evidence. That you think a simple chemist can state the answer without experiment is rather worrying for a trained scientist.

            I guess the LHC was a waste of time too?

            More seriously, the results suggest that you CAN do this, because they DID. And I'm not sure that your comments on convection are entirely valid; when we're talking years of maturation isn't diffusion alone going to be quite significant?

          4. Mayhem

            Re: Real vs Fake

            Agreed - the addition of wood chips is invariably a sign of someone trying to disguise a cheap distillate, generally from extractive industrial 4 column stills. cough *panama* cough.

            On the other hand, a company in California by the name of Lost Spirits has succeeded in producing some superb aged spirits ... equivalent to 20yr rums ... in six days.

            And I mean they won industry awards, and gained recognition from a lot of the big names before they revealed their process. See http://www.wired.com/2015/04/lost-spirits/ for a good writeup after the reveal.

            They do around 550L per run, but to be fair their spirits don't always mix well in cocktails - they've been engineered to be a specific flavour profile, and adulterating the mix can lead to unpredictable results.

      3. Captain DaFt

        "That is how some malts are matured - in barrels previously used for such things as bourbon, or sherry etc."

        Yes, but there's a world of difference between a proper, aged cask, and a handful of scorched sawdust from one.

        1. JDX Gold badge

          Yes, but that's not the point of the experiment - to produce a delicious 10 year old whisky. It was to compare how things were different in a more limited time-frame.

          I rather suspect that someone who does whisky for a job would be aware of the limitations of using wood shavings...

    2. Velv Silver badge
      Headmaster

      The fact you called it "whiskey" shows you know nothing about the manufacturing process of whisky.

      The vast majority of Scotch Whisky is matured in former bourbon casks (which is also a whiskey, but not whisky) as the bourbon casks by law can only be used once, hence there is a ready market of once used casks.

      1. Valeyard

        The fact you called it "whiskey" shows you know nothing about the manufacturing process of whisky.

        The vast majority of Scotch Whisky is matured in former bourbon casks (which is also a whiskey, but not whisky)

        I bet you're a hit at parties, informing the girls at length how inferior they are for mixing not only ice but also coke in their whisky which they probably spell using an 'e' anyway knowing them eh!

      2. hopkinse

        err.. it's usually a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks that are used and, unless you are buying one of the special single cask or single type releases, you will always be buying a blend of the two

  2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Barbarians!

    You don't mature good whisky by stuffing it full of sawdust and keeping it at zero g for a few years. The traditional system works perfectly well. There are some experiments that should just not be done!

    1. Afernie

      Re: Barbarians!

      "There are some experiments that should just not be done!"

      There's a sentence demanding a mad scientist's lab coat and a theremin soundtrack if ever there were one. However, you do need to follow up with "There are some things man WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW!!!"

      1. splodge

        Re: Barbarians!

        Not sure how putting woodshavings in a liquid is in any way supposed to emulate putting liquid in a wooden container, whether it's done with gravity or not.

        Presumably we'll find out the effect of eating cake in space by having astronauts rub cake into each others bodies?

        1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Barbarians!

          "Not sure how putting woodshavings in a liquid is in any way supposed to emulate putting liquid in a wooden container, whether it's done with gravity or not."

          I've tried this myself (it's called inverse maturation) - a stick of charred oak suspended in a bottle of rubbish whisky for a while led to a transformation into a pleasantly drinkable spirit.

          1. Drudgery Leak

            Re: Barbarians!

            Also works with white wine. hic.

        2. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Barbarians!

          Presumably we'll find out the effect of eating cake in space by having astronauts rub cake into each others bodies?

          If they've got nothing better to do on those long, winter evenings...

          1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: Barbarians!

            So the directors cut of which film had that particular scene in?

            Gravity? Alien? Star Wars?

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Barbarians!

      >>The traditional system works perfectly well.

      What an abjectly stupid thing to say. The traditional system is a result of centuries of experiment. Authentic whisky was originally just rough moonshine brewed illegally... good job someone was happy to try new things "what do you mean, you want to store your drink in a barrel someone else kept wine in... what a stupid idea".

  3. Blane Bramble

    Scientific newbies

    "as a result of the much higher surface area of woody material that the spirit was exposed to"

    So they didn't keep a control sample on Earth that consisted of the same volume of Whisky (note to posters above, there is no E in Whisky) with wood shavings in it?

    1. Bert 1
      Headmaster

      Re: Scientific newbies

      "(note to posters above, there is no E in Whisky)"

      Well, there is no 'e' in this particular whisky, as it comes from Scotland.

      Other whiskey does have the 'e' in it.

      From Wikipedia:

      The spelling of the term "whisky" is often debated by journalists and consumers. Scottish, Australian and Canadian whiskies use "whisky", Irish whiskies use "whiskey", while American and other styles vary in their spelling of the term.

      1. dorsetknob
        Pint

        Re: Scientific newbies

        There is no E in whisky as Mdma is a controlled substance and if thats your type of tipple best go for Mescaline mescal

        mine's a pint of what ever your buying

    2. nematoad Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Scientific newbies

      " (note to posters above, there is no E in Whisky)"

      There is if the whiskey comes from Ireland.

    3. Brenda McViking

      Re: Scientific newbies

      yes, they did keep a control sample on earth, and human taste testing was blind - there is a whitepaper on the Ardbeg website.

      And contrary to the headline, those who haven't tried an Ardbeg might be interested to know that rubber, smoked fish and antiseptic lozenge are actually flavours you'd expect in the earth-matured Ardbeg whisky as well, and are actually quite pleasant when mixed in with the other more conventional fruit flavours of spirits which the headline didn't mention. Ardbeg is from Islay, and reaches the extremes of the whisky spectrum, It's much smokier when compared to an easy-drinking Speyside like Glenmorangie for example. Flavour map

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Scientific newbies

        Isle of Islay malt from good old M&S smells and tastes like TCP.

        Its the single best whisky i have ever tasted... Sadly i dont seem to be able to get it anymore...

        I currently have some bourbon oak chunks sat in 2lts of ethanol from my still.

        Within 24 hours the colour had changed and the odour had mellowed. In about 4 years i'll report what it tastes like...

        1. Roj Blake Silver badge

          Re: Scientific newbies

          "Isle of Islay malt from good old M&S smells and tastes like TCP.

          "Its the single best whisky i have ever tasted... Sadly i dont seem to be able to get it anymore..."

          Try the 16yo Lagavulin. Not only is it the finest whisky known to mankind, it reeks of TCP.

          1. JDX Gold badge

            Re: Scientific newbies

            It's not really, though is it? It's just the "cool single malt" people who like to be seen drink single malt go for. Like rappers drinking Cristal.

            It's very nice, but it's just another very nice whisky out of dozens/hundreds.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Scientific newbies @Roj Blake

            Ta for the tip, will obtain some in the near future.

          3. hopkinse

            Re: Scientific newbies

            Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig whiskies all come from the bottom end of the Island, within a couple of miles of each other and all have similar characteristics whereas the other whiskies don't have so much of the TCP element

        2. TheWeenie
          Pint

          Re: Scientific newbies

          "Within 24 hours the colour had changed and the odour had mellowed. In about 4 years i'll report what it tastes like..."

          Is that when you get your eyesight back or when you finally sober up?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Scientific newbies

            "Is that when you get your eyesight back ".

            **IF you actually believe that drinking home made spirit made from sugar, water and yeast will send you blind, you need a lesson in fermentation and distilling.

            Do you actually have any idea of how much METHANOL is actually contained in home made ETHANOL ? Irrespective of using corn, spuds, sugar etc.

            The amount is TINY. As in essentially beyond measure.

            The blindness thing is a myth back from the days of prohibition when methanol was added to ethanol to bulk it up.

            Modern day analogy is mixing glucose with class A's. Adulteration and nothing more.

            ** IF you were being sarcastic then fair play to you...

    4. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Spelling

      Correct. There is no E in Whisky (which is the stuff from Scotland, like Ardbeg) but there IS an E in whiskey (which is the lovely smooth stuff from the Emerald Isle). Not sure if the stuff from Meriky and Japan should be allowed to use the word though, however it's spelled, and however many awards they win. Welsh chwisgi isn't too bad either, and le Whisky Breton is surprisingly drinkable.

  4. Permidion
    WTF?

    wood shavings?

    I wonder how accurate the "wood shavings" part is, and if it wasnt simply small pieces of barrel instead.

    Imo it's certainly easier to make a small recipient from whole pieces of wood than from compacted wood shavings...

  5. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Who tastes the tasters?

    Will professor Quatermass be keeping an eye on the whisky specialists who tried this just to see if they mutate in to hideous blobs of alien material?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Who tastes the tasters?

      to see if they mutate in to hideous blobs of alien material?

      I believe that's what happens to your tongue the morning after you've polished off half a bottle of Ardbeg anyway. So I don't see why space whisky (spisky?) should be any different...

      The normal cure is the liberal application of bacon, bread and tea.

      1. Sarah Balfour

        Re: Who tastes the tasters?

        You'd be better of losing the bread, and frying the bacon, with eggs, in copious amounts of saturated animal fat (real lard from outdoor-reared pigs for preference). Your liver - and your heart - will thank you.

        Speaking of liver, adding 100g or so of the animal liver of your preference (calf's is good, so is lamb's) will give you far in excess of your RDA for everything. Yep, even vitamin C. There's more C in 100g of liver, than 100g of any fruit you care to mention (and, unlike the fruity stuff, it's 100% bioavailable).

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "how this groundbreaking research will help advance humanity" ?

    It will help because months and months of tedius transit in pitch dark to lug Unobtanium from Ganymede back to Earth will not be bearable without a proper shot of ol' mellow to take the edge off of extreme boredom.

    And a local Diablo III server (ranked) would help immensely as well.

    1. dotdavid

      Re: "how this groundbreaking research will help advance humanity" ?

      "And a local Diablo III server (ranked) would help immensely as well"

      Methinks the always-on DRM of Diablo 3 will merely lead to greater consumption of the aforementioned "ol' mellow"

  7. Velv Silver badge
    Boffin

    Now all they need to do is mix a 6ml vial with millions of litres of unmatured rubbish and they can sell it to the gullible as Homoeopathic Space Whisky

  8. Crisp Silver badge

    How much whiskey did they send up there?

    And how much actually made it back?

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: How much whiskey did they send up there?

      Getting into the spirit of the comments, they sent no whiskey up there!

  9. Cardinal
    Stop

    Seems there's just as strong a flavour of pretentious bullshit about whisky tasting as there is about wine and coffee eh?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      "antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish"

      And that's supposed to make it sound appealing?

      What next?

      A hint of stale urine, vomit and kebab with extra chilli sauce?

      1. Bleu

        Err

        ... with the most subtle of bouquets d'amyl nitrate.

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