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Space ISS

Whisky Aged On NASA's International Space Station Tastes "Different" 210

MarkWhittington writes: Back in October 2011 Ardbeg Distillery on Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, sent a vial of whisky to the International Space Station courtesy of Houston based Nanoracks. The idea was the see if microgravity affects the way that whisky ages, particularly the way terpenes that are the building blocks of food and liquors behave. A similar vial was kept on Earth as a comparison. The BBC reported that the contents of the two vials were sampled and compared. As it turns out, pronounced differences were noted.
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Whisky Aged On NASA's International Space Station Tastes "Different"

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  • Yeah!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Eloking ( 877834 ) on Monday September 07, 2015 @10:59PM (#50475923)

    That's the sort of science that I like!

    • Re:Yeah!!! (Score:5, Funny)

      by ls671 ( 1122017 ) on Monday September 07, 2015 @11:32PM (#50476081) Homepage

      Chris Hadfield here. I drank the whole bottle and it sure tasted different. But summary has to be modified, strictly scientifically speaking, we aren't sure if the change of taste came from the fact that the whiskey aged in space or from the fact that I was in space while drinking it.

      In phase two, we expect to be able to wait until bottles are back on the planet before taste testing.

    • by GloomE ( 695185 )
      The science of marketing?
    • by popo ( 107611 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @06:59AM (#50477185) Homepage

      Is it the goal seeked science originated by marketing departments that you like?

      Did you really think that after oodles of money was spent on this "experiment" that the answer would be "it tastes the same"?

      This is reminiscent of the space souvenir industry in the 1970's, where trinkets that had been "in space" possessed some fetishistic value for collectors.

      This isn't science at all. The determination of "it tastes different" was made by those with the profit motive to declare as much.

      This is the sort of "science" that nobody should like.

      • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @10:09AM (#50478185) Journal

        I wouldn't be that quick to condemn it. It's not like they're going to sell off microscopic droplets for $500 each or something stupid like that, else they'd send a whole bottle up and auction that off when it returned.

        Distillation and aging of alcohol is actually a very interesting hobby in addition to a huge business. Even if you don't do it yourself, for those who actually enjoy the taste of good whisky (as opposed to chugging a mass-marketed bottle of honky-tonk juice), it's not hard to see that this can be done for perfectly scientific reasons (and food chemistry is only for starters). IMHO, the timespan involved was the bare minimum at best for aging a drinkable whisky in the first place (and the quantity tested way too low given the typical barrel size, no accounting for venting-off of higher-level spirits through a typically semi-porous container, etc), but when every cubic centimeter of ISS has to be accounted for, I get it. Not something I would design, but I get the limitations.

        Overall, if it was all about marketing, why didn't one of the mass-marketed spirits makers do it? Ardbeg only has two main stills and only moderate output as far as Scottish distilleries go, if memory serves. It has a recognized name among the glass-sniffing crowd, but it's not exactly a mass-market brand.

        Certainly I'll admit that the whole "in spaaaaace!" aspect is there, no doubt. On the other hand, I doubt they'll be slacking off when it comes to analysis, either.

      • I'm actually surprised it did taste different, makes me wonder how it would taste if a sample was centrifuged at 10G for two years.

  • by geek42 ( 592158 ) on Monday September 07, 2015 @11:14PM (#50475999)
    I didn't read too far, but how was the impact of aging in space disambiguated from the impact of the transportation process? Shaking and high accelerations come to mind as potentially significantly impacting the whisky. We certainly know these to affect beer...
    • by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Monday September 07, 2015 @11:36PM (#50476097)

      It would probably impact beer more since beer is carbonated. Because adding CO2 to a liquid turns it acidic, it adds a sour flavor. When you shake carbonated liquid, the CO2 is going to be more likely to combine and turn into a gas, floating to the surface and raising the pH, making it less sour.

    • I would love to know more as well, can't seem to find much in the article though. e.g. did they account for light and temperature as well?
  • by Gamer_2k4 ( 1030634 ) on Monday September 07, 2015 @11:27PM (#50476059)
    I've heard of studies where wine tasters offered different opinions based on what they THOUGHT the wine was (including white wines dyed red), so I'm curious how this test was performed. Did the tester know which one was from the ISS? Was there more than one tester?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      From the article:

      The Isle of Inner Hebrides sent a "vial of whiskey" to the space station, and one vial was kept on earth. No mention of the volume or makeup of the two vials (assuming they were both the same). Here is how the two samples were described:

      For the earth sample: "The sample had a woody aroma, reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style, with hints of cedar, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar, as well as raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges." ... with some more about the flavours on t

      • You completely missed the point of the GP. It's about testing protocols, not the results. The results are totally unreliable and therefore completely uninteresting without some amount of blind-testing.
        • You completely missed the point of the GP. It's about testing protocols, not the results. The results are totally unreliable and therefore completely uninteresting without some amount of blind-testing.

          It's good to know they've tested and worked out a protocol designed to produce unreliable results.


      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @12:57AM (#50476373)

        In other words. No science was performed in the creation of this blatant attempt to exploit dumb rich people.

        That is what I thought at first. Then I went looking for more details and found the paper: The impact of micro-gravity on the release of oak extractives into spirit [] in which they claim:

        Organoleptic Assessment -- multiple micro-gravity and control samples were compared in the sensory laboratory using Ardbeg 'tulip' shaped nosing and tasting glasses, for both triangle tests (in which three 'blind' glasses are compared, two of which contain one sample, and one the other sample) and for detailed aroma and flavour descriptions.

        They don't say if it was double-blind or not, but even if it was just single-blind, that's at least passable science.

  • In what way is that ISS Nasa's (as the headline [and the article] claims)?

    It's one thing to say that this idiotic experiment was run on the United States Orbital Segment but the headline seems to imply NASA's ownership and right of use.
  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @12:03AM (#50476195) Homepage Journal

    Earth sample: "The sample had a woody aroma, reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style, with hints of cedar, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar, as well as raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges.

    "On the palate, its woody, balsamic flavours shone through, along with a distant fruitiness, some charcoal and antiseptic notes, leading to a long, lingering aftertaste, with flavours of gentle smoke, tar and creamy fudge."

    Space sample: "Its intense aroma had hints of antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish, along with a curious, perfumed note, like violet or cassis, and powerful woody tones, leading to a meaty aroma.

    "The taste was very focused, with smoked fruits such as prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries, earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham. The aftertaste is intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke."

    From the given descriptions, I can make no prediction as to how the flavor of one would differ from the other. The description contains only differences that I would expect from two booze tasters tasting the same booze, or from one booze taster tasting the same booze twice but thinking it's different. Or perhaps someone could translate it to English for me?

    • I concur. There's no mention of any attempt to neutralize bias, which is the most important thing to expose in such an article.
    • I mean, I know that good whiskey tasters can make an expository appreciation of a drink with just a sip, but precisely, the articles say it was a vial of scotch that was sent. I understand that there are payload issues at play, but a vial is too small a sample to set up a significant blind-test, that would neutralize both the biases, and the styles of the tasters. Not enough sips in a vial.
      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        furthermore it's not enough time for anything to happen it anyways. add to that it spent minimal time in space anyways.

        you would expect them to have lab tested it, but no.
        it's basically just an advertisement for (japanese iirc) whisky(furthered by claiming the earth base sample to have 'aarberg' taste. the space one is probably the more honest review.. 'fishy').


    • by Threni ( 635302 )

      It is English. There's nothing to translate. If someone says something tastes of raisins then it tastes of raisins. I've seen this sort of criticism before and I don't understand it. When someone says something tastes like something else, why not take it at face value that it is at least their opinion?

      • Saying one thing tastes like something else is fine when that something else has only one taste, like salt. The taste of raisins depends on the type of grape the raisin is from, where the grape was grown, how that grape was grown, when it was picked, how it was dried, how it was stored, how long it has aged, and a whole plethora of variables. Does "taste like raisins" refer to the sweetness to savory-ness ratio? the saltiness? Is there an emotional bias to this? If the taster hates raisins, is this "tas
    • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @09:31AM (#50477873)

      From the given descriptions, I can make no prediction as to how the flavor of one would differ from the other. The description contains only differences that I would expect from two booze tasters tasting the same booze, or from one booze taster tasting the same booze twice but thinking it's different. Or perhaps someone could translate it to English for me?

      First off, I will say that I agree to some extent with your implicit skepticism. There have been a lot of double-blind tests that have shown tasting rates, even by professional judges, to be highly flawed.

      That said, have you ever tried to describe the difference in taste of two different whiskies to someone else? You need to come up with some way of characterizing the taste -- and while I often am skeptical of these long descriptions, I frequently find that there's something in the flavor profile that often matches my experience pretty well -- "Wow... yeah, I actually DO taste the 'toffee' " or "The 'plum' note really does stand out here." These things are particularly notable when you're sampling a number of different drinks at the same time.

      Also, note that these tastings were done blind, and there were three glasses with two having the same whisky, so there were several ways to discount those characteristics which were apparently just "random" variance with "one booze taster tasting the same booze twice but thinking it's different" or whatever.

      Anyhow, there's no way to "translate" this exactly, because it's already English. To me, these descriptions tell me that I'm likely to hate the space sample, which sounds positively awful -- "antiseptic smoke, rubber, and smoked fish" are all things that generally are BAD qualities in a scotch nose. Do you want to drink scotch that smells like rubber and fish? "Antiseptic" is a clue that the taster probably thought the alcohol notes were out of balance. There's also the word "curious" in "curious perfumed note" which again hints that something seems out of place or weird. The actual primary taste sounds okay, though very fruity, but the aftertaste again sounds horrible: "intense" is rarely a good thing in aftertastes, and when you pair it with more "antiseptic" and "rubber" -- it sounds to me that whoever drank this stuff HATED it.

      The earth sample, on the other hand, has a nice nose, perhaps bourbon-like from the description. The "antiseptic" is downplayed in the taste (though it probably has a little "burn" given the mention), and the "long lingering aftertaste" is not "intense" but rather a blend of "gentle" and "creamy" pleasant flavors like smoke and fudge.

      In short, you might think these are similar descriptions, but the basic effect I get is that the earth-based sample was fairly balanced and pleasant overall, with perhaps a little bit of "bite," but the space sample was wildly out-of-balance and, frankly, terrible. I know some people who like "extreme" whiskies that taste pretty weird, and maybe they'd like the space sample. But I imagine the more interesting conclusion (if anything, from such a small, short study) is that space aging can change which notes are brought out in whisky, and perhaps some sort of combination of aging processes could result in something better. But this study was fairly limited.

  • Seriously, 3 years of unfulfilled temptation? Such a vial wouldn't survive very long on the Mir.

    But then, vodka doesn't benefit so much from aging.

  • Chromatography or similar would be required. Human can delude themselves into seeing different taste. A chromatography much less so. Although it would be probably difficult as the terpene are in very small quantity, the pronounced different taste should lead to some differences.
  • by GrantRobertson ( 973370 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @02:10AM (#50476541) Homepage Journal

    Of course they tasted different. Due to relativity, the one on the ground aged longer.

  • Try again (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @02:55AM (#50476647)

    To be a valid they would need to have at least three sample tested by each person. Some would be given 2 Earth whiskies, some 2 space whiskies, some 3 Earth whiskies and some 3 space whiskies. That way it is easier to weed out biases in this very subjective test. Presenting someone with two samples and asking what are the differences biases the tester towards finding differences when none exist.

  • NASA's? (Score:5, Informative)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @03:37AM (#50476757) Homepage Journal

    Since when does the ISS belong to NASA? The headline is misleading - other countries own the majority of it, and Russia is already planning to recycle their bits when the ISS is scrapped.

  • Let's send a case of Lagavulin on the next re-supply and a box of Advil to see what else might be different in space. If anything...

  • by ILongForDarkness ( 1134931 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2015 @05:48AM (#50477029)

    They never say the thing tastes like what it is. Never does wine have a "distinctive note of fermented grapes". I also love to read a couple tasting notes about the same thing. One will say "citris, vanilla and anise" another "watermelon", "bacon", "chocolate". Without fail they seem to have complete different components. Then you get in the room with a wine or whiskey snob and watch them discuss the "peach note" in the drink. Fantastic.

  • You and your puny Earthling beverages!

  • Sorry, but considering that tens of thousands of pages have been written on the subtle nuances of wine flavors, yet blindfolded wine experts couldn't actually distinguish between red and white varieties, I'm guessing the fine distinctions of whiskeys are pretty much the same. []

    It's certainly credible that a chemical reaction taking place in an environment without convection or gravity, etc might proceed differently in some respects, but I'm going to file this one down around "

  • I suppose that if you get to send stuff up into space for experiments like this, everyone involved makes sure that you have your ducks in a row when it comes to basic science. Nevertheless, I have to ask: they kept both samples at exactly the same temperature, right?

    And the microgravity one didn't have the whiskey frequently coming into contact with a stopper or cap, with the Earth gravity one having a constant layer of gas (air or CO2 or something) in between, right?

    Right? I ass/u/me so.

    (I do think think

  • The results where inconclusive, so I suggest that we organize additional experiments which include public taste testing up to and including intoxication and long term experiments which address the long term affects of light to moderate "Space Aged Spirits" consumption.

    Too expensive you say? Not so, sell raffle tickets for a chance to be part of the study to varying degrees with the grand prize being a lifetime supply of Space Aged Spirits to offset the costs. Heck, it the stuff is good enough, you could

  • Who are we going to send the bill to? []

  • Doesn't the local climate also contribute to a whisky ripening in a cask ? For example whisky ripening in peat areas have a distinct touch. Might be hogswash from the whiskey makers though, just thought this might be relevant

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