To answer your unasked question: yes! Even though I am only sixteen innocent years of age, with absolutely no desire to drink and extremely limited appreciation for whisky, I am covering this week’s whisky post too! Now look. I won’t judge any of you if you are equally as enthusiastic as my mother for this strange, oily, smelly, rusty beverage. Instead, I’m going to relate a story from the world of whisky—one I find interesting for reasons that shall soon become apparent, and it’s about peat-in-a-bottle. Everybody wins!
A while back in the not now, Mother forwarded me an article entitled, “Whisky Distiller Sends Malt Into Space.” To summarize, the brilliant physicists at the Ardbeg Distillery on Islay sent compounds of charred oak and new make spirit, unmatured malt, to the International Space Station (ISS) in April, 2012. The aim here, apart from a clever and yet probably painfully expensive advertisement, is to mix the two samples and observe how the terpenes (aromatic and flavorful chemicals) interact in microgravity. (Nota bene and pretentious-ay: the environment aboard the ISS is not “close-to-zero-gravity,”as this article would have you believe. Even “microgravity” is an iffy term. In fact, the gravity at the orbiting altitude of the station is only a fraction less than the gravity exerted on you. But because of free fall and spherical planets and fairy dust, it appears like zero gravity. Think dropping roller coasters/descending elevators.)
The scientists who received the remarkable assignment of working on this job believe that this is the first time “terpenes” have been studied in space. Although technically, Gemini III’s crew snuck a corned beef sandwich on board. In my book, that science is just as legitimate.
I’m sorry. Say what you will about terpenes, flavor compounds, aroma molecules. Knock yourself out. But we all know the real reason for the space-malt:
The cosmonauts are out of vodka.
And when there’s no more vodka, and no more sausage, and no more borscht-in-a-box, somebody gets pushed out of the airlock. And then crew morale drops, and productivity goes down … not to mention the distracting cosmonaut mush all over the windows. Nice going, Kirkachev.
NanoRacks LLC is the space research company leading the experiment. A quote from Michael Johnson, chief technical officer and in-house bartender, reads, “By doing this microgravity experiment on the interaction of terpenes and other molecules with the wood samples provided by Ardbeg, we will learn much about flavours, even extending to applications like food and perfume.” NO! The experiment involves flavor-active compounds and the hypothesis suggests that we’ll learn about flavors?!? This is too much. I need to sit down.
Here’s my personal interpretation of Mr. Johnson’s words: “By doing this, like, mi-microgratty experiment on the interaction of *hic* terp-terpenes and other, um, molecules with the *hic* wood samples provided by Arbdeg, we will mearn luch about, um, flavours? Eh. It’s so beautiful, man. So *sob* BEAUTIFUL.”
I’m mainly curious to see how two years aboard the ISS affects the interaction, or maturation, I suppose, of the particles. I don’t know much about maturation…ah, who am I kidding. I read the Wikipedia article; I’m a professor of this stuff. My not-exactly-valuable hypothesis is that the apparent lack of gravity will not affect the chemical composition and therefore the taste of the mixture. Hey, this tastes like unwashed socks and corned beef sandwiches! Whoo, science!
Go ahead and booze it up, star sailors. You deserve a wild night and to wake up in the morning going, “Aw, silly Jim. Out there in his PJs! Lookee, Houston!”
Here’s to searching the skies for your glowing partyboat, and keep up the drunken experimentation, Ardbeg/NanoRacks. You are, um, saving lives.