In 2011, NanoRacks, LLC allowed the Ardbeg Distillery to stow several vials of whiskey on board a rocket bound for the International Space Station.(1)
The whiskey was sent up, not to be consumed by the astronauts, but rather, to study maturation in a low-gravity environment. The vials of whiskey are set to stay on the space station until 2013.
While there, scientists will monitor the vials and report back to Earth. The finding will be compared to control vials in Houston, TX and at the Ardbeg Distillery. However, the Ardbeg Distillery announced on September 1st that they are releasing the spirits, a 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky, to the public.
They have named it Ardbeg Galileo, after Galileo Galilei.
NanoRacks, whose tag line is “Space 4 Everyone,” provides microgravity facilities that easily interface with the International Space Station’s power and data resources. (2) According to the their website, the company creates:
“…a commercial climate conducive to allowing new users, from students to researchers, from government space agencies to individuals, to conduct research, design experiments, tinker, make mistakes, and maybe realize wonderful breakthroughs in low-earth orbit and beyond.”
Space Act Agreement
The company was started in 2009 when it signed a Space Act agreement with NASA.
The Space Act, officially known as the Authority to Enter into Space Act Agreements, allows NASA to make such agreements with a wide variety of entities. As stated in the NASA Policy Directive:
“Under its Space Act authority, NASA has entered into a great number of agreements with diverse groups of people and organizations, both in the private and public sector, in order to meet wide-ranging NASA mission and program requirements and objectives.” (3)
One of those private sector organizations is the Ardbeg Distillery located on the Scottish island of Islay. The Ardbeg Distillery was founded in 1815. However, there is evidence that distilling was taking place in Ardbeg nearly a century before the commercial license was issued.(4)
By 1887, the company was producing more than 1 million liters per year. Though production has dipped a few times, the whiskey has consistently won awards such as the “World Whiskey of the Year” in 2008. It seems this most recent endeavor is to make finer whiskey by studying terpene extraction in microgravity.
Terpene Extraction in Microgravity
According to the NASA manifest, the experiment is officially titled “Terpene Extraction in Microgravity.” (5)
The purpose of the experiment is to discover new “chemical building blocks” through the use of microgravity extraction on wood samples. The wood samples, taken from barrels that the whiskey is aged in, are studied to see how they will interact with the whiskey in a microgravity environment.
Then, the experimental samples will be compared to the control samples that were left behind on Earth. Arbeg hopes to be able to identify a new variety of terpenes that can be used in whiskey production.
Though this experiment seems to utilize a large amount of resources to create a new and improved whiskey, the experiment does have applications beyond whiskey production. One such application is to further the study of gravity and its effects on basic materials.
However, the study of terpenes in microgravity also has applications in the field of agriculture, since terpenes have shown to be an effective pesticide.
Furthermore, Ardbeg is paying for this experiment entirely out of their own pocket. They can afford this venture due to the fact that their experiment was included with a large number of others, effectively driving the total cost down.
For more information about the other experiments included in this mission, read the NASA manifest for the Soyuz rocket.
Even though Ardbeg has set out to create a new whiskey using space-age technology that could be integrated with their age-old technique of distilling whiskey, their research could have an impact on a wide variety of other consumer products and the agricultural industry as a whole.