Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Complex Flavours of Space

          By Brian Orlotti

Recently, two Scottish distilleries and a US. brewery announced partially space-developed alcohol-related products. The announcements highlight the NewSpace industry's knack for exploring products and industries untapped by traditional space programs.

A white paper on the Ardbeg experiment, under the title, "The Impact of Mirco-Gravity on The Release of Oak Extractives into Spirit," is currently available on the Ardbeg website. Graphic c/o Ardbeg.

As outlined in the September 7th 2015 BBC News post "Ardbeg reveals results of 'space whisky' experiment," in October of 2011 Ardbeg Distillery, based in the Inner Hebrides islands of Scotland (and a part of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE conglomerate), sent a vial of unmatured malt whiskey via Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) to study the effects of micro-gravity on its flavour.

Texas-based ISS cargo-provider NanoRacks provided rack space aboard the ISS as well as logistical support.

Specifically, the experiment investigated the behaviour of terpenes, a class of plant-derived organic compounds used to flavour many foods and alcoholic beverages. Another vial of the same whiskey was kept at the distillery for comparison. The ISS sample was brought back to Earth in 2014.

According to Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's director of distilling and whisky creation for Ardbeg, the space whiskey sample was "noticeably different" from the Earth-based one in terms of aroma and taste. The space sample was described as having an intense aroma with hints of "antiseptic smoke," rubber and smoked fish. Its taste was deemed to be “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.”

Lumsden described the Earth sample as having a woody aroma with “hints of cedar, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar, as well as raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges." Its taste was described as:
...woody, balsamic flavours...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.
But good whisky also needs the proper whisky glasses to be fully appreciated.

As outlined in the September 9th, 2015 Trend Hunters post, "Space-Bound Whiskey Glasses," Dumbarton, Scotland-based whiskey distiller Ballantine's (a part of the Pernod Ricard conglomerate), in cooperation with the Open Space Agency (a London, UK-based group of citizen space explorers) has created a zero-gravity tumbler glass that allows astronauts to consume whiskey and other spirits in space. The 'space glass' through its organically elegant design, both secures liquids and maintains the flavour of drinks.

Each 'space glass' has a spiral channel embedded in the wall of the glass that acts as a straw, allowing someone to sip a drink in micro-gravity. A dome-shaped enclosure enables the whiskey to gently aerate as it moves around the glass without risk of the drink floating away. In addition, each glass is made with a magnetic bottom (sheathed in rose gold and stainless steel), ensuring that a user can set it down securely between sips. Finally, the bottom of the glass incorporates a one-way valve so it can be filled without spillage.

Ground Control for Major Tom. Photo c/o Nikasi
Of course, the march of alcohol into space is not limited to distilled beverages. 

As outlined in the October 12th, 2105 Tampa Bay Times post "Drink of the Week: Ninkasi Ground Control beer," the Eugene, Oregon-based Ninkasi Brewing Company is now selling what it calls 'Ground Control,' an imperial stout-type beer brewed with Oregon hazelnuts, star anise, cacao nibs and yeast carried into space and back. 

Ninkasi tapped UP Aerospace, a Denver, Colorado-based maker of sounding rockets, to carry its beer yeast on a suborbital trajectory 124 kilometres above Earth and back. The yeast's brief time in space produced no real difference in Ground Control's flavour, but does make for a unique marketing tool.

Though traditionalists may scoff at these efforts as frivolous, they increase space's mass appeal and help strengthen the space sector by drawing in new players who become vested interests.

Brian Orlotti.
It is this broadening of space's support base that will drive us forward to greater achievements.

Brian Orlotti is a network operations centre analyst at Shomi, a Canadian provider of on-demand internet streaming media and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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