One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Whisky

Ardberg Distillery sits on the south coast of the Isle of Islay in picturesque Argyll and Bute in Scotland. It’s a world away, quite literally, from the International Space Station (ISS), which travels at 17,000 mph at some 250 miles above the surface of the Earth, completing an orbit every 90 minutes.

In August 2011, these two unlikely partners were brought together by an experiment to see how the absence of gravity effects turpenes – organic compounds associated with flavour in spirits and wines. Micro-gravity environments are a fascination for companies looking for novel ways of producing products. Space-matured whisky is undoubtably a novelty!

Ardberg prepared a package of 6ml of whisky distillate (unmatured whisky) and shavings from oak maturation casks. This was sent to the ISS via a Soyuz rocket launched from Khazakstan. in January 2012 the whisky and wood shavings were mixed at the same time as identical quantities of whisky and shavings were mixed together on Earth. Both whiskys were matured for 971 days, after which the intergalactic sample was brought back to Earth and sent to Ardberg for comparison with its Earth-bound sample.

In case you are wondering why Ardberg didn’t simply send a cask into space, the cost of putting a kilogram of mass into orbit is currently around £5,000. Significantly cheaper than it used to be but still very expensive! For a 200 litre american oak barrel that would likely cost in excess of £1 million.

And what were the results of the experiment? Arberg published a detailed report, and noted that although the samples were very similar, the flavour profiles were different.

One of the most interesting results is that the sample matured in space did not take on as much of the oak characteristics as the sample matured on Earth. If this is due to the lack of gravity then it may be that in the future it would be possible to more accurately determine the age of whisky by analysing the concentration of oak characteristics. Perhaps this might also help prevent whisky fraud in the the future if nothing else.

Whisky and space, two of our favourite topics!

Image by “STS132 undocking iss2” by NASA – http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/crew-23/hires/s132e012212.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Who’s for 19th Century Whiskey?

Having driven across the picturesque Ruthven Bridge in years gone by we thought it unique. It carries the B970 across the River Spey and as lattice-truss bridges go it is unusually long.

Imagine our surprise then to read about the discovery of a time capsule buried deep within the structure. The metal box was found by workers from Morgan Sindall, executing a £622,000 project to replace the super structure of the bridge, leaving the stone piers but sadly replacing it’s graceful lattice work.

Inside the box was found a newspaper dated Saturday, September 29 1894, a scroll, and a bottle of coloured liquid presumed to be whiskey. These items have been handed over to The Highland Folk Museum.

Its remarkable to think that the box must have been placed there when the bridge was being built. At that time a new century was approaching that would bring with incredible transformations in transport, medicine and communications. A bridge built to carry horse-laden carriages finally being replaced after 121 years!

But what of the whiskey? We would love to know where that came from. The nearest distillery, famous for being in the Cairngorms is that of Dalwhinnie, one of our favourite mellow tipples. Dalwhinnie was founded as the Strathspey Distillery by John Grant, George Sellar and Alexander Mackenzie. However this momentous event occurred in 1897, so clearly it wasn’t Dalwhinnie.

What is it worth? Old bottles of whiskey sell well at auction. Scotland has some fabulously old distilleries,the Bowmore Distillery for example, established in 1779 by a local merchant, John P. Simpson on isle of Islay, an island of the Inner Hebrides. A bottle of single malt 1850 Bowmore was sold at McTear’s auctioneers in Glasgow for £29,400 to an anonymous telephone bidder. So, it could potentially be worth quite a lot.

It would be wonderful to discover who placed that box there and what might be in the bottle, but we suspect we may never know.

So the next time you drive over an ancient looking road bridge, just imagine, what was crossing it soon after it was built, and what might be buried beneath it?

Image is Ruthven Bridge © Copyright Andrew Wood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.