US-based breweries AB InBev wants to give future space colonists the opportunity of getting positively plastered. The company will be sending 20 malting barley seeds to the ISS early next month to see how this critical ingredient fares in microgravity.
Mars can be a bleak place, so why not crack open a cold one to help you unwind after a hard day of colonizing? That, at least, is what Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev, the company behind Budweiser) proposes. Since there’s no beer like a fresh one, however, the brewing company plans to give future spacefarers all they need to brew their own brew on the go. The first step will be to check if barley crops can grow outside of Earth, and as such AB is sending 20 malting barley seeds to the ISS. The cereal is one of the four main ingredients used for the brew.
The mission will fulfill a promise AB InBev made last March at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, that it “would create a beer suitable for drinking in space […] and when people get there they will toast on Budweiser.”
“Sending our barley to the International Space Station is a big step towards our goal of creating a microgravity brew,” said Ricardo Marques, Budweiser marketing vice president, said in an email.
“Our obsession with innovation led us to this place, and we couldn’t be more excited for Budweiser to be the beer one day enjoyed on the red planet.”
The experiment itself will help better our understanding of how space-borne cereals in general and barley, in particular, will fare. What AB InBev researchers want to see is the effects an off-planet environment will have on the seeds, with a particular interest in microgravity and their germination process. Specifically, they’ll evaluate whether sufficiently cool and dry conditions can be maintained (needed for proper barley storage) and whether the seeds grow at least 6-10 inches (15.2-25.4 cm) the first two weeks, as they do planet-side.
The seeds will be held aboard the ISS for one month. After landing back on Earth, they will be taken to AB InBev’s American innovation team in Colorado. In the end, the data gleaned from the malted barley will help them determine whether space breeding and storage of the cereal is feasible. If yes, it would likely form the base for an entire off-world beer brewing industry.
The breweries will be working together with the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), a non-profit that manages the US’ National Lab facility aboard the ISS, and Space Tango, a private company that runs two commercial research units within the National Lab.
“Budweiser is taking the commitment to create microgravity beer very seriously, which is why we’ve partnered with leaders in the space industry like CASIS,” a company spokesperson said. “Together with our Liquid Innovation team, the duo will conduct experiments on the International Space Station, to begin the process of understanding how we can create a microgravity beer.”
Brave new frontier or grab for attention?
So is this a market stunt? It’s definitely that, too — AB is, after all, a company that has to turn a profit.
At the same time, it’s difficult to overstate just how much humans love alcohol. There is evidence our ancestors made and enjoyed wine as early as 8,000 years ago. We’ve teased out 5,000-year-old beer recipes from ancient Chinese pottery and of course we’ve made some and drank it. In fact, it’s possible one of the principal reasons humans ever settled down at all was because we wanted to get drunk more easily. It’s likely that we’ve also actually made an evolutionary effort just to be able to get smashed. It all means that when humans eventually leave the Earth for other homes among the stars, alcoholic drinks will come along to power merry times, poor choices, and health issues.
AB isn’t the first company to sniff out a good profit margin in the whole affair. Two years ago, Japanese-based distillery Suntory launched whiskey offworld (also to the ISS) to study the “development of mellowness in alcoholic beverage through the use of a microgravity environment.” As did Ardberg Scotch Whiskey in 2011, keeping their brew in orbit up to 2014. On the other end of the bottle, Scottish manufacturer Ballantine handily designed a space glass that will let astronauts imbibe but never spill their drink while getting tipsy in 0G.
Right now, we have to wait and see how Anheuser-Busch’s seeds fare. If everything goes well, however, we’re bound to see more research in the field of space booze — and, ultimately, even finished products. The seeds will be sent to space on the upcoming cargo supply mission SpaceX’s CRS-13, scheduled to be launched on December 4 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.