Distillers have long been interested in the particularities of the aging process, and how to mature the drink to bring out that specific, mellow flavor we search for in a glass of quality whiskey. Japanese based distillers Suntory set their hopes high for what they feel is the next big thing for whiskey aging – as high as the ISS, to be specific. They announced earlier this week that several samples of their beverage will be sent to the ISS with the intent to study the “development of mellowness in alcoholic beverage through the use of a microgravity environment.”
”Results of collaborative researches have suggested the probability that mellowness develops by promoted formation of the high-dimensional molecular structure in the alcoholic beverage in environments where liquid convection is suppressed. ” according to Suntory’s statement.
The researchers at Suntory Global Innovation Center will send six samples of spirits into orbit with the help of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Launching from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Centre later this month, the beverage payload will be conveyed to the Kibo module of the International Space Station (ISS), where research will show just how mellow space spirits taste.
The company is conducting the research to help it refine its scientific understanding of the molecular mechanism “that makes alcohol mellow”. The space maturation experiments are looking “to verify the effect of the convection-free state created by a microgravity environment to the mellowing of alcoholic beverage”.
The drinks will be divided into two groups. Group 1 samples will be aged for 1 year and Group 2 samples for 2 or more years, with the exact length of ageing for the longer batch to be decided at a later time. Control batches will be stored in Japan during the experiment period, and testers will analyse and compare the two sets at the conclusion of the ageing process.
How they’ll determine the results of the experiment won’t be anything as simple as an old-fashioned taste test, either (although that will also take place). Suntory intends to measure the samples’ substance diffusion and analyse the drinks’ high-dimensional structure by X-ray to see what effect the convection-free state has on the liquor.
This isn’t the first time we sent drinks to space (and surprisingly, it wasn’t drunk while there). A team of US researchers conducted a similar experiment between 2011 and 2014, launching a sample of Ardberg Scotch Whiskey into space for more than 1,000 days (the results have not yet been published), with a company spokesperson commenting:
“This is one small step for man but one giant leap for whisky.”