I love space. I love whisky. So how could the attempt to combine the two go so horribly wrong? Like this. Just like this.
In case you haven’t heard, Scotch-purveyor Ardbeg retrieved their whisky experiment—which spent two years aging out in the microgravity of the International Space Station—and held a taste test recently. So just what does a single-malt that has been ferried out among the stars, a whisky that has reached out from beyond our own earthbound-atmosphere to touch the face of God, taste like? According to their experimental notes, it has:
- A combined smell of “antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious, perfumed note”
- A flavor that is described as somehow transitioning directly from “beefy” into rum-raisin ice cream
- An aftertaste comparable to a mix of cough drops and “rubbery smoke”
Okay, so not a big success, then—that’s okay, most experiments aren’t. The problem, though, is that this isn’t just an experiment to see what whisky tastes like in microgravity. It’s the first step in a long game, the end goal of which is to make you pay a whole lot of money for a pretty gross product. How do we know? Because they tell us so in those same experiment notes:
The key findings of the above three aims would then be considered in conjunction with actual maturation conditions on Earth to investigate techniques for developing novel flavours in Ardberg Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
It’s not often that the thought “Hey, this thing tastes kind of like a burning tire packed with fish and spritzed down with some cheap, unidentifiable perfume” is followed by “and we should totally figure out how to market it.” So just what’s going on here? To understand that, you have to look at something else that’s going on in the whisky world—the coming shortage.
There have been worries of a coming whisky shortage for awhile now, not because of a shortage of ingredients (which are all pretty basic), but because of a shortage of something much more difficult to manufacture on short order: Time. Whisky makers have to factor several years of aging into their manufacturing process, which means they have to guess at just how much whisky people might want far into the future.
Guess too much and they have an oversupply to unload; guess too little (as many manufacturers are starting to suspect they did in the last few decades), and they’re looking at a temporary shortage just when people want their product the most. One way they’ve tried to get around this (so far mostly unsuccessfully) is by looking for technological ways to replicate the aging process in short order. But a flavored whisky would also have a lot of potential appeal for manufacturers looking to circumvent the aging process.
Whisky that hasn’t been aged well often has a bit of an antiseptic edge to it. If whisky makers can convince people to buy a whisky with a strong overlying flavor profile (yes, even if that profile is somewhere between a cough drop and a beef-flavored ice cream cone), then those jagged edges that haven’t had enough time to mellow are far less noticeable.
Maybe space-flavored whisky won’t be on your shelves today or tomorrow, but rest assured: It—or something close—is probably at least going to attempt to make the jump to a shelf near you eventually. And when it finally does, the smartest thing you can do is to leave it there.