In October of 2011, Ardbeg Distillery from the Scottish ilse of Islay made history when it sent a vial of its Scotch whisky to space.
Part outrageous PR stunt, part experiment, a vial of the whisky was kept aboard the International Space Station for almost three years - not to help ease the anxieties of astronauts, but to study the effects of microgravity on the whisky's flavour profile.
After returning to Earth in September 2014, embarking on a world tour and various tests, the results of a full comparative study have finally been revealed: space whisky is brilliant.
These are Ardbeg's official tasting notes, comparing a vial of the same batch of whisky that was left on Earth to the one that was sent to the heavens:
Aroma – Very woody, hints of cedar wood, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar. Hints of raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges. Very reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style.
Taste – Dry palate, woody/balsamic flavours, sweet smoke and clove oil. A distant fruitiness (prunes/dates), some charcoal and antiseptic notes. The aftertaste is long, lingering and typically Ardbeg, with flavours of gentle smoke, briar wood, tar and some sweet, creamy fudge.
Aroma – Intense and rounded, with notes of antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious, perfumed note , like cassis or violet. Powerful woody notes, hints of graphite and some vanilla. This then leads into very earthy/soil notes, a savoury, beefy aroma, and then hints of rum & raisin flavoured ice cream.
Taste – A very focussed flavour profile, with smoked fruits (prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries), earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham. The aftertaste is pungent, intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke.
There was a "notable difference" found in the samples, with the space-aged whisky described by Ardbeg's Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation Dr Bill Lumsden as having a far smokier profile:
"When I nosed and tasted the space samples, it became clear that much more of Ardbeg's smoky, phenolic character shone through - to reveal a different set of smoky flavours which I have not encountered here on Earth before."
You can read the full paper on the space whisky experiment here, but the fact it misses the opportunity to describe the space-aged sample as "out of this world" means that we've lost a little faith in the whole expedition. There's also no word on whether Ardberg will send more samples up in a bid to sell them in the future.
So what next? Whisky distilleries floating around the Earth alongside communication satellites and space tourism centres? Possibly not, but that hasn't stopped Scotch company Ballantine from making a whisky glass for use in space - allowing drinkers to enjoy their product in the complex environment of zero gravity.
Created with a 3D printer, the glass allows the whisky to flow up the sides of the sealed drinking vessel. Current astronauts won't be able to enjoy its use just yet though - alcohol is banned aboard the ISS and other space expeditions, but it's an interesting insight into the hopes of the drinks industry.