Aging whiskey is a particular process. Any number of factors — the type of wood used in the barrel, the temperature, the altitude — can alter the taste, flavor and alcohol content.
But even the most finicky barrel master might be hard-pressed to match the latest effort by Japanese beverage company Suntory. The company launched several whiskey samples into space last week, and the pouches of booze landed Monday at the International Space Station as part of a year-long maturation project.
In a statement issued when the company announced the project last month, Suntory said the experiment aims to determine if exposure to micro-gravity will allow the company to create a more mellow whiskey.
That plan doesn’t make much sense to Steve Ury, an L.A-based whiskey expert who authors the popular blog Sku’s Recent Eats.
“To most people what smooth means is reducing the alcoholic burn,” he said. “What produces that is adding more water.”
It’s fair to wager the space flight will have some effect on the aging process. When it’s first distilled, whiskey is a clear liquid. Each batch gains most of its color and flavor from the aging process, Ury said, and like anything else, location can play a huge role.
Whiskeys aged in Scotland, for example, actually lose some of their alcohol content because of the country’s high humidity. Aging in Kentucky, meanwhile creates a higher-proof batch because of the altitude.
While the idea of “Whiskey ... In Space!” may sound like a B-movie sequel, Suntory isn’t the first to try it. Ardbeg, a whiskey distillery based in Scotland, launched several samples into space in 2011 alongside U.S. research company NanoRacks.
The samples orbited the Earth 15 times a day for three years, according to Ardbeg’s website, and returned in September 2014. The effects of the experiment remain unknown, but Ardbeg’s whiskey master is supposed to publish a research paper on the project at a later date.
Ury said he couldn’t hazard a guess what, if any, effect space-aging might have on whiskey. But whatever the results are, they are unlikely to alter your everyday drink.
“To me, space barrel aging is sort of an absurdity. I don’t know what the effect will be at zero gravity on aging, but I’m not sure it matters,” he said. “There’s no practical way to keep aging your barrels in space.”
James Queally ages whiskey in his stomach, often. Too often. Follow him @JamesQueallyLAT