Whiskey tastes strange after being aged in space

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Whiskey that was aged for three years on ISS was taste-tested this past week in Scotland, and the testers all found the taste “completely unlike anything they have ever tasted before.”

The space whiskey had a much smokier quality, with flavors akin to cherries, prunes, raisins, and cinnamon, he said. He also noted that the whiskey’s aftertaste was “pungent, intense, and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges, and rubbery smoke.” This was in contrast to the Earth-aged whiskey, which had richer flavors more characteristic of whiskey drinks. The space whiskey still had strong flavor, but they were strange, Lumsden said — and not particularly good. He still has yet to figure out why. “That I haven’t been able to work out yet,” he said.

This is not the same Japanese whiskey that was recently sent up to ISS. That is a second experiment, along the same lines.



  • jburn

    All due respect to the whiskey drinkers… but the preferred adult beverage of space travelers is Vodka.

    Kidding aside, I wonder if the Russians have explored aging Vodka in space as part of their “research”.

  • PeterF

    1. In a gravity environment the whiskey will separate. The solids will sink to the bottom and liquids with a lower specific gravity (alcohol) will rise to the top.
    2. The inside surface of the barrel at the top remains dry and volatile gasses can escape through the slightly porous wood carrying the “off” flavors away. (Those lost gasses make up what is known as “The Angels share”).
    3. The bottom of the keg remains wet and the porous wood is effectively sealed by the liquid which swells the wood. The whiskey that penetrates the wood is now being marketed as “The Devils Share” (slick marketing) (but used whiskey kegs are highly prized by beer brewers because of the complex flavors that can be introduced)
    4. Whiskey kegs are generally untouched in a cool dry environment (a cellar) while they age. They are not subject to shaking. The atmosphere of the cellar typically remains a fairly constant temperature and humidity although barometric pressure will vary.

    5. In the microgravity environment of the ISS there would be almost no precipitation within the mixture.
    6. Any motion of the ISS would tend to “stir” the mixture and further prevent differentiation.
    7. A keg in microgravity would have no dry surfaces where the off flavored volatiles could escape.
    8. The whiskey sent to the ISS was effectively aged within a sealed plastic “mix stik”. (yuck)
    9. When spirits are sealed in a bottle, the aging process stops. It does not get better with age and arguably is at its best the first day of bottling.

    (Don’t buy a $200 bottle of scotch and have just a shot on special occasions – it can go bad fairly quickly once opened)

  • Cotour

    Excellent analysis.

  • I was going to suggest that this would be a new market, but after reading the article, I don’t really see a demand for whiskey that tastes like ‘throat lozenges’.

  • wodun

    I wonder how different it would taste if aged outside (to some extent) while accounting for some of the limitations that PeterF mentioned above. Some astronauts have reported that space smells a bit like BBQ, or at least their suits do after going outside. Perhaps space bourbon?

    One thing is for certain, humans will not sit on the edge of the void without alcohol and/or other intoxicants.

  • D.K. Williams

    World’s most expensive liquor. And an absolutely asinine waste of taxpayers’ money. If this isort of trifling research is common on ISS, then it has outlived its usefulness.

  • Edward


    The article did not mention the difference in taste or chemistry between the keg-aged whiskey batch and the six Earthside MixStix. You mentioned quite a few processes that occur in the barrel that can’t have occurred in the MixStix.

    Of course, the important part was the microgravity aging process, and I am glad that they did the chromatography, not just a taste test.

    As for D. K.’s comment below, this experiment was not about the whiskey so much as it is about the effects of zero gravity. At a price of $10,000 per pound to get stuff into space, no one was expecting for the whiskey aging process to ever include zero-g aging. There are a large number of experiments being done to see what happens in zero-g, as we don’t have a way of doing so on the ground.

    Chemical processes, flame propagation, mixing, propellant storage and flow, and even the capillary action of drinking coffee from open cups on the ISS have all been mysteries in space.

    We think that we know what happens in many of these processes, but if the models, when set for zero-g effects, differ from reality, then we don’t really know how these processes work after all. We don’t really know what we think we know.

    This experiment is testing yet another process (or maybe a set of processes) so that we can learn more about the way the universe actually works. It may seem to you that it is, but it is not the trifling research that you think it is.

  • From what I can tell, they are not spending taxpayer money for this research. Private companies are putting the research together and then hitching a ride to get to ISS. They have to get their research approved by NASA (or the Japanese) but I don’t think much government money is being spent to do the work.

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