-- Ardbeg's research may also signal a way for whisky industry experts to build a database of ageing whiskies --
TORONTO, Sept. 9, 2015 /CNW/ - The results of Ardbeg's pioneering space mission, released this week, in which the Distillery became the first ever to send spirit into orbit, have far-reaching implications for the unorthodox single malt – and perhaps for the entire whisky industry, experts say.
Nearly four years ago, Ardbeg distillate was sent into space as part of an experiment to investigate how micro-gravity (near zero gravity) would affect the behaviour of terpenes, the building blocks of flavour for many foods and wines as well as whisky spirits. This maturation experiment was undertaken as research into terpenes in micro-gravity was limited. Its findings, [revealed this week], are groundbreaking. They pave the way for unprecedented flavour profiles, particularly for Ardbeg, the world's peatiest, smokiest, Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
The experiment began in October 2011, when vials containing Ardbeg new-make spirit distillate and shards of Ardbeg casks, were sent to the U.S. National Lab on the International Space Station by the Distillery's partner, U.S. space research company NanoRacks LLC. Some 200 miles above Earth, the vials orbited the planet at 17,227 miles per hour, for almost three years. Following their return to Earth, the samples were analysed alongside control samples that had been kept at the Ardbeg Distillery by Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation, independent whisky experts and scientists.
In three of the four stages of analysis, major differences were identified between the two sets of samples. Dr Bill said: "The space samples were noticeably different. 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." Dr Bill added: "Ardbeg already has a complex character, but the results of our experiment show that there is potentially even more complexity that we can uncover, to reveal a different side to the whisky."
Further analysis, looking at ratios of different types of wood extractive compounds, found significant differences between the two sets of samples – demonstrating that gravity has a very real effect on the maturation of spirit. Dr Bill commented "Our findings may also one day have significant implications for the whisky industry as a whole. In the future, the altered range of wood extractions could lead scientists to be able to detail the ratios of compounds expected in whiskies of a certain age."
Jeffrey Manber, CEO of NanoRacks who partnered with Ardbeg on this experiment, commented "It's hard to find companies willing to be pioneers... To have a partner like Ardbeg that is willing to make this sort of commitment augurs well for the future of commercial space research into flavourings and what it changes for consumer products in general."
Ardbeg would like to thank NASA and the Space Station Program for allowing this experiment to be undertaken.
Notes to Editors:
The Ardbeg in Space experiment:
In 2011, the Distillery was invited to take part in a pioneering experiment with the U.S. space research company NanoRacks, to explore how micro-gravity (near zero gravity) would affect the behaviour of terpenes, the building blocks of flavour for whisky spirits as well as for many other foods and wines and distillate. Special vials known as MixStix™, containing Ardbeg new-make spirit (spirit just off the still) and shards of charred oak cut from the inside of casks in the Ardbeg warehouse, would be sent to the International Space Station by NanoRacks, via its Space Act Agreement with NASA, where they would orbit the Earth, while control samples remained on Earth at the Ardbeg Distillery. The vials were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, at 10.11am GMT on 30th October 2011, in the unmanned Russian Progress 45 cargo spacecraft, via a Soyuz booster rocket. On 2nd November, the rocket docked with astronauts at the International Space Station, and its cargo began orbiting the planet. At a pre-determined time in January 2012, the experiment went live, when the scientists onboard the International Space Station – and on Earth – broke a separating wall between the two components in the vials. This allowed Ardbeg spirit to mix with the oak shards – and maturation to begin. By September 2014, the vials had completed their journey and were sent back down to Earth, where scientists in Kazakhstan were waiting to receive them. The vials were taken by the NASA jet carrying the astronaut to Houston, Texas, where NanoRacks is based, and there were handed over to Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg's Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation, so that analysis could commence.
As with any rigorous scientific analysis, the results of the experiment were analysed by a number of independent whisky experts and scientists. The results were then discussed and considered for their implications at a "peer review" on the pier at Ardbeg Distillery on Islay, in August 2015, by whisky expert Charles MacLean and by Jeffrey Manber, the CEO of NanoRacks.
The four-stage analysis and its findings:
1) Organoleptic assessment
Nosing and tasting
Dr Bill's analysis established that much more of Ardbeg's smoky, phenolic character shone through in the space samples than in the Earth samples.
Earth sample: The sample had a woody aroma, reminiscent of an aged Ardbeg style, with hints of cedar, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar, as well as raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges. On the palate, its woody, balsamic flavours shone through, along with a distant fruitiness, some charcoal and antiseptic notes, leading to a long, lingering aftertaste, with flavours of gentle smoke, tar and creamy fudge.
Space sample: Its intense aroma had hints of antiseptic smoke, rubber and smoked fish, along with a curious, perfumed note, like violet or cassis, and powerful woody tones, leading to a meaty aroma. The taste was very focused, with smoked fruits such as prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries, earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham. The aftertaste is intense and long, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and rubbery smoke.
2) Gas chromatography (GC)
Measures key volatile compounds of alcohols, aldehydes, ketones and fatty acid esters
Dr Bill established that levels of these compounds were the same in both sets of samples – as expected.
3) Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS)
A more advanced version of gas chromatography
Independent analysis found that one compound (a phenolic compound – one of the more flavour-active compounds) was significantly different in the samples – far lower in the space samples than in the Earth samples.
4) High pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC)
Used to establish the impact of maturation on spirit, it measures phenolic compounds and wood extractives. The wood extractive compounds measured are split into those which are easily extracted from wood and those which are less easily extracted.
The results of this analysis found that among the wood extractive compounds, the ratio of these two types of compounds was very different in the two set of samples – with much fewer of the less-easily-extracted compounds found in the space samples. This indicates that micro-gravity either inhibits the release of these compounds, or prevents as much of the liquid coming into contact with them to withdraw the compounds.
Ardbeg is proud of its dynamic partnership with the U.S. space research company NanoRacks. Founded in 2009, in Houston, Texas, the company was the first to market its own hardware and services onboard the International Space Station. It provides a commercial pathway to using the Station. Clients have included NASA, the German Space Agency, consumer companies and a variety of schools and universities.
Ardbeg prides itself on being The Ultimate Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Established in 1815, Ardbeg is revered by connoisseurs around the world as the peatiest, smokiest and most complex of all the Islay malts. Despite its smokiness, Ardbeg is renowned for its delicious sweetness, a phenomenon that has affectionately become known as 'the Peaty Paradox'.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Ardbeg suffered from an uncertain future and it was not until the brand was purchased by The Glenmorangie Company in 1997 that the Distillery was saved from extinction. Since then, the Distillery has risen like a phoenix and today Ardbeg is well established as a niche, cult malt, with a passionate following.
The legacy of the whisky was safeguarded in 2000 by the formation of the Ardbeg Committee. The Committee is made up of thousands of Ardbeg followers worldwide who are keen to ensure that "the doors of Ardbeg never close again". Today there are over 120,000 members of the Ardbeg Committee in more than 130 countries. Committee members are regularly consulted on new bottlings and expressions, and are offered exclusive Committee bottlings. Members also receive invitations to special gatherings, tastings and events. The Committee is free to join at ardbeg.com.
Ardbeg was voted 'Scotch Whisky of the Year' three years in a row by Jim Murray's Whisky Bible and was awarded 'World's Best Single Malt', 'Best Islay Single Malt' and the 'Global Icon Visitor Centre Manager of the Year' at the World Whisky Awards 2013. At the 2014 awards, Michael Heads of Ardbeg was voted 'Distillery Manager of the Year'.
The Glenmorangie Company:
The Company is one of the most renowned and innovative distillers and marketers of Scotch whisky brands worldwide and is part of Moët Hennessy, the wine and spirits division of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Company produces Glenmorangie Single Highland Malt whisky and Ardbeg Single Islay Malt.
Ardbeg and The Glenmorangie Company advocate responsible drinking and suggest that drinkers savour Ardbeg whiskies in moderation and in line with recommended daily guidelines for alcohol consumption.
For further information: DDB Public Relations, Suzanne Mandarino, [email protected], 416-972-5798