Glasgow & West Scotland

Space station used for Ardbeg distillery experiments

Bill Lumsden
Image caption Bill Lumsden said the experiment would throw new light on the effect of gravity on the maturation process

An island distillery has taken to space in a bid to discover the taste of the future.

Experiments using malt from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay are being carried out on the International Space Station to see how it matures without gravity.

Compounds of unmatured malt were sent to the station in an unmanned cargo spacecraft in October last year, along with particles of charred oak.

Scientists want to understand how they interact at close to zero gravity.

NanoRacks LLC, the US company behind the research, has said understanding the influence of gravity could help a number of industries, including the whisky industry, to develop new products in the future.

The experiment, unveiled at the Edinburgh International Science Centre, will last for at least two years.

The molecules are tiny parts of the two substances known as terpenes - a set of chemicals which are often aromatic and flavour-active.

Image caption The Ardbeg Distillery has been producing whisky for more than 300 years

It is believed the experiment is the first time anyone has ever studied terpenes and other molecules in near-zero gravity.

The researchers are also measuring the molecules' interaction at normal gravity on Earth so they can compare the way the particles mature.

Michael Johnson, chief technical officer of NanoRacks LLC, said: "By doing this microgravity experiment on the interaction of terpenes and other molecules with the wood samples provided by Ardbeg, we will learn much about flavours, even extending to applications like food and perfume.

"At the same time it should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum."

Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Ardbeg, which has been producing whisky for more than 300 years, said: "This experiment will throw new light on the effect of gravity on the maturation process.

"We are all tremendously excited by this experiment - who knows where it will lead?"

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