What’s up with all this Scotch in space news?

In the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of news involving scotch and space, the final frontier.

Some of it was fluffy, some of it was legit, but it’s interesting how these stories clustered together.

The two that I found were more on the legit end were Ardbeg’s results from sending new make into space and Ballantine’s Space Glass.

Ardbeg’s Space Experiment

Ardbeg Space Whisky

Courtesy of Ardbeg

We had Ardbeg reporting back on a space experiment they started four years ago. They sent some Ardbeg distillate (new make whisky) along with shards of Ardbeg casks to the International Space Station. Those vials stayed on the ISS for nearly three years and then sent back home. The study was to analyze terpenes, which are organic compounds produced by plants like conifers.

Those vials made the trip back home and were compared with control vials left on Earth. Ardbeg’s Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation, Dr. Bill Lumsden, analyzed the results and discovered that the maturation was different when not subjected to gravity. Different flavors (ratios of wood extractive compounds from the barrel shards) just because it was in space. It means there are more levers to pull in making more distinctive single malts and kind of fun to see it play out.

OK so that’s the level of detail you probably have seen written about in most mainstream press – at this point I would’ve said “ehhh nice marketing move Ardbeg.”

There’s a lot more to it, they performed three tests – gas chromatography (GC), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS), and high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC).

GC measures key volatile compounds of alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, and fatty acid esters. For this, they found the same compounds in both the Earth and the Space samples.

The GCMS is a more serious version of GC and they discovered that one phenolic compound was much lower in the space samples.

And HPLC measures phenolic compounds and wood extractives, where they saw the biggest difference. With wood extractives, there are some compounds that come out of the wood easily and some that are harder. They discovered that without gravity, the easier to extract compounds were less prevalent than in the Earth sample. Gravity was a factor. Space whisky just didn’t get as much of the easy to get wood extractives.

Ballantine’s Space Glass

ballantine-whiskey-space-glassBallantine designed a glass that will let you enjoy your whisky in space.

At first glance, it sounds soooooo gimmicky. I mean a space glass? Really?

But as you read about it, it’s kind of cool. No doubt it’s gimmicky in the sense that you’re not going into space so you’re not going to need a space glass.

But… it’s also a really fun story because they didn’t just slap “Space Glass” on a regular glass, like Frozen’s been slapped on everything. (OK a Frozen glass with Elsa would be truly gimmicky).

It’s a James Parr designed 3D printed plastic with a metal base that contains a one-way valve and a 10kg pull magnet. I’d go into all the different parts of the design but I’d rather you take five minutes to watch this video from the designer himself.

Not gonna lie, I’d give it a try. 🙂

The Black Grouse Tasting Notes

The Black GrouseHow many people are familiar with Johnnie Walker? Practically everyone who has had whisky, and even many who haven’t, are familiar with the rainbow of colors that make up Johnnie Walker. Most have heard of Johnnie Walker Red, Black, Blue, and even Green (though Green Label is discontinued) but how many people have heard of The Famous Grouse? Fewer.

And how many have heard of its smokier cousin – The Black Grouse? Fewer still.

It’s unfortunate because they’re both productions of The Edrington Group – makers of Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky, The Macallan, and Highland Park.

I was first introduced to The Black Grouse a few years ago with a public relations company representing The Black Grouse emailed me to find out if I’d heard of them (I hadn’t). They were introducing The Black Grouse in 2007 and offered me up some to try. I’d only vague heard of The Famous Grouse but I was familiar with The Edrington Group and was surprised to learn that The Famous Grouse produces more than 30 million bottles every year and is the 6th best selling Scotch Whisky in the world.

Enough trivia, onto the whisky! The Black Grouse is billed as a smokier cousin to The Famous Grouse and their goal was to produce an affordable blended scotch whisky with peatier and smokier characteristics. On that score, they achieved their goal. The nose is smoky yet sweet and it’s unmistakable what they were trying to achieve. Clearly not as smoky on nose or tongue as Ardbeg but you get the point and purpose. Islay addicts will find the smoke in The Black Grouse to be quaint, newbies will find it to be a fine introduction to smokiness. Present but not overpowering. A bit like how you smell after sitting next to a campfire for an hour, rather than all night. On the palate, it was light brown sugar sweet and light in body with a dark chocolate finish.

One night, for comparison (and the reason why Ardbeg is referenced above), I had some Ardbeg followed by The Black Grouse. I wanted to compare it to what is considered the peatiest Islay and The Black Grouse, likely by design, was merely an echo of Ardbeg. I wish I had, on hand, some Famous Grouse to make the comparison but unfortunately I didn’t.

One crucial point to remember is that The Black Grouse, and its cousin The Famous Grouse, retail for under $30 per 750ml. The Famous Grouse can be found for under $25 per 750ml. That’s a very affordable bottle and puts it at roughly the same price point of a Johnnie Walker Black and Red, for a basis of price comparison. It’s not the smoothest scotch, it’s difficult to expect that at this price point, but it’s smooth enough that you whisky drinkers won’t notice unless you had something aged much longer ahead of it.

All in all, they’ve packed a lot of value into this bottle.

Islay vs. Speyside Scotch

It’s very difficult to mass categorize the wonderful spirits of Scotland’s myriad collection of distilleries but if one were forced two, the easiest buckets to put them in are based on smokiness. On one side, we have the heavily “peated,” smokey stylings of Scotch produced on the island of Islay. On the other, we have absolutely no smoke and no peat and the most popular area for that is a toss up between the Highland region and Speyside.
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Ardbeg 10 Tasting Notes

Ardbeg 10

Ardbeg 10

I spent the last week in Nags Head, North Carolina, with a few of my friends renting a vacation home and we took advantage of the numbers to buy a few bottles of whisky. One of the prime choices was Ardbeg 10, a bottle I’ve wanted to try for a while but hadn’t gotten around to it.

As a fan of Lagavulin and Laphroaig, I wanted to try what is billed at the peatiest of whisky. When I poured it from the bottle, I was struck at how light it was. It’s a pale yellow, very pale, and the peat and smoke is very evident. I added a few drops in and it opened up a little, with a little fruit sweetness hiding behind the smoke and warmth of the whisky.

Overall, it was pleasant but nothing shouted “peaty!” like the billing leads you to believe. In the future, I think I’d like to try one of the more mature bottlings to get a more complete picture. Or… I just need to try it some more. 🙂

(Photo: ppz)