Another Benefit From Space Exploration

Proponents of space exploration and development have always argued that there will be lots of benefits from being able to do things in zero gravity.  Form perfect spheres.  Create chemical and metallurgical compounds that wouldn’t be possible in Earth’s heavy gravity.  Experiment with positions undreamed of by the authors of the Kama Sutra.

Now there’s another item to add to the list — the Ardbeg distillery, which has been making whiskey for more than 300 years, has sent malt to the International Space Station to see how the malt, and some charred oak, mature and interact in zero gravity conditions.  The hope is that the process might lead to the development of new flavors or other discoveries that benefit the whiskey industry.

I’m all in favor of this use of the International Space Station.  The Station shouldn’t be limited to boring science experiments devised by the junior biology class at Shaker Heights High School.  Why not see if basic consumer products can be improved?

I can’t stand the smell or taste of scotch, no matter how much its afficionados rave about its subtle taste and scent and nuanced aftertones.  If the International Space Station can somehow help to develop a scotch that doesn’t smell and taste like lighter fluid, it will have been worth every penny.

Scotch (Kept) On Ice

I’ve written before about the case of scotch found buried in the ice beneath a cabin set up during Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole.  Now the crate of scotch is being thawed — ever so slowly — in New Zealand.

Apparently none of the scotch will be consumed, although distillers will get to examine samples to see if they can replicate the mixture from which the booze was made.  Mackinlay’s, the distillery that made the scotch, was long ago acquired by another distillery, and no one is quite sure about the original recipe for the scotch Shackleton took down to Antarctica.

I’m all in favor of preserving historical materials, but I think it would be appropriate to crack open just one of the 11 bottles in the crate, pour a round of drinks, and tip back a toast to Shackleton and his hardy band of adventurers.  After all, they thought enough of Mackinlay’s scotch to cart it thousands of miles and carefully store it for further consumption.  Why not at least use some of it as was intended?

Scotch On Ice

I enjoy the unusual news stories you see from time to time, like this one:  it turns out that, during explorer Ernest Shackleton’s unsuccessful expedition to reach the South Pole between 1907 and 1909, he buried two crates of scotch whiskey in the ice beneath his headquarters hut.  When the expedition was abandoned, the scotch was left there for 100 years.  It was discovered three years ago, and now they are getting ready to extract the crates from the ice.  The distiller of the scotch is interested in getting a sample to see how it was blended and whether the blend can be recreated.

All of this is very interesting, but what is most interesting is that explorers looking to reach the South Pole, in an expedition where every ounce of material had to be transported over miles of frigid, desolate wasteland, nevertheless took two crates of booze.  That fact is somewhat telling, because the expedition ran out of supplies only 100 miles from the Pole.  If they had taken two more crates of food or other necessaries, rather than the hooch, they might have made history.  In those days, however, an expedition without an ample supply of scotch apparently was unthinkable.

Scotch Night

Last night, courtesy of my friend John, I attended Scotch Night at Rocky Fork Hunt and Country Club, which is a bit strange because I do not care for the smell or taste of scotch. The evening was presided over by a “Whiskey Master,” who described six different scotches that were served as different courses were served. Given my preferences I didn’t drink the scotch, but did taste it and try to detect subtle differences in appearance and flavor. I couldn’t. My palate simply is not capable of determining whether a particular scotch is prepared with orange peel or damper peat. It all smelled and tasted like scotch to me, and seemed to differ only in the strength of the scotch taste and smell.

However, the food was terrific and the company at our table was even better, and we learned the kind of extraneous, often unverifiable facts you learn whenever you go to a presentation about a particular topic. We learned that there are only 13 Whiskey Masters in the world, and how scotch is prepared, and that the cumulative value of the barrels of different scotches used to blend Johnny Walker Blue is greater than the total assets of the Bank of England. (I knew England has been hard hit by the economic downturn, but that seems ridiculous.) One useful bit of information was that, when you drink an alcoholic beverage, if you leave the drink on your tongue and breathe out, the warmth from your mouth will cause some of the alcohol to vaporize and be blown out, making the drink milder and about 20% lower in alcoholic content. This will be handy information the next time I drink something other than scotch.