This Ardbeg bottling carries with it a story unique in my years of writing about whisky. I’ll let Ardbeg tell you about it in their own words.
The whisky, named after Galileo, the father of modern astronomy, celebrates the first ever experiment undertaken by Ardbeg Distillery (or any other distillery for that matter) when Ardbeg was invited in late 2011 by US based space research company NanoRacks LLC, based in Houston Texas, to take part in a two year experiment to test micro-organic compounds drawn from the distillery’s production on Islay. This maturation experiment (the inter-action of these compounds with charred oak) between normal gravity on Earth and micro-gravity in space, is currently taking place far up in space on the International Space Station.
The vials that were launched by Soyuz rocket from Baikanor in Kazakhstan in late 2011 contain a class of compounds known as “terpenes,” a set of chemicals which are very widespread in nature and often very aromatic and flavour active. The experiment could explain the workings of these large, complex molecules as they will remain on the International Space Station for at least two years and help uncover new truths about the change that these molecules undergo in this near ‘zero gravity’ environment. It also should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum.
The experiment will have applications for a variety of commercial and research products, including, one day maybe, future generations of Ardbeg.
Working in close collaboration with the Ardbeg Distillery team in Scotland, NanoRacks will closely monitor the experiment against control samples here on earth; both in Houston, Texas at the NanoRacks’ facility and more familiarly, in Warehouse 3 at Ardbeg Distillery on Islay!
You’re reading that right, folks. Ardbeg is working on space whisky. And while Galileo is really just a “tribute” and “celebration of” space maturation, it’s at least got a fun story behind it — and it’s a pretty good spirit, too.
The provenance of this special bottling dates back to 1999. Two vattings are married: Traditional Ardbeg from first- and second-fill Bourbon casks, plus whisky matured in former Marsala wine casks from Sicily. The vatting is bottled after 12 years at 98 proof, and non chill-filtered.
It’s a unique spirit for Ardbeg, pungent on the nose not just with Ardbeg’s traditional peat and smoke, but also with that racy Marsala character of exotic wood, incense, and bitter orange.
On the palate, peat and those fortified wine characteristics play together nicely, and in a way that works. The smoke and spice come together to create flavors of chocolate, vanilla pudding, and deeply burnt citrus fruits (flambe?). It’s a hot whisky, with a finish that warms for quite a long while. Water doesn’t do much for this one, mainly just bringing out the smoky character (with some of the citrus on the side), while pushing the nuance aside.
Overall, really a fascinating limited release from our friends in Islay.
A- / $95 / ardbeg.com