Suntory Whisky Heading To Space For Aging Experiments

| July 31, 2015

Suntory Whisky Hibiki 21 Year Old

Some Suntory whisky like this will soon be floating in space.

Japanese whisky, already having reached new heights in popularity among reviewers and collectors, is set to soar even literally higher, courtesy of a planned trip to the International Space Station. Suntory said it plans to send a selection of its bottlings, among other alcoholic beverages, into orbit above the Earth as part of an experiment.

Suntory officials said samples of its whiskies, which are aged 10, 18 and 21 years, will be shot into space in mid-August to be kept at the International Space Station’s Japanese Experiment Module. While there during an up to two year period, the effects of zero gravity on aging will be studied.

“Our company has hypothesized that the formation of high-dimensional molecular structure consisting of water, ethanol, and other ingredients in alcoholic beverages contributes to the development of mellowness,” said a Suntory spokesperson in a statement. “We have been conducting collaborative researches on this topic with research groups of Professor Shigenao Maruyama of the Institute of Fluid Science, Tohoku University and Professor Mitsuhiro Shibayama of the Institute for Solid State Physics, the University of Tokyo, the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute and Suntory Foundation for Life Sciences.”

These samples, once returned to Earth, will be assessed by a team of Suntory blenders to evaluate how flavors might have changed. The previously mentioned researchers will look at them as well for scientific analysis purposes.

“The results of these collaborative researches have suggested the probability that mellowness develops by promoted formation of the high-dimensional molecular structure in the alcoholic beverage in environments where liquid convection is suppressed,” added the Suntory representative. “On the basis of these results, the space experiments will be conducted to verify the effect of the convection-free state created by a microgravity environment to the mellowing of alcoholic beverage.”

A slightly more detailed breakdown of what will happened to the Suntory whisky is outlined below. It should be noted as well this isn’t the first whisky to go into space. Ardbeg and a distillery out of Connecticut, for example, have also attempted high altitude whisky placements.

▼ Title of study
Elucidating the Mechanism Mellowing Alcoholic Beverage
▼ Experimental period
Group 1: August 16, 2015 (Sunday) (planned) to September 2016 (planned)
Group 2: August 16, 2015 (Sunday) (planned) to undecided date two or more years later
▼ Content of experiment
One set of samples consisting of various alcoholic beverages will be stored in a convection-free state in Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” on the International Space Station, and another set of the identical samples will be stored in Japan for the same period of time. The following methods will be then used to analyze and compare the two sets of samples.

  1. Measurement of substance diffusion coefficient with the use of a phase shifting interferometer*1 in cooperation with the Institute of Fluid Science, Tohoku University.
  2. Detection of high-dimensional structure by small angle X-ray scattering*2 using SPring-8, in cooperation with the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute and the Institute for Solid State Physics, the University of Tokyo.
  3. Measurement of substance diffusion with the use of the NMR method*3 in cooperation with Suntory Foundation for Life Sciences.
  • *1 Phase shifting interferometer: Uses the properties of light (visible light) waves to visualize temperature and concentration distributions, etc. that cannot be seen by the eyes, making it possible to detect slight changes in the ingredients of alcoholic beverages and determine how they are distributed.
  • *2 Small angle X-ray scattering: Can be used to obtain nanoscale (1 millionth of a meter) structure by irradiating a substance with X-rays and observing the scattered X-rays in an angular region of a few degrees or less.
  • *3 NMR method: Uses the phenomenon of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to extract information from the organic compounds that are the object of measurement. Can be used to obtain information on the molecular structure of a compound and its dynamic properties.
▼ Samples
Five types of distilled spirits differing aging periods and 40% ethanol: Total of six samples


Nino Kilgore-Marchetti

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...