Booze arrives at Space Station for out-of-this-world experiment

Suntory's whiskey products.

Story highlights

  • Japanese liquor company sends 5 spirits to the International Space Station for yearlong experiment
  • Researchers want to see if microgravity affects alcohol's aging process

(CNN)A Japanese liquor company is boldly going where no distiller has gone before: outer space.

A case of the hard stuff was part of Japan's 10,000 pound cargo shipment that arrived Monday to the International Space Station.
But it's not for any party.
    Suntory, the Japanese spirits conglomerate that owns such familiar whiskey brands as Jim Beam and Maker's Mark, wants to find out if the aging process occurs faster in space.
    "Alcoholic beverages are widely known to develop a mellow flavor when aged for a long time," the company said in a news release, "(Suntory's research) suggest(s) 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."
    The microgravity environment of the Space Station makes it the perfect lab to test their hypothesis.
    Starting today, two identical sets of samples, each containing five types of distilled spirits with 40% ethanol, will be stored for the next year -- one in Japan, the other in a convection-free state inside a Japanese research laboratory aboard the station.

    Science? Or Romance?

    But is this experiment being driven by real science? Or, in an industry of "frost brewed" beer and underwater aged rum, is this just the biggest gimmick the galaxy's ever seen?
    "Scientifically, I'm sure something will happen," predicts whiskey expert Tom Fischer. "But more than anything else, it will be the romance, the interesting story behind drinking bourbon that was in space -- the subjective mind will automatically think it's better."
    And then of course there is the risk of the experiment being too successful.
    "What happens if they find some incredible flavor? Now what?" wondered Fischer, founder of BourbonBlog.com. "(Is Suntory) going to start sending every barrel into space?"