Continental, tropical or… spatial aging ?!

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In the world of rum, probably more than in any other spirits, the place chosen for aging is of crucial importance for various reasons.

It is established that the place of aging impact on the alcohol during the contact with the wood (of the barrel) according to the conditions of conservation and thus storage of it. The result can therefore be affected according to the climate of the place where the alcohol is aged, whether it is stored in a temperate climate, also called “continental” as this may be the case for Scotch whiskey for example, or tropical as for rum in the islands, where the average temperature and the humidity level are often much higher throughout the year, which has the effect that the angels share is so increased tenfold.

The configuration of the aging cellar is also becoming important. Alcohol will age differently in an air-conditioned cellar compared to a cellar partially buried underground (Chamarel  Mauritius) for example, or to barrels stored in metal containers on which the sun is lit all day long (Montebello – Guadeloupe). Here too, the angels’ share and the concentration of the liquid in the barrel will vary according to these elements.

Then comes the hand of the man, who turns these barrels (or not) regularly (or not) so that the liquid comes into contact with the various staves of the latter and can extract the most possible aromas of wood.

As you will have understood, the temperature and the surface of contact between the liquid and the wood are two major factors for aging in good and shape.

In spite of this, the human being has always been curious and clever to find other ways to change alcohol in order to control aging in one way or another, ultimately eventually controlling the aromas.

Aging wines or even rum, in an aquatic environment are for example currently in progress in different parts of the world, because at the bottom of the ocean, the temperature and the pressure are much more stable.

However, the producers of whiskey have gone even further by taking a closer look at the aging in Space and this could in the near future also apply to rum.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Scottish distillery Ardberg sent samples of whiskey to the ISS (International Space Station) which gravitates around our Earth at the speed of 27724km/h, 15 times a day, to conduct tests of alcohol aging in Space.


Having initially not been able to experiment on a large scale, the samples were kept in MixStix (a technology developed by the company NanoRacks), which are intended to test the reaction of different liquids under the effect of micro-gravity (almost zero gravity) and which are regularly used on the international space station.

These tubes therefore contained freshly distilled alcohol mixed with wood chips. It is indicated that the ratio of wood chips to alcohol was much higher than the ratio of alcohol to a barrel would ordinarily have on Earth, but tubes containing the same ratio alcohol / wood, from the same distillation were kept on Earth during the same period to serve as a basis of comparison to the return of samples.


Two effects are therefore to be taken into account during spatial aging. The first being the aforementioned micro-gravity, which has the effect that the particles in the tubes are not “taped” to the walls of the test tubes, but flit freely inside, which gives a different contact between the two, alcohol and wood.

The second effect is the constancy of the temperature in Space.

According to Dr. Bill Lumsden of Ardberg, comparing the samples returned from the space station and those kept on Earth, the two liquids have aged differently.

Here are the tasting notes of the two types of samples:

Control sample – 58.4% (ABV), reduced to 26% for tasting –

Nose – Very woody, hints of cedar wood, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar. Notes of raisins, caramel with molasses, vanilla and burnt oranges. Very reminiscent of an old Ardbeg style.

Palate – Dry mouth, woody / balsamic flavors, sweet smoke and clove oil. Far fruity (prunes / dates), some notes of charcoal and antiseptics. The aftertaste is long, persistent and typically Ardbeg, with flavors of sweet smoke, heather, tar and sweet, creamy fudge.

ISS sample – 56.0% (ABV), reduced to 26% for tasting –

Nose – Intense and rounded, with hints of antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious and fragrant note, such as blackcurrant or violet. Powerful woody notes, hints of graphite and vanilla. This then leads to very earthy / earthy notes, a flavourful and robust aroma, then hints of rum and raisin ice cream.

Palate – A highly concentrated aromatic profile, with smoked fruits (prunes, grapes, plums and sweet cherries), earthy peat smoke, peppermint, anise, cinnamon and smoked bacon or smoked ham hickory. The aftertaste is pungent, intense and long, with notes of wood, antiseptic pellets and rubbery smoke.

Dr. Lumsden insists, however, that by tasting the whiskey in space, he noticed notes and aromas that he had never encountered in this form at previous tastings, which made the alcohol more complex, and that this would open doors to new aromas and therefore new possibilities.

Since this experience, the Japanese company Suntory, producer of the famous Yamazaki whiskey, (in 2015) also sent samples of their whiskey in space to try to understand its evolution, for a period of 1000 days (about 3 years ). To do this, they not only sent samples of freshly distilled alcohol, but also a whiskey aged 21 years to see a possible evolution of this aged alcohol.

While waiting for the return of these samples, we will wonder how the different rums of the different continents of our Earth in Space would evolve. Maybe it’s a bit crazy, maybe even fiction, or just the future of sugar cane. In any case, the extraterrestrial cellar does not exist yet and until we appoint E.T. as cellar master, I suggest we already taste the multitude of rums within our reach.

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