A friend of mine has type 1 diabetes, for which she injects a synthetic insulin called Humalog. When she does, there's a quick but very powerful aroma of... Band-Aids. It's weird. I never thought much of it, until the last time I had a peaty glass of scotch, a drink I've never particularly loved. As I took my first sip, I thought, as I always do, that it smelled like... the same Band-Aids. A quick poll of PopSci editors revealed that I wasn't alone in associating the smell of scotch with non-food: others thought of Sharpies, hospitals, and wood stain. Why would scotch, a drink beloved by many for centuries, remind people of things that are so thoroughly not delicious? As it turns out, the resemblance is not at all a coincidence.
Ardbeg, makers of extremely peaty Scotch whisky, has launched samples of its product into space. Not as a gift from Earth to extraterrestrial races, nor even as a refreshment for human astronauts -- no, the idea is to study how whisky ages in zero-gravity conditions.
In 1907, Ernest Shackleton and crew set out on the ship Nimrod to visit Antarctica and, they hoped, the South Pole. The good news was, the entire party survived the trip, thanks in part to the Rare Old Highland Whisky they brought to the frozen continent. But the expedition was forced to evacuate in 1909, some 100 miles short of the Pole they sought. And, as winter ice encroached and the men hurried home, they left behind three cases of the choice whisky.
In 2007, just about a century later, the whisky was found, intact, at the expedition's hut at Cape Royds in Antarctica.
As I write this, I'm sipping three aged Scotches that have been fractionated into some nine glasses. It's mid-afternoon. Yes, I am at the Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans again -- one part learning and one part drinking, served straight up. Some people prefer to vary the proportions slightly.
When you drink whisky, you're drinking the wood it was aged in. That's easy to understand in concept, but friend of PopSci Dave Arnold is here to spell it out for our taste buds: He has set up his laboratory evaporator and physically separated out the flavor components in a glass of Glenlivet so they can be sipped individually.
Regretting having that "one more" scotch last night? This might make you feel a little better: your tipple of choice may soon be providing sustainable energyto 9,000 homes in Scotland, where a new 7.2-megawatt biomass plant will burn the "draff" leftover from the whisky distilling process.
The project, slated to begin operating in 2013, will be located in Rothes in Speyside, the famed whisky producing region that is home to such recognizable labels as the Famous Grouse, Chivas Regal, and Glenfiddich (all of which will contribute biomass to the plant).
File this under news you can raise a glass to: Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have figured out how to turn the leftovers from one of Scotland’s biggest exports into biofuel. Made from byproducts of the whisky-making process, the scotch-derived biofuel is ready to run in ordinary automobile engines without requiring any modifications.
At the New York WhiskyFest this week, nobody wanted to talk much about technological innovations in the industry. Most of the whisky professionals I asked assured me that there was no such thing as innovation at their tradition-steeped distillery -- they were doing everything the same way it had been done for generations, thank you very much. Some distillers seemed put out that their companies had recently embraced such cutting-edge twentieth-century technology as labelling barrels with bar codes. The marketing side of the business is innovating to beat the band -- look for a new Irish whiskey called Feckin and a new rye called (rī)1 coming soon to bars near you -- but the production side remains defiantly old-fangled.