A fortnight ago, I had the vast honour of being invited with a group of writers and whisky buffs to the Space Centre in Leicester for a very special occasion. Ardbeg have got together with a space research company to conduct a rather intriguing experiment - effectively putting the first whisky into space.
Well, sort of.
Sample vials of new make spirits and chemical compounds (ie bits of charred wood) from the Ardbeg distillery on the Scottish island of Islay have been blasted off, and are currently in orbit around the earth, as special guests on the International Space Station. The idea is to conduct a molecular maturation study, to see what effect anti-gravity has on the process. It all sounds highly geeky and highly fascinating! The high tech 'MixStix' vials lifted off from Kazakhstan last October, and they're going to be intergalactic for at least another year... with control samples waiting patiently in Houston and Ardbeg. Let's hope they don't bring back some whisky-loving aliens when they land back on earth!
First things first... the Space Centre is an amazing place. I've always been a little bit of a space geek, since going to Cape Canaveral as a nipper. I met an astronaut there, but I can't remember who it was. Mum, if you're reading this, let me know! But I found my brief recce around the Centre utterly brilliant. There is so much to see and do!
From space rocks and actual bits of Mars in a glass tube, to bits of rockets, museum-worthy toys of the space era, interactive displays and films (including the very early motion picture as referenced in the movie Hugo, if you've seen it), samples of real-life food and supplies... There's stuff for science nerds AND vintage lovers. Yes, a lot of it was aimed at kids. No, that did stop us fiddling with, and enjoying all of it.
But what about the whisky? You may remember that back in March last year, I took a trip to the Glenrothes Distillery in Speyside, to learn all about this glorious, if at times challenging spirit. Speyside whisky is nothing like the same as Islay malts. The former are fresher and lighter, the latter incredibly deep, strong and peaty.
Ardbeg Galileo has nothing actually to do with space - it's a limited edition 12-year old single malt, laid down in 1999 and bottled to celebrate this unique experiment. The branding of the bottle and the packaging of the press samples we got to try was absolutely exquisite - almost art deco in design but crossed with the playful design of the 1960s - space travel's heyday!
The whisky itself is actually slightly... how can I put this... kinder than other versions of Ardbeg that I've tried. It is, as I said a moment ago, a challenging spirit, full of peaty aroma and strong flavours. Bit it's an interesting trip for my tastebuds - nothing like so experienced as those others I was travelling with.
The smell of Ardbeg Galileo is fairly gentle, considering. You can detect smokiness, but it's not overpowering. The taste is somehow creamy, powerful though - peat smoke crossed with butteriness. It somehow reminds me of the sea as well - fresh air, seaweed saltiness and ozone. My mouth didn't know what to think, but it was hugely enjoyable to test!
The Ardbeg 'Smoquito' was my favourite concoction - as one might expect, it was whisky with mint and brown sugar... tasting nothing like a mojito really, but a delicious drink in its own right.
Ardbeg is hugely popular with many men I know - ladies tend to (but not always!) prefer lighter whiskies. But many of the chaps of my acquaintance were hugely jealous of my trip. I would recommend Ardbeg Galileo as a fantastic Christmas present for the whisky lovers in your life, but beware - it's not inexpensive and it's also sold out in many places, by virtue of it being so strictly limited edition. But there are a number of places selling it on the web still.
On a side note, it amused me greatly to hear of the parallels between whisky collectors and sneaker heads - both involve camping outside shops for DAYS to be first in line to pick up the latest releases. Cray.
And finally... outfit time! Still with face scar visible... as well as my themed silver nail varnish I'm wearing my best atomic-ish print skirt especially for the occasion! I was also wearing an amazing space-themed brooch, but it broke, boo hoo.
Cardi: handmade from 40s pattern
Shoes: Swedish Hasbeens
Moon accessory optional
Thanks for reading, do check out Ardbeg Galileo, drink more whisky generally and of course, if you find yourselves in the Leicestershire area, please go and check out the Space Centre. It's cosmic super-fun.
To infinity etc!