Ballantine's invents glass for sipping whisky in space

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Ballantine's Space Glass allows astronauts to sip whisky the same way they would on Earth.

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In a move that Star Trek's Mister Scott would approve of, Scottish distiller Ballantine’s has developed a glass for sipping whisky in zero gravity. The Space Glass applies some clever physics to recreate the experience of drinking spirits from a glass on Earth and might well be a more attractive proposition for astronauts and future space tourists than using plastic bags and straws.

The conquest of space may be adventurous, but it lacks a certain elegance. After a hard day space walking and general science experimenting, it isn't easy to kick back and relax while floating in a tin can drinking fruit juice through a straw out of a plastic bag. In fact, one common complaint by International Space Station (ISS) crews is the lack of anything Earthlike in their environment.

To address this, Ballantine’s commissioned an Open Space Agency team led by James Parr to create a glass that would allow astronauts to enjoy whisky the same way as they would in a bar on Earth.

"Our brief was to develop a whisky glass that worked under the conditions of microgravity, the scientific term for zero gravity," says Parr. "It was important that we focused on creating a ritual around how you drink from the Ballantine’s Space Glass to ensure a familiarity of what we are used to here on Earth  —  the end result is one with several elements to that ritual, from the liquid entering the glass through to sipping from it."

For a year, the team studied how liquids, and whisky in particular, behaves in zero gravity as they built a series of prototypes involving sides festooned with tiny straws as well as rotating disks and spinning bases like little centrifuges. This work was not confined to the theoretical. The team tested the glasses using the ZARM Drop Tower in Bremen, Germany to simulate weightlessness. However, they did this by videoing the glasses and their contents rather than having volunteers try to drink from them as they dropped several hundred feet in a few seconds.

The end result is a Space Glass that looks rather like a Don Draper balloon glass made out of 3D printed plastic. The material was a deliberate choice because it not only accommodated rapid prototyping, but also would one day allow astronauts to fabricate the glasses on site.

The Space Glass is not so much a glass as a hollow globe that looks like a glass, but really has a sealed top and a base that unscrews for cleaning. It's designed to fit comfortably in the hand with a weighted rose-gold plated spiral convex base plate to give it a decent heft – on Earth. In space, the "weight" comes from a 10 kg (22 lb) pull magnet that gives its a bit of inertia and anchors it to the table in zero gravity.

According to Ballantine, the gold plating is partly an aesthetic nod to the gold that's used to plate spacesuit sun visors, and partly because it doesn't affect the whisky's taste.

The base plate's pattern isn't decorative. In zero gravity, whisky, like most liquids, acts like a sticky jelly, so the spiral creates surface tension to hold it down. Up the side of the glass is a helix with a small channel. This picks up the whisky and capillary action pulls it up to a gold mouthpiece on the brim that helps the user to see where to put their lips, slightly cools each sip, and avoids the nasty taste and texture of drinking out of plastic. The base also has a one-way valve for filling the glass using a bespoke nozzle that fits a standard Ballantine’s whisky bottle, but no other special apparatus is needed. Instead, filling it and drinking from it relies on a bit of clever physics.

"We are using inertia and the notion that the whisky will stay at rest while the bottle and the glass is moved around the resting liquid," says Parr. "Motion one pulls the whisky into the base of the glass, then motion two is to roll the whisky in your hand and let the heat transfer through the metal base into the liquid itself. Step three involves then moving the glass down prior to moving your nose into the space where the vapors are resting. The final motion is to move the glass upwards to capture the liquid in the base plate and let it enter your mouth."

Ballantine's recognizes that a Space Glass is useless without something to put in it, so the company has also developed a Limited Edition, Special Batch Ballantine’s Space Whisky. This isn't just a commemorative spirit, it was created to solve the problems of tasting things in space. Being in zero gravity is like flying in an airliner – it suppresses taste, so the Space Whiskey was blended with a stronger flavor to overcome this.

"In space, you do not experience the sense of smell and taste with the same intensity as you do on Earth,” says Sandy Hyslop, Ballantine’s Master Blender. “This meant I had to make the Ballantine’s Space Whisky more heightened in flavor and robust whilst maintaining the Ballantine’s signature style. Astronauts miss the taste of home so crafting a fruitier, stronger, more floral blend is a way they can keep the taste of home with them.”

Ballantine's master blender Sandy Hyslop with designer James Parr

Since it may be many years before the Space Glass graces the ward rooms and saloons of spacecraft, the distiller points out that it can also be used on Earth. However, Ballantine's as not indicated when or if the glass or limited run Space Whisky will be offered for sale.

Now if they could just come up with a space brandy snifter.

Ballantine's promo video for the Space Glass is below.

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