Space Beer Reaches for Final Frontier

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An Australian brewing company has, for the first time, manufactured a space beer. As in, a beer that can actually be consumed in space! This is most certainly one giant leap for beer affectionados.

We’ve heard of the beer produced by Japanese brewing company Sapporo, which, in 2008, manufactured a beer produced from third-generation barley grown on the International Space Station. But for all intents and purposes, that “space beer” was just beverage produced from a small amount of ingredients that had been grown in space. Apart from being a clever marketing ploy, it was identical (down to the the barley’s DNA, interestingly) to terrestrial beer.

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Having said that, at the time, I was very enthusiastic about Sapporo’s plan (and I still am) — it was a huge step forward in proving that we can grow stuff in space.

In 2009, I even recorded a 365 Days of Astronomy podcast titled “The Link Between Beer and Space Settlement,” in which I describe the Japanese space beer effort and relate to to extraterrestrial colonization by mankind.

My excitement for Sapporo space beer can be summarized by Okayama University biologist Manabu Sugimoto, one of the Japanese scientists involved with the use of space-grown barley in beer.

“In the future, we may reach a point where humans will spend an extended period of time in space and must grow food to sustain ourselves [...] In the long run, we hope our space research will be not just about producing food, but about enjoying food and relaxing [in space].

Note the highlighted text: “but about enjoying food and relaxing [in space].”

And herein lies the problem. Sapporo’s space beer is actually a misnomer; it should be called “Sopporo brewed-from-ingredients-grown-in-microgravity beer” — the beer wasn’t produced for being enjoyed in space. Bummer.

The Wet Burp Cometh

Surely any beer can be consumed in space, right? Wrong. Not only would the launch costs be astronomical to get a crate of Stella into orbit, it’s a physical impracticality to consume any carbonated beverage in space.

Why? Zero-G has a rather nasty side effect of the “wet burp” phenomenon.

Think about it, what happens when you swallow a mouthful of beer on Earth? It goes down your throat and sits in your stomach. Gravity ensures the fluid stays in your stomach, allowing the carbon dioxide bubbles to expand and rise to the top of the fluid. You can then sit back and let out an impressive burp to impress your friends as the carbon dioxide is vented out of your mouth.

Now try doing that in space.

There’s little gravity to keep the fluid in your stomach, but you still need to vent that carbon dioxide that is expanding inside your belly. You try to burp…. but you end up venting the carbon dioxide, beer, and whatever else was inside your stomach through your mouth and nose. This, my friends, is called a “wet burp”; an explosive near-vomit experience guaranteed to gross out anyone who has the misfortune to be floating around with you.

Space-Safe Beer

But all is not lost! The Australian 4-Pines Brewing Company teamed up with Saber Astronautics Australia who did some lateral thinking and realized there’s no way any future astronaut will be able to pick up Barbarella over a pint at the orbital space bar if a “wet burp” makes an appearance.

In addition, the scientists involved with the beer research also had to consider changes in taste perception when in space. It has been reported that astronauts on long-duration missions on board the space station experience changes in taste. Therefore, a crisp, flavorsome ale on Earth may taste like stale swill in space.

Selecting a strong, reduced-carbon dioxide stout, the researchers have created a space-safe beer called “Vostok” (in honor of the first manned, Russian spacecraft flown by Yuri Gagarin in 1961). Presumably, Vostok was the winner of taste tests flown on several zero-G parabolic flights in association with Astronauts4Hire last year.

Like my excitement for the Sapporo “space beer,” the Australian brewing company agrees that any development in the production of alcoholic beverages for space is a good thing for the advancement of mankind.

“Wherever humans have journeyed or conquest to throughout history in the last few thousand years, we first worry about water, food, shelter and clothing,” Jaron Mitchell, the founder of Four Pines, told news.com.au.

“In many cases beer is the next consideration soon after the above four.”

I wonder how long we’ll have to wait for an orbital space hotel, fully equipped with a “Pub Module”?

I for one look forward to enjoying a “Vostok” atop Mars’ Olympus Mons (but I promise to recycle the empties).

Image: The Martian surface, plus an empty Vostok beer bottle. Don’t worry, I’ll pick it up. Credit: NASA (landscape), 4-Pines Brewing Co. (label on bottle), edited by Ian O’Neill (Discovery News).

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