Astronauts like to party. Or so you would come to believe once you learn how much effort has been put into brewing beer in outer space. And while space colonies and astronaut bars are still decades away—if even that soon—out-of-this-world beer is very much a reality. Here’s a brief history of extraterrestrial brews, from legit science experiments to viral marketing campaigns to novelty beers made from otherworldly ingredients that you can buy right here on earth.
2001: NASA’S SUDS IN SPACE
Coors sponsored a beer experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) to test how weightlessness affects fermentation. With the help of Colorado-based BioServe Space Technologies, a tiny Fluid Processing Apparatus they fermented a 1-milliliter batch of beer onboard. When it returns to earth, the scientists analyzed the yeast to, glory be, find that it essentially acts the same in microgravity as it does on earth. Then they drank it. Seriously. And we were one step closer to boosting morale in outer space with the promise of astronauts being able to brew their own beer.
2008: SAPPORO SPACE BARLEY
A decade ago, the Japanese brewer Sapporo sent its Haruna Nijo malting barley seeds to the ISS for an experiment. The project was a joint mission between the brewer, the Russian Academy of Sciences and Okayama University to prove food could be grown during extended space flights. The experiment worked: The barley seeds germinated for five months and produced four generations of offspring, none of which had mutated DNA. When the barley returned to earth, Sapporo used it to brew the world’s first space beer, which they named Space Barley. The total production run of the 5.5-percent-ABV, Japanese-style Pilsener was 250 six-packs. Each six-pack cost $110 (10,000 yen) and proceeds were donated to Okayama University’s space science program.
2008: BEER KEG ROCKET
A team of rocketeers known as Team Numb launched a 15-gallon keg of beer, strapped to an 11-foot-tall rocket, 1 mile into space. Why? Why not? They repeated the feat in 2012, this time using a better motor and reaching 1.5 miles high. The team’s third and most ambitious attempt is funded by Kickstarter in 2014. In this two-stage beer keg rocket, Portland’s Burnside Brewery pale ale is expected to reach 4 miles up and hit a top speed of 650 mph. The Federal Aviation Administration scrubs the launch 30 minutes before blast off due to bad weather. Team Numb will try again later this year.
2011: VOSTOK SPACE BEER
Australian companies Saber Astronautics and 4-Pines Brewing Company teamed up to design a beer specifically for space tourists. Unlike space novelty beers, Vostok Space Beer is formulated to taste great on Earth and in orbit, which is not an easy task. The problem with drinking beer in space is twofold: One, your tongue swells in space so your sense of taste is depressed. Two, “wet burps.” Because gasses do not “rise” in space or separate from liquids, if you have to burp, bubbles and beer and whatever else you ate for lunch will come up. So Vostok’s beer recipe is based on 4-Pines Dry Irish Stout, which is low in carbonation and high in flavors. In 2011, flight researchers drank the beer during 15 zero-gravity parabolic flights. They thought it tasted pretty good and according to their biometric data, the beer’s carbonation had no adverse affect on their bodies. Vostok has won medals at the Australian International Beer Awards and it is currently available throughout Australia.
2011: NATURAL LIGHT ALUMINUM FULLCAN
As part of a viral marketing campaign, Natural Light sent a can of Natty up into the clouds. Facebook fans of the company crafted a spacecraft out of a Styrofoam cooler filled with thermal gloves and then hooked a weather balloon, GPS tracker and camera to it. They called it the Aluminum Fullcan. The company claims it became the “first beer in space,” but the cooler only made it 16 miles up before the balloon popped, falling short of the internationally recognized space boundary line by about 42 miles.
2013: DOGFISH HEAD CELEST-JEWEL ALE
In observance of the fall equinox, Dogfish Head added moon dirt to a small-batch beer. The Delaware-based brewery obtained lunar meteorites from ILC Dover, a nearby spacesuit manufacturer, ground them into dust, and steeped the dust in its malty Oktoberfest. Meteorites are primarily made of mineral salts, which gave the beer a subtle earthiness. ILC Dover also made 10 koozies for the specialty beer out of its fire-resistant and tear-proof spacesuit material. Pints of the 5-percent-ABV beer and the koozies were available for one night only at Dogfish Head’s Rehoboth Beach brewpub.
2013: SPACE STATION MICRO-BREWERY
An 11-year-old future beer geek sent a micro-brewery to the ISS. The Colorado sixth grader wins a science contest after hypothesizing that alcohol in space could be used to help purify water and clean wounds. Even though he has never drank beer before (or so he promises his mom), he built a 6-inch-long brewery and filled it with hops, water, yeast and malted barley. Space company NanoRacks delivered it to the space station, where an astronaut shook it up to watch the interaction.
2014: LONDON PRIDE LIFTS OFF
A pair of pub owners in Buckinghamshire, England, sent a pint of London Pride 15 miles into the atmosphere. Not technically space, but still a worthy effort. The duo at the White Swan bar covered a cup of beer in plastic wrap and then hooked it to a helium balloon, which carried it into the sky for a full hour before popping. The beer boiled on the journey and then froze before it returned to earth. The couple found the cup, defrosted it and served it to an (unsuspecting?) customer. The bar now calls itself an astro-pub and performed the stunt to protest gastro-pubs moving into the neighborhood.
2014: ARDBEG SPACE TERPENES
Not to be left out, a Scotch whisky distillery entered the space booze race. In 2011 Ardbeg, located on the island of Islay, sent a vial of terpenes—compounds found in alcohol—to the ISS. For three years the compounds aged with bits of charred oak to simulate the traditional whisky-barrel aging process. The vial returned to earth in 2014. Space research company NanoRacks will study the compounds to figure out how maturation differs between earth gravity and the microgravity of orbit. Ardbeg hasn’t used the compounds to produce any space whisky yet, but the company did release a special edition of its Supernova Scotch to celebrate the achievement.
2015: NINKASI GROUND CONTROL
Ninkasi Brewing Company began selling its imperial stout made with space yeast. In 2014 Ninkasi, with the help of rocket scientists at the Civilian Space eXploration Team, launched a payload of brewer’s yeast 77 miles into space. When the 16 strains of yeast (packed in dry ice) parachuted back down, the Oregon-based brewery used it to create Ground Control, an imperial stout brewed with hazelnuts, star anise and cocoa nibs. Ground Control has been sold in 22-ounce bottles since April.
2015: MARS DESERT RESEARCH STATION BEER TEST
Scientists academically proved that beer can be grown on Mars. Earlier this year, a team of space researchers entered a simulated Red Planet base in Utah known as the Mars Desert Research Station. There, they conducted various experiments to advance the science required for extraterrestrial settlements, including how to brew beer on Mars. (The cost of shipping pre-brewed beers would be astronomical.) For the proof of beer study, the scientists grew sorghum seeds and hops, two ingredients in beer, in both Earth dirt and simulated Mars dirt. The plants in the Martian soil thrived, growing faster and larger than their counterparts. This is exciting news for space companies, because the promise of a cold beer at the end of a long journey to Mars may be enough to entice Earthlings who want to more than survive in space—they want to thrive, and actually enjoy living there.
WOULD YOU LIKE SOME CHEESE WITH YOUR SPACE BEER?