Stout of this world
STORIES

Words: Alex Denman   Photography by Guinness and Root + Bone

Stout of this world

Guinness stout in space feasibility study

 

Can you imagine a space suit with a beer keg on the back and tubes piping liquid into the helmet?

When the good folks at Guinness invited us over to the Open Gate Brewery for a Future of Stout Summit, we had no idea we’d end up meeting a future astronaut! Now you might be thinking that brewing beer for space is just a massive publicity stunt, and when we first heard the announcement, it did cross our minds. But once we got to understand the motivations and challenges behind this feasibility study, we had to hand it to the team at Guinness who are taking this project very seriously.
The motivations are many and it took a panel of experts to unpack the challenges for us. Here’s some of the thoughts we picked up from 4 experts;

 

 
Dr Norah Patten - Aeronautical Engineer (and set to be the first Irish person in space)
 
Much as we might all dream of going into space, its great to hear from a real-life astronaut about the challenges they face. We learned that the path to becoming an astronaut was historically a state-sponsored affair, reserved for the best, or possibly just the best connected, but in recent times the opportunities are expanding.
 
Today astronauts are collaborating with innovative brands, and the focus is as much on the journey as the destination. In preparing for space travel and the concept of stout in space, Guinness are hoping to unlock new technologies that can benefit their brewing on earth.
 
We learned that when astronauts lift off leaving friends and family behind, isolation can play on their minds. Meals are often reduced to a very basic delivery of nutrition. What you might not know is that astronauts get a special food or drink treat of their choice periodically to help keep them sane. A little reminder of home that is essential to keep the mental compass facing in the right direction. This can ‘ground’ an astronaut and remind them of the reason they are on their mission.
 
This opened our eyes to the potential for a pint of Guinness in space, to deliver a sense of comfort and familiarity. Whether its an astronaut or space tourist in the future taking a space selfie - Guinness are trying to make sure they can enjoy a pint of Guinness while looking down on earth.

 

 
Professor Charles Spence - Gastrophysics, Oxford University
 
We’re not normally thinking gastrophysics when we order a pint, but that’s why we had a panel of experts on hand to educate us. Charles’ work includes research on how physics and psychology can influence our food and drink experience.
 
One of his studies looked into the naming and description of foods. It compared how identical servings of food would have different appeal when one was named in a way that evoked nostalgia. Picture tubes of space food named ‘Sunday Roast’ versus ‘Daily space food supplement’ and you get the idea.
 
Another experiment looked at how chefs and chemists can influence our perceptions of freshness with the sound and “crunchiness” of food. Think of a fresh carrot versus a wilted one, they probably taste similar but it’s the texture that signals freshness. He then explained how chemicals can be added to crisps and crackers to ensure they stay crunchy well beyond their normal use-by date. Something to think about next time you’re eating snacks at the bar!

 

 
Jozef Youssef - Patron Chef @ Kitchen Theory
 
Chefs are few and far between in space. And anyone who has experienced plane food will be able to tell you there aren’t many chefs on aeroplanes either! Part of the challenge in preparing food for flight is the alien environment in which it is served.
 
With reduced moisture in an air-conditioned cabin our sense of smell and taste are diminished. We took part in a simple experiment which involved putting pegs on our noses before trying to identify flavoured jelly beans. They all tasted the same until we removed the pegs… Try it yourself, and prove what every science teacher ever told you at school.
 
Our hosts also played different music while we ate the same dish twice, and asked us to compare the feelings we got. Then we compared our emotions when eating warm, round donuts, compared to crispy, citric, canapés. And finally, we discovered that humans all round the world, from all different cultures respond identically to the Bouba / Kiki effect. This phenomena involves naming two flashcards, the first showing a rounded amoeba-like shape, and the other a spiky 7 pointed star. Ask anyone and the answer will almost certainly be "Bouba" for the amoeba and "Kiki" the star.
 
Jozef summarised the findings perfectly; “Enjoyment resides in the mind”. The take away message here is that there are many factors that influence our perceptions of food and drink, and understanding these could be the key to delivering the ‘stout in space’ concept.

 

 
Peter Simpson - Head brewer at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery
 
There aren’t many head brewers who have bragging rights that they’re also part of a space program. But Peter has been briefed to create “A stout that could be enjoyed in space as well as it could be on earth”. Current technology dictates that liquids in zero gravity have to be slurped from a plastic pouch with a straw. It’s a far cry from the romance of a Guinness pour, surge, settle and is just one of the challenges that the brewing team at Guinness are considering how to reverse-engineer. Zero-gravity tests have been done with fans blowing and holding liquids into glasses, but its early days in trying achieve pouring and drinking as we know it on earth.
 
Additionally, the flavours will need to be cranked up to compensate for dulled senses of taste and smell in space. Peter demonstrated how flavour could be enhanced by conditioning Guinness Stout in three different casks, including one that had been used for whisky, so that may be part of the solution. Or perhaps someone will invent a vaporiser that will spray a fine mist of Guinness into the space-travellers nostrils when he/she takes the first sip?
 
So in conclusion, while the challenges are many, its a credit to Guinness that they are continuing their culture of innovation and exploration. It was a real privilege to think about “stout in space” in such depth during the summit. Next time you’re enjoying a pint of the black stuff at your local, spare a thought for future generations who might be doing the same from space.

 

Guinness Open Gate Brewery