I find myself in Orlando, Florida, this week for a 2-day seminar and have run across something I never thought possible in my 25+ years in the brewing industry—someone wants to brew beer in space. Though this sounds like a crazy craft brewer idea conceived over a couple of pints with friends (like all good ideas), this is a project launched by ABInbev and the Ag Center in Ft. Collins, Colorado. The seminar I was attending is in the middle of downtown Orlando and the NASA launch was in Cape Canaveral, FL, 60 miles due east. Since I was on the 18th floor we had a great view of the launch from our conference room.
In learning a little more about my luck with the timing of witnessing this launch, it seems that this was a restocking mission of the SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station and the barley was along for the ride. The launch was actually delayed by one day as the mouse food for the test rodents living on ISS was found to be moldy otherwise I would have missed it.
This was the third-time ABI has shot barley into outer space but the first time trialing malting in microgravity. Though it only looks like a micro waterbottle-size amount it appears they are using an automated SGK (steep-germinate-kiln) vessel to complete these trials.
From the NASA website: “The Germination of ABI Voyager Barley Seeds in Microgravity project evaluates the effects of a microgravity environment on dry barley seeds, germination and initial growth. The dry barley seeds are evaluated during post-flight growth to examine exposure effects on seeds. The seedlings grown in microgravity are evaluated for genetic alterations and morphological abnormalities.” More info here.
Though the overall point of their trials is really more about growing plants in microgravity, as a brewer the idea of brewing beer (and how yeast would fare and floc!) in space makes for an interesting conversation. As it takes a lot of malt to make beer and we’re challenged with logistics here on Earth, the idea of Briess shooting rockets of railcars of malt into outer space sounds like something from The Jetsons.