Space Beer?

On April 28, 2007, a UP Aerospace SL-2 rocket blasted off into space on a routine mission. It carried the ashes of deceased actor James Doohan, who portrayed “Scotty” on Star Trek (I actually met Doohan once in the early 1980s when I worked for a chain of videostores in North Carolina) along with Mercury 7 Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper and 200 other urns. SL-2 is short for UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft-2 , a rocket suborbital sounding rocket. UP Aerospace sends up four to six such commercial rockets each year.

In addition to the remains sent into space, the payload consists of photographs, seeds, science experiments, soccer jerseys and the secret payload of Microgravity Enterprises, Inc.. According to their website, Microgravity Enterprises goal is to “develop space-based products and make them available to the general public at low affordable prices.” Currently, the make Space2O, bottled water enriched with electrolytes that were flown in space aboard the SL-2, and Antimatter, an energy drink in which many of the ingredients have likewise flown in space.

All that Microgravity Enterprises, which calls itself a space commercialization company, will say about the latest flight is that their payload contained the ingredients with which they’ll make the “first true space beer”. Company spokeswoman Linda Strine “says said ingredients, the amounts and types of which are secret and patented, will be delivered next week to a ‘production facility’ that in the span of a month will generate an otherworldly brew called Comet Tail Ale. “We flew enough ingredients to support almost a year’s worth of production,” says Darryl Hupfer, VP of sales and marketing for Microgravity Enterprises.

They’re spinning it pretty good, but I suspect it was the yeast that they flew into space. And their client, most likely, is nearby Kellys Brewpub, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As reported last year in the New Mexico Business Weekly, Kellys sent some yeast up in one of UP Aerospace’s rockets before but since it failed to reach suborbit (meaning that it didn’t reach the 45 mile-high threshold that defines where “space” begins) they brewed a beer they called “Test Flight Amber Ale.”

I have mixed feelings about this project because it seems so gimmicky and I know that the rocketed ingredients won’t make the beer taste any differently. But I am a former space geek — reinvigorated somewhat by my son Porter’s obsession with all things space-related — so it also seems like a fun idea, too.

So I don’t wish to throw water on the fire or rain or their parade, but it also seems to be that this won’t be the “first true space beer” as the company claims. I’m pretty sure that the Apollo beer that was a contract beer around a decade ago used yeast that had been in space, too. It was in a distinctive blue bottle and they made an ale and a lager which was sold in six-packs. And I know that a German science experiment managed to get some yeast aboard one of the space shuttle flights. I know some of it they then used for research purposes, but I have a hard time believing they didn’t use at least some of it to brew a batch of beer.

Who knows, perhaps Kellys also sent a few hop pellets in the rocket, too. In the end, it may come down simply to how you define a “true space beer.”

 

Comments

  1. says

    Actually what I would call the first true space beer was an experiment that was flown on the space shuttle and sponsored by Coors in 2001. The experiment actually carried out the fermentation of about 1ml of beer.

    http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast21sep_1.htm

    Sending yeast into space for a few minutes before it falls down again hardly equates to space beer IMHO. And actually, what do you expect to get? heat, cold, high energy cosmic rays? Last time I checked yeast didn’t care for any of that.

    I’d tell Microgravity enterprises that unless they propagate several generations of yeast in microgravity for use in brewery they might as well start selling Romulan Ale, It has nearly as much to do with space and the costs are lower.

    http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/92/4681

  2. Michelle Katrina says

    Boy, you guys don’t get it at all. This is awesome. This sounds to me like exactly the type of things we need to see for space comercialization. Instead of seeking government hand outs, these guys are putting space commercialization in the hands of consumers – what a novel concept. I understand they have an energy drink and some kind of space water too. More power to them – I checked out there web site and they plan on transitioning to space production as well. Their goal is to fund these activities through these sales.

    Here is the cool thing, as I understand it. Everytime you have a drink of their stuff you are drinking something that has physically been in space. People pay megabucks for something that has been in space (flags, coins, etc) and now you can have it everyday. I love it.

    Michelle

  3. Roger Clandon says

    Hey Jeff – you should always do your homework before you start typing. Apollo Beer had nothing to do with space other than the name. Give these guys credit – at least they are really doing something for the gimmick. It’s not just called space beer, it’s been to space.

    Roger

  4. says

    Roger, Yes, you’re certainly right that one should do their homework before typing. For example, my name is not Jeff. Please show me your proof that Apollo Beer “had nothing to do with space other than the name.” I at least met with the owner of Apollo Beer over ten years ago when he made a presentation to me about his beer in my capacity as a beer buyer for a large chain of liquor stores. I hope you can forgive that my memory is not perfect after more than a decade but I’m pretty sure there was more to the beer having something to do with space other than just its name. Unfortunately, there is precious little information about the company remaining since they’ve been out of business for many years. So I’ll be very interested to learn how know what you say with such certainty. I’d really like to know, so if you do have more concrete information I’d love to see it. As I said, I have mixed feelings about their gimmick. I like space, too, but I’m not a big fan of gimmick beers unless it adds something positive to the beer itself. As far as I know, sending yeast up into the lowest legal definition of space doesn’t alter the yeast in any way so that it affects the flavor of the beer. All they get for their trouble is the ability to call it space beer. That doesn’t sound much different to me than Apollo, even if it turns out as you suggest. Despite the fact that the rocket was “suborbital” and that they’ve used the 45-mile suborbital “definition” of space probably isn’t what most people would think of if you told them had been to space. And even allowing for acceptance of the technicality that allows them to say these things shot up in the rocket went “to space” it was just one small ingredient in the beer, far less than one-percent. So “it” hasn’t really been to space. A tiny fraction of it may have been. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get all worked up about a beer that spends all this money on a scheme that doesn’t seem to make its beer taste any different just for the novelty of it.

  5. says

    Michelle, No I really don’t get it. I’m glad you’re so excited by it and I don’t want to dampen your enthusiasm. If you think holding something in your hand or drinking something that has been shot 45-miles into the air is the be all, end all, knock yourself out. Enjoy. But I continue to think that if doing so doesn’t make the “space beer” taste different than any other amber ale than there really isn’t much point. Sorry. And see my comment above. The beer has not physically been in space, only a tiny fraction, the smallest of the four ingredients in beer.

  6. Roger Clandon says

    Gee J – this took me all of 30 seconds to find (see below) … By the way, again do your homework. The legal defintion of space is 62 miles (US) and 50 miles (international). The UP Aerospace Rocket that microgravity was on flew to 73 miles as verified by WSMR radar. You know there is always somebody out there criticizing other people – why not just say “Hey great idea” and pat them on the back? According to their website this is just the start, space production and manufacturing are next but they are seeking to finance this with consumer sales, no government contracts or handout. Once again I say Bravo. Give them some credit and quit bitching.

    Roger

    Brewer launches Apollo
    New craft beer to appeal to women and connoisseurs
    San Francisco Business Times – August 2, 1996
    by Clifford Carlsen
    Business Times Staff Writer

    Proving that craft beer and microbrews are no longer synonymous, San Francisco’s Big Bang Brewery is set to make a big splashdown with its new Apollo beer.

    Launching the brand with a minimum commitment of 100,000 cases for retail distribution, the fledgling beer maker expects to skip the struggling microbrew stage and install itself as one of Northern California’s largest craft brewers in its first year. Then the company expects to build a brand that can support quick expansion throughout the country.

    Founder and President Jean Charles Boisset expects that fast start to put the company on track for distribution in 20 states by October, and sales of $3 million by the end of the year.

    It’s an ambitious start, and it may be a unique one for a startup beer. But it’s old hat for beverage industry veteran Jean-Charles Boisset who, despite being only 26, heads the U.S. operations of his family’s French wine and spirits company and has successfully introduced and expanded several brands in the competitive California wine market.

    In just two years, Boisset built his Joliesse Vineyards into a 275,000-case producer of low-priced varietals and established it as a cutting edge marketer to the tough-to-crack Generation X market. Boisset has also found success with the introduction of the more upscale Christophe Cellars brand and the revival of moribund premium brands Lyeth Estate and William Wheeler Winery.

    “We have proven to distributors in the wine business that we can bring exciting new products to the market, and that our marketing is taking off,” Boisset said. “I draw a huge parallel between a craft brewer and a winery in their ability to create a carefully crafted product and find the market for it.”

    Boisset started in 1995 to develop a beer aimed at young, upscale consumers. Initial home brewing experiments familiarized him with the process and allowed some experimentation before hiring professionals to assist in production-quantity development.

    The beer is brewed on contract with a brewery in Minnesota, and Boisset dismissed the increasingly debated issue of whether contract brewed products should be considered in the same category as true microbrews.

    “There is a learning curve that comes with any new equipment, and the quality of resources available at a contract brewery are better than we could get starting out,” Boisset said. “We want to put all our expenses into the quality of ingredients and marketing rather than fixed assets.”

    Boisset hired a senior brewing consultant involved in the early development of Pete’s Wicked Ale and Bud Light, and set out to try and create a distinctive beer. Because of his wine background, he wanted a beer with a smooth and refined taste that would appeal to a different market than that for the bulk of craft beers, which tend to rely on bold, rustic flavors.

    Taking a page from the wine industry, Apollo is aged with the same American oak that gives California chardonnays their distinctive taste. The oak aging plays an important part in the beer’s marketing pitch, which also revolves around the Apollo moon landing program and the allure of space.

    The celestial motif supports Apollo’s packaging built around a cobalt blue bottle. Like San Francisco’s Skyy Vodka, which was the first product in its category to feature such a package, Boisset expects much of the initial appeal to be based on the bottle.

    “I believe that due to the packaging it will appeal more to women, who also will appreciate the softness and absence of bitterness,” Boisset said. “And beyond investing in the packaging, we have spent about 10 to 12 percent more than other brewers on the ingredients that go into the beer.”

    Tom Dalldorf, editor and publisher of the Hayward-based Celebrator Beer News, which serves as the bible for the craft beer industry, said he has been waiting to see a craft beer aimed at Apollo’s audience. Although he said he is skeptical of a product conceived as a marketing exercise, he said Apollo has a creamier, softer and more complex taste than most craft beers, and that it may quickly find a place in the market.

    “The craft beer movement was really a niche at first, but now that it has grown to more than 2 percent of the total beer market there are going to be sub-niches,” Dalldorf said. “I have always said there are two craft beer audiences, people moving up from Bud and wine people that are looking for complex flavor, character and texture in a beer and are willing to pay for it.”

    And pay for it they will. Boisset has priced Apollo at the high end of the craft beer scale not only because its production and packaging are more expensive, but to position it as a product of unique quality. And with that in mind, he hopes to build on its reputation with a broad range of future Big Bang Brewery lines.

    Next year he hopes to introduce a line of cider called Sputnik.

    In a red bottle, of course.

  7. says

    Well, I certainly have egg on my face. That was the first article I saw, too. Unfortunately for me, I missed that it was a two-page article and only read the first half. So if we’re sticking with the homework analogy, I guess the dog ate it. Man, memory is a funny thing. I would have sworn on a stack of bibles that the Apollo guys told me it had something to do with space other than the name. But I accept that I was wrong and give you kudos for showing me. Well done, Roger.

    According to Wikipedia, the U.S. defines it as 50 miles and the “Fédération Aéronautique Internationale has established the Kármán line at an altitude of 100 km (62 miles).” I got the 45-mile figure from one of the news items that covered this story and didn’t fact check it because the exact mileage marker is not really important to my argument. Apart from a passing interest in trivia, I don’t really care if it’s 45, 50 or 62 miles. What matters is that most people don’t think of that mile-marker threshold as being space, they think of it as going into orbit, out of the atmosphere. That’s why more people remember John Glenn than Alan Shepard. 73 miles is still under the 120 miles that is the lowest possible orbit with short-term stability, though one of the UP Aerospace Rocket, the XL, can reach as high as 140 miles.

    Beyond that, both Coors and a German group have both sent yeast into orbit and both have undoubtedly made beer with that yeast, though they have not made it available commercially as far as I know. So even with Apollo out of the picture, this isn’t the first space beer. Though it may be the first space beer someone could buy.

    As for my being critical, my original take was that I had “mixed feelings” and said “it also seems like a fun idea, too.” That hardly sounds like the bitching you accuse me of. Though I must confess that since your original comment, I have looked at this story more closely, and because of that have begun to think less favorably about it. All I can tell you is that if I thought this idea was great I’d be patting them on the back right along with you. But I just can’t. For me to say something is a great idea, I’d have to actually think it really was a great idea. And I can’t lie. When I look at the homepage for UP Aerospace all I see is glorified model rockets. Maybe, as you say, it’s just the beginning, they’re just getting started. But what makes it virtually impossible for me to applaud this idea is when I see them trying to sell stamps and patches for a premium price just because they were shot up in the air. For a mere $99, I can buy a 41-cent stamp. Woo hoo! I don’t understand how anyone thinks that’s a reasonable price. To me that’s a snake oil deal. Honestly, when I first saw this it struck me as a decent, okay novelty idea, but the closer I look at it, the shadier and less legitimate it seems. They’re sending stuff up in a rocket just to say they’ve sent stuff up in a rocket. Why does that add any intrinsic value to the item? There’s a sucker born every minute and if someone will pay $98.59 more for something than it’s worth (in the case of the stamp) then I guess they’ll get everything they get. The better deal is undoubtedly the patch, which you can buy for a mere $29.95. But is that really a good business model? How does the thinking go on something like that? People will pay more for something just because they think it’s been to space, so let’s take advantage of people’s feelings that space is still exotic, the final frontier, and send stuff up in a big model rocket. They’re not manufacturing or building anything, they haven’t found a cure for cancer, they’re just increasing the value of everyday objects like stamps, patches and yeast. It’s a bit like the entrepreneurs who took the sheets that the Beatles had slept on and cut them into squares and sold them for a fantastic price. I’m just too cynical to think they did something good that deserves a pat on the back.

    And that brings me to the nature of criticism itself. You suggest that there’s “always somebody out there criticizing other people” but fail to explain why that’s always bad. Do you really think everybody should just think everything in he world is great and not decide anything critically? That seems preposterous to me. Is there nothing you disagree with or don’t like? How do you decide anything? Surely you don’t think every like product is of equal worth and quality, do you? So in order to make choices every single day, we have to be critical. To this rocket stuff, you say bravo. I cannot. Who cares? With your unbridled enthusiasm, perhaps you should be a company spokesman — perhaps you already are — and convince others that this is a great idea. Knock yourself out. But I do object to your characterizing taking a contrary view as “bitching.” I’m not complaining just for the sake of it and I almost never begin looking at something with a predisposition toward criticizing it. I try to analyze what I write about with an open mind and come to a specific conclusion as I go. When I started out, I thought this was a mildly amusing idea that seemed fun, with just a few reservations. But taking a closer look to address your comments has made me re-evaluate it, so thanks for that. You keep wanting me to give them “credit” for what they’re doing, but now all I see is the modern equivalent of the traveling medicine show selling “patent medicines” for high prices, curing nothing. They only thing they deserve credit for is figuring out yet another way to separate people from their hard-earned cash while giving them very little in return.

  8. Roger Clandon says

    J,

    Ok, being critical isn’t by itself bad. But my concern was a shoot for the hip complaint without knowing all the facts. Please, don’t check the UP site, check the Microgravity Enterprises site. Look at what they are doing for education. These guys are trying to raise money without government interference and “help.” Their goal is more youth interested in space and real space commercialization. They identify in their site what they want to produce in space – that’s cool. I guess that’s why I reacted to your comments. Check them out and let me know what you think. As for me, I’m on board 100%.

    Roger

  9. Michelle Katrina says

    I’ve been reading these comments fly back and forth and I think I have to agree with Roger (sorry J). Most of the “space companies” you see on the web (other than the big guys) are just names. They list some plan they have, devote a lot of space to the biographies of the founders and then ask for donations. Usually they say something like “We know how to fix the problem. If they government would just give us a billion dollars then we would commercialize space.” What a croc.

    Now along comes Microgravity and they also want to commercialize space but they are at least giving you something in return. They are producing products (beer, energy drinks, and water) that have value and also will lead to the commercialization of space. Plus, I really like the fact that they don’t have any “love me” pages us – no bios telling us how important they are. Just names and contact info if you’re interested.

    I hope they succeed and I’m gonna to being buying there products. What do you think J? Can you get on board? Space commercialization is going to take a lot of work and $$$.

    Michelle

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