Space Brews

In space, no one can hear you drink. Until recently, even the thought of being able to drink a cold brew in space was ridiculous. Not only because there’s no beer in space, but because there are only a few people orbiting around up there and beer is not the focus of their lives, like it is down here. However, as private companies make space tourism plans—some aim to colonize the moon and Mars—the idea of relaxing with a beer in space is increasingly attractive.

In a recent Q&A at Austin’s South by Southwest festival, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk quipped, “Mars should have really great bars.” He was responding to a question about creating culture on Mars. With his company, SpaceX, planning to begin short trips to and from Mars in early 2019, his goal of colonizing the Red Planet with a million people is coming to fruition.

That’s where enterprising Australian company 4 Pines Beer Brewing comes in. The New South Wales-based brewery has created a beer attuned to the extreme demands of space, on both taste and how it acts on the human body.

The quest for a beer suited to zero gravity began in 2010. The 4 Pines brewers developed a boldly flavored Irish-style stout made with seven malts. The beer had to exhibit very strong flavor because, in space, body fluids tend to move up into a person’s head, making the tongue, sinus tissues and other soft tissues swell. The swelling diminishes the ability to taste.

Another vital issue the brewers had to address? The beer burp. On Earth, after you drink a beer, the carbon dioxide or nitrogen in the quaff often causes a belch. Because of gravity, the liquid causing the eruction (there’s a new term you can use!) stays in the stomach. In space, there is no gravity to hold down the liquid, so a burp can get messy. To avoid a sticky situation, the brewers carefully measured carbonation, aiming to keep the sensation in the mouth, but not cause excess gas in the stomach.

Issues resolved, the next challenge was making the right bottle so space travelers could enjoy a beer the same way folks on Earth do.

Down here, you just pick up a bottle, put it to your lips and tilt. Beer flows through the neck and into your mouth, thanks to Newton’s law. In space, liquids do not pour. Instead, they coagulate in blobs, which float around. So a bottle that moves liquid from the bottom up through the neck and out the top was developed. There’s a lot of high-tech science involved, but the result is that astronauts, space travelers and Mars explorers will be able to sip a few cold ones while rocketing around the universe.

Musk speculates that SpaceX may be able to put us on Mars as early as 2024, so the ability to land refreshed will certainly be “one giant leap for man.”