A Russian student who's working with professor Manubo Sugimoto at Japan's Okayama University shows off a handful of barley grown aboard the International Space Station. (Photo: Courtesy Okayama University)
Perhaps it's merely a gimmick? But even if so, it's an interesting one.
Japan's Sapporo Holdings, one of that country's leading makers of beer, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages, plans to brew a limited addition (only about 100 bottles) of the world's (maybe the known universe's) first and only space beer, made from barley grown at the International Space Station which is floating about in space.
Researchers at the Russian Space Agency, along with NASA in the U.S. and Japan's Okayama University, have been experimenting with growing various food crops aboard the space station for the last couple years. The researchers are conducting the experiments for a variety of reasons, including looking to the future when people might spend years in space, therefore needing to be able to grow their own food.
Barley is one of the crops the researchers have been focusing on growing aboard the space station. In fact, according to Manabu Sugimoto, an associate professor of biology at Japan's Okayama University, barley is very well-suited for farming (and eating) in space in that it can tolerate changes in temperature, along with being a good source of essential nutrients and fiber.
The barley crop was first started on the International Space Station in 2006 by the researchers. The international space station is a zero-gravity environment inside, which obviously isn't the case with earth-based farming. Despite that fact, Professor Sugimoto says the barley crop has done well. He doesn't say the barley is "out of this world" though.
Professor Sugimoto is involved in the space station farming research. He's also the connection to beer maker Sapporo. Since he is a key researcher on the barley growing project (and has some of the barley in his possession), he's given the Japanese company the green light to use some of the space station-produced barley to make its 100 bottle run of the limited edition space beer.
The professor says there isn't any taste difference between the barley grown aboard the space station and barley grown on earth. In other words, the space barley won't effect the taste profile of the Sapporo otherwordly beer in and of itself.
Junichi Ichikawa, the Sapporo Holdings executive heading up the space beer project, says the beer maker plans on having the 100 bottles of beer brewed and bottled by November of this year.
The Japanese beer and beverage company has been a financial supporter of Okayama University's and Professor Sugimoto's crop research aboard the international space station, according to Inchikawa.
He says Sapporo doesn't plan at this time to market the 100 bottles of space beer. We bet it would be quite a collector's item though; and if sold would likely fetch a high price from beer lovers with money to burn.
Sapporo Holding's Junichi Ichikawa also says the company plans to learn from its beer making project using the space station-grown barley, with a focus "on the earthly applications of what is learned."
We aren't sure exactly what the beer maker will learn in brewing a beer made with the barley produced aboard the zero-gravity International Space Station. But we sure like the spirit of adventure behind the project. And, since the company doesn't plan on selling the 100 bottles of space beer for an out of this world price, but rather says it won't market it at all, it sounds to use like the project is far more than a mere gimmick.
Since the Sapporo beer will be the very first commercial product produced from any of the crops grown aboard the space station to date, we see it as an historical event.
The beer also will give Sapporo the bragging rights, if it wants them, to say it's brewed the only beer in the world that can literally be called "out of this world."