Gamma rays: they gave the Incredible Hulk his angry demeanour, verdant pallor and superhuman strength, and now boffins in South America say they can be used to supercharge spirit.
Rather than waiting months or years for spirit to age in wood, a group of Brazilian scientists says its experiments in irradiating their national spirit cachaca results in a flavour indistinguishable from conventionally cask-aged spirit.
The researchers, at Brazil's Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture, bottled newly distilled cachaca and passed the bottles through a gamma 'radiator' - ionising atoms within the rum, though without imparting the colour changes associated with time spent in barrels. The dose of radiation was just 0.3 kilogray, considered low by physicists and deemed no health risk to drinkers.
The experiments were conducted in the lab and may be difficult to apply to large-scale production as gamma radiators cost from $3.5m upwards.
If successful, the ageing method will join an increasingly quirky collection of maturation techniques that also include music played to spirit alongside more conventional barrel-management tricks practised by warehouse managers.
However, experts told CLASS the approach could never emulate the effect of time spent in wood. They also questioned the scientific methodology of the Brazilians' approach and questioned the marketability of gamma-aged products.
Paul Hughes, a professor at Heriot Watt University's Institute of Brewing and Distilling, said: "Never in a month of Sundays is zapping spirit going to give you a matured spirit. Gamma rays will knock off electrons and create a free radicals, but there are no extractions from the wood, so nothing to colour it up, and no lignin-derived compounds or lactones that you get with wood.
"Atomic-aged products might also be difficult to sell."