In the TNG episode "The Defector" Data indicates (to a Romulan visitor) that Romulan Ale is not available to be replicated:

SETAL: I thought it would bring me some comfort. But these are not my stars. Even the heavens are denied to me here. Synthetic swill. I don't suppose your food terminals would be capable of producing a Romulan ale?

DATA: I am afraid they would require the molecular structure of the beverage in question. And, as you are no doubt aware, our knowledge of your planet is quite limited.

However, shortly afterward the holodeck is used to create a convincing replica of the Romulan landscape. It's pretty clear that there has been some trade and contact between the Federation and Romulus over the years, dating back to TOS and before, so...

How is it that Data can access a program for an entire planet but not access a simple formula for an ale?

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    Educated speculation: a sweeping landscape is bound to be visible from space, and thus reproducible based on telescopic data. A replicated substance no-doubt requires more specific analysis. Apparently the replicator programmers didn't have (or didn't input) a sample necessary to recreate the ale, but the computer had enough geographic and astronomical data to reproduce a portion of Romulus's surface.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 19:12
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    @JMFB - Don't forget that you're the ultimate arbiter of what goes into your question. If you don't like any changes made, that's what the roll-back button is for.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 19:17
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    @JMFB I doubt it would be hard at all to get such info. During the Cold War, America had a hard time getting images of Soviet missile bases, but not of Soviet public landmarks. I doubt Romulus would try to hide images of, effectively, their Grand Canyon. It's likely a popular tourist destination within the Empire, a local jewel of the galaxy, with images all over the place. When I say "telescopic data," I don't necessarily mean from a telescope on Earth or Vulcan. I mean normal geological surveys and public maps, etc. The Romulan equivalent of Google Earth.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 19:21
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    The quote that was edited out might also be an answer: If it was illegal, why would the replicators be allowed to create it? 'Course, it doesn't quite match Data's reasoning, unless that particular knowledge was suppressed instead of missing
    – Izkata
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 23:10
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    Did the Holodeck program recreate the entire planet as your question implies or simply a well-known (and limited) setting from said planet?
    – Ellesedil
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 17:08

3 Answers 3


How is it that Data can access a program for an entire planet but not access a simple formula for an ale?

A simpler answer. A holo deck reproduction of a mountain range can be done from some simple photographs. A replicator item needs a molecular level scan of the original item. One is harder to reproduce than the other.

Now as to why someone didn't scan the numerous illegal bottles they have had on the Enterprise it's probably a matter of not wanting to be caught.


I suspect it's a byproduct of the embargoes between the two species. The geography is simple: look through telescope, reproduce observations. The ale is more complex.

There's probably more than one kind of Romulan ale. Much like how humans have thousands of kinds of wine, over a dozen kinds of Tequila, and so many kinds of beer.

If you want to program a replicator pattern of something, you need the item. Since Romulan ale was illegal, nobody wanted to admit to making a replicator pattern in this matter. Several people probably tried though. But since it was illegal to actually have the real stuff, the attempt was probably limited, and imperfect. There's another Romulan beverage that suffers this issue as well, as mentioned in "In the pale moonlight".

Since there was an embargo, it was probably difficult to get different varieties and vintages, which meant that any attempts at making the ale would probably be composites at best. Imagine if the Vulcans tried to recreate human wine, but had very little access to the real stuff, and did not have access to a wide variety, and were trying to recreate a single beverage from only a dozen small samples. The result would probably taste like a mixture of red and white wine that you could tell was synthetic. Hypothetically.

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    We had a comment discussion about the legality of the beverage. Unfortunately it was removed to a chat room and has been deleted. I'm not going to do all the research I did before to try & come up w/the legal status again. It was available, there was some trade going on, and it became legal sometime around that time. It was for sure legal a few years later during the dominion wars and continued to be after since it was served at Rikers wedding. To get telemetry that detailed it would take more then a long range telescope. We're talking about many light years w/neutral zone in between.
    – JMFB
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 21:25
  • chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/23781/… Richard undeleted the discussion about the legal status we had.
    – JMFB
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 21:54

Because programming a holodeck to replicate an environment pales in comparison to creating an alcoholic beverage to a particular species tastes. While Romulan ale is obviously not poisonous to humans, it may still have ingredients, processes or a chemical makeup that is unique to the Romulans. Even if the inebriating agent isn't necessarily ethanol, assuming the word "ale" corresponds to some process used to create inebriating beverages, then there are likely to be hundreds of potential methods to create said "ale".

enter image description here

The creation of alcoholic beverages are affected by:

  • Process: How the materials are treated, filtered, stored, all affect underlying flavor. (see above graphic)

  • Location: can affect minerals elements absorbed by the raw materials from their natural environment. Minerals can affect flavor or other chemical interactions during processing.

  • Fluids: whatever particular fluids are used as a base, even if its just water, it may bear mineral traces or have a Ph balance which can affect flavor. If it uses other fluids, they may impart unique flavors or chemical markers which may appear only in trace amounts and may interact in unusual ways when processed naturally.

  • Yeasts (or other biological element required for fermentation): fermentation can vary widely based on temperature, materials, pressure, time of fermentation, and length of storage as well as the materials the fermenting material is stored in. Each of these factors can affect flavor widely.

  • Materials: natural ingredients used to create said beverage (the Romulan equivalents of hops, barley and malts), how they are harvested, when they are harvested, processes used to prepare them, all can affect the flavor.

  • Chirality: the chemical makeup of the actual molecules used. It is possible some of the unique flavors are due to molecular reversals and the biological responses to said liquids.

Given that here on Earth, there are thousands of of different ales available for consumption. Even though the essential inebriating element of an alcoholic beverage ethanol is basically the same in all of them, it has not stopped thousands of attempts to create unique and different flavors.

enter image description here

High resolution image

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    None of which matters to a molecular level scanner and replication machine.
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:10
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    Obviously it does. Everyone can tell food that has been replicated, so there is something about the replicator which DOES NOT remove the need for people to create food, cook food, become chefs or produce local goods they sell from planet to planet. As good as replicators may be, they haven't put any chefs out of business across the galaxy. So all of these things DO matter when they cannot be replicated by technology. We will have to disagree. Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:17
  • That sentiment seems to only apply to synthahol. And food that is changed to meet minimum standard nutrition. I don't see Troi complaining about her real chocolate.
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:48
  • Troy is a non-Human alien. What does she know of Terran chocolate? I suspect anyone who eats chocolate made on Earth, using historic processes to make it, would know the difference between replicated chocolate and the real thing. That is the problem with the technology. It cannot replicate the nuance of actual creative processes. It might be able to recreate the molecular signature, but each time it would be the same as the original sample. Real foods vary in flavor, chemical makeup and intensity of flavor. Replicators will probably never replace real cooking skills. Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 20:54
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    And finally, as noted many times on screen, replicator food tastes exactly the same, except for certain snobs who say they can taste a difference, like audiophiles and videophiles who say they can tell the difference between audio cables.
    – user16696
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 21:49

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