Sep 19, 2020 - Technology

Detecting counterfeit whisky

Glasses of whiskey on barrels.

Photo: DEA/G.P. Cavallero

Physicists have figured out a way to determine the authenticity of rare whisky without opening the bottle, by using laser lights.

Why it matters: The demand for rare Scotch whisky has been rising in recent years, but so have reports of counterfeits. The new technology could help determine whether your four-figure single malt is actually rotgut — before you buy.

What's happening: In a recent paper, researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland (obviously) described a method of using spectroscopy on a whisky bottle, as Jennifer Ouellette reported in Ars Technica.

  • Scientists can shine a laser light into the whisky bottle, which breaks the light into a spectrum of wavelengths that correspond to different chemical compounds.
  • Those chemical compounds can be used to help determine the provenance of the whisky.
  • Because a glass bottle can produce a large spectral signal itself, interfering with the results, the researchers shaped the laser light into a ring, which reduced the noise from the bottle.

Of note: The Scotch Whisky Research Institute in Edinburgh (also obviously) is experimenting with portable spectrometers that workers could use to authenticate rare whiskeys.

Background: A 2018 study found a third of vintage Scottish whiskies tested in a lab were outright fakes or not from the year their labels indicated.

The bottom line: And that's why I drink bourbon.

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