Scientists at the University of St. Andrews announced last week that they now have the capability to detect fake whiskey with only a small drop from the bottle. Counterfeit whiskey is not generally a concern for the average person, but for the beverage industry as a whole, this is a huge problem.
How are they doing it? Primarily by examining the alcohol content which, for whiskey, must by 40% or higher. One might think that this can detect a counterfeit whiskey that has a lower content or has been cut with a different type of alcohol, this may still be susceptible to a counterfeit that still provides the minimum alcohol content without using the time-consuming distillation process. The scientists, however, are able to determine a great many things from the sample, including the ability to identify the brand, age, and even the cask in which a single malt scotch was stored.
What's perhaps most interesting is that it was three physicists that initiated the work - Praveen Ashok, Kishan Dholakia, and Bavishna Praveen. The work uses a transparent plastic card with optical fibers that are used to analyze the sample. The Raman signature of the sample is evaluated which allows the researchers to vet the sample's validity and provenance. Most importantly, this method should eventually be quite cost-effecient allowing the industry to do this kind of checking quickly, easily, and in many locations.
This should be a major impact especially to Scotland given the immense impact that scotch production and sales have. A 2010 study by the Scotch Whisky Association stated that scotch generated over £2.7 billion worth of revenue for the Scottish economy. One of the researchers, Bavishna Praveen, said:
"Counterfeiting is rife in the drinks industry, which is constantly searching for new, powerful and inexpensive methods for liquor analysis. Using the power of light, we have adapted our technology to address a problem related to an industry which is a crucial part of Scottish culture and economy."
Congratulations to the researchers on finding an economical solution using some new ideas to solve an age-old problem.