Scientists devise method of sniffing out fake whisky

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by a Newsnet reporter

Scientists at Strathclyde University yesterday announced that they had succeeded in devising a method of reliably distinguishing between genuine Scotch whisky and fakes.  Fake products, many manufactured in the Far East, cost the Scotch whisky industry an estimated £500 million in lost revenue annually.

The team, based at the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, analysed 17 samples of blended whisky of which eight were the genuine article and nine were counterfeit.  The scientists were able to identify all the samples correctly by using an optical probe to determine the levels of the alcohol ethanol and various colouring agents in each sample.  

The great advantage of the new process is that it does not require expensive laboratory equipment, and potentially can be used in the field in order to give investigators a quick answer to whether a particular product is genuine or a fake.  Rapid action is necessary as by the time a sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis, the seller of the fake has often disappeared.

Scientists say the ethanol part of the test can be conducted in a minute and the colourant test in just 20 minutes.  This represents a considerable saving of time, as currently it can take days for test results to return from a laboratory.

Speaking about the new method, Professor David Littlejohn, who led the research, said: “The whisky industry has tools at its disposal for telling authentic and counterfeit whisky brands apart but many of them involve lab-based analysis, which isn’t always the most convenient system if a sample needs to be identified quickly.

“There’s a growing need for methods that can provide simpler and faster identification and we have developed a system which could be adapted for devices to use on site, without the need to return samples to a lab.

“It could be of great benefit to an industry which is hugely important to the economy.”