Fake booze: can you tell if your vintage malt whisky is the real thing?

If you’ve shelled out £1.5 million for a rare bottle of vintage whisky, you would want to be sure the amber liquid inside is what it says on the label.

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 4:45 pm

Well there’s good news for aficionados of uisge beatha - and gin and vodka too.

Scientists at the University of St Andrews have developed an innovative technique that can prove the authenticity of some of the world’s most exclusive tipples.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It’s all done with light.

St Andrews University scientists have developed a novel testing technique that can prove some of Scotland's most sought-after whiskies are genuine - without even opening the bottle
St Andrews University scientists have developed a novel testing technique that can prove some of Scotland's most sought-after whiskies are genuine - without even opening the bottle

And best of all, the tests can be carried out without even removing the cork.

Researchers at the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy have developed a method that uses lasers to see inside a bottle and analyse its contents.

St Andrews scientists had previously demonstrated that laser spectroscopy could be used to prove the origins of whisky.

The process can reveal the chemical make-up of a substance by the way it breaks up light into its various colours, and has been used to identify materials ranging from particular bacteria to food and drink, through to the paint on sculptures and even explosive powders.

However, the new approach for the first time allows this analysis to be carried out without opening the bottle to take a sample.

Iconic bottles of whisky have been known to sell for more than £1 million, with a 1926 Macallan becoming the world’s most expensive when it fetched £1.5 million at auction last year.

But there has been a rise in the quantity of fake whiskies flooding the market.

Counterfeit drinks cost the UK economy more than £200 million in lost revenue each year.

So establishing the provenance of branded products has become increasingly important.

Research team leader Professor Kishan Dholakia said: “Personally, I hate it when I have to spare a drop of whisky for validation checks.

“I would much rather drink the whole bottle.

“Laser spectroscopy is a powerful tool for characterising the chemical make-up of many materials, but to use it to characterise alcohol in its original container in this simple way is really exciting.”

The novel approach does not require complex optical set-ups and therefore has potential to be easily manufactured for widespread use.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.

Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. Visit https://www.u2swisshome.com/subscriptions now to sign up.

By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.