Scottish researchers devise whisky-authentication method

Methods for distinguishing between authentic and counterfeit Scotch whisky brands have been devised by scientists at Strathclyde University.

Researchers from the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry are said to have found new ways to compare the content of whisky samples to determine if they are the whisky on the label or an imitation brand.

According to a statement, a series of blind tests successfully put the real whisky brand and the fakes in the right categories. The system could enhance the technology that industry uses to tackle the trade in illicit whisky.

Prof 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 that 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 that is hugely important to the economy.’

The researchers analysed 17 samples of blended whisky, looking at the concentration of ethanol in the samples without diluting them and the residue of dried whisky.

They did so with mid-infrared spectrometry, used with immersion probes that incorporate novel optical fibres developed by Scottish company Fibre Photonics, which co-sponsored the research. The procedures developed can reportedly provide accurate analysis without the complexity and cost of some other systems.

The levels of ethanol and colourant led the the researchers to identify correctly the eight authentic and nine counterfeit samples.

The project research paper has been published in Analytica Chimica Acta.