Scientists have shed new light on
counterfeit whiskey, thanks to the power of lasers.
Using a ray of light the size of
a human hair, the team of researchers at the University of St Andrews have
developed a new method for testing whether a whiskey is genuine or not.
The novel method can work out the
brand, age, and even which cask was used to create a single malt, from a sample
no bigger than a teardrop.
The research, which has been
patented and is being presented to industry, was carried out by physicists Praveen
Ashok, Kishan Dholakia, and Bavishna Praveen.
Praveen explains, “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.”
The research involves researchers
placing a tiny amount of whiskey on a transparent plastic chip no bigger than a
Using optical fibers the width of
a human hair, the whiskey sample is illuminated by light using one fiber, and
collected by another. By analyzing the collection of light scattered from the whiskey, the researchers are able to diagnose the sample.
The key lies in the fact that the
laser can detect the amount of alcohol contained in the sample—genuine whiskey
must contain at least 40%.
The method exploits both the
fluorescence of whiskey and the scattering of light and shift in energy when it
interacts with molecules (known as its ‘Raman signature’).
Ashok comments, “Whiskey turns out
to be very interesting: we can not only gather information about the alcohol
content, but also the color and texture. These are dictated by the
manufacturing process, which of course influences greatly the type of whiskey
The chip used in the study was
originally employed in the detection of bioanalytes by the group in biomedical
Dholakia adds, “Light is
incredible and has led to amazing advances in the last fifty years since the
advent of the laser.
“It is amazing to think that the
technology we are developing for biomedical analysis can also be used to help
us enjoy a wee dram—and with the minimum of waste.”
The research is published by Optics Express.