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Whisky: Science crucial in fight against counterfeiters | UK News



Science is increasingly being used to tackle the problem of counterfeit whisky.

More than 300 bottles of whisky have been carbon dated in the past three years, according to scientists at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).

Previously, just a handful had been tested.

Carbon dating is usually used to determine the age of archaeological artefacts.

The SUERC is one of the country’s most respected centres for the science and was involved in the identification of the remains of Richard III in Leicester in 2012.

They are up against counterfeiters who target the lucrative trade in rare bottles by packaging a cheap product as vintage whisky and selling it for vast profit.

Andy Simpson, a whisky analyst at Rare Whisky 101, told Sky News: “Some whiskies that sold for £200-300 many years ago are now selling for £2,500-3,000, so the stakes are increasing for fraudsters and fakers to come to the market to try to pass their bottles off as genuine.

“So yes, we are seeing an increase in fakes. It’s not just across Scotch, we are seeing an increase in fakes in Japanese whiskies and especially in very high value Japanese whiskies.”

When carbon dating, scientists look for a chemical element called carbon 14. A millilitre sample of liquid is taken from the whisky bottle using a syringe and the ethanol from the sample is distilled.

The ethanol is then converted to solid carbon, which is measured in an instrument called an accelerator mass spectrometer. This pinpoints the age of the whisky.

Professor Gordon Cook told Sky News: “If we’re talking about whisky, we are talking about malted barley. So we grow barley, the barley takes in carbon 14 from the atmosphere and it retains that carbon 14 throughout the entire distillation and maturation process. The level of carbon 14 reflects the year of distillation.”

Visitor centre manager Wendy Dunlop samples the produce at the Auchentoshan Distillery, a Single Malt whisky distillery, on the outskirts of Glasgow on December 12, 2016
There are concerns about an increase in fake whisky. File pic

In the secondary whisky market, carbon dating is considered to be an effective method of checking a drink’s age and authenticity, even if some regard it as a last resort.

Joe Wilson, of Perth-based Whisky Auctioneers, told Sky News there are a number of checks that are made before science is used.

He said: “Analysing a bottle of whisky is a four-step process. The first part is the physical check with the bottle. We have a dedicated, expert team who are fully trained and up to scratch on new developments, new information that we get.

“We use the knowledge that we have about a bottle to check over it. From there, we’ll look for any red flags, things that maybe seem a bit suspicious or things that we are not used to seeing.

“From that point, we then do research into the bottle, look into why that’s the case. We’ll research previous bottles that we’ve had in the auction, we’ll try and look for inconsistencies, or consistencies, to try and inform our decision about the bottles.

“Following that, we’ll also look for provenance of the bottles. We’ll speak to the seller, we’ll ask them where it’s come from, hopefully the provenance is good, if it’s a bit more dubious you’re looking at a case where maybe you’re going to have to reject a bottle.

“Usually, in-house expertise is sufficient and we say that on about 99% of the bottles we will come to a decision on those using our own skill and knowledge.

“Where we feel like we might need another opinion, we can speak to an outside expert.”

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