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Scientists Develop Test for Fake Whiskey

  • Dominic Laurie

Two scientists in Scotland have developed a pocket-sized device to check whether whiskey is fake, using equipment originally developed to examine blood samples. They hope the techniques won’t just help the whisky industry clamp down on fakes which cost it hundreds of millions of dollars a year - but will also save lives.

St. Andrews is famous for many things. It’s the home of golf - the Old Course, and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club by the sea - some of the most recognizable images in world sports.

It's also famous for being home to the university where Prince WIlliam and Kate Middleton met for the first time as students.

But now, the university is staking a different, more down-to-earth claim to fame.

Scientists here have developed a pocket-sized test to see if a particular batch of whiskey is fake. Here’s how it works. One of the scientists, Praveen Ashok, places just a drop of the whiskey in a tiny ridge on the glass

A laser beam shines through the sample.

And a computer sensor linked to the glass says immediately whether it recognizes the sample or not.

This one is genuine.

Try it again by diluting it with water ... and the computer warns it is fake.

Whiskey is a multi-billion-dollar business. The famous brands are expensive to buy, and lucrative to try to fake. Industry representative Campbell Evans says counterfeiting is a big threat.

"Scotch whiskey can only be made in Scotland and it is vitally important to protect the identity, so we hunt for fakes appearing around the world," he said. "If somebody buys a fake product and doesn’t like it, they may never buy the genuine article ever again. We have five in-house lawyers whose job it is to stop anyone who puts brown liquid in a bottle and pretends it's whiskey when it’s not. And we can have up to 70 court cases on the go at any one time."

But it's not only lawyers who may find the device has valuable applications. Kishan Dholakia, one of the scientists behind the research, says it could even save lives.

“We think it is a real public safety and health concern," Dholakia said. "People lose their lives for example in India, many people lose their lives because people tamper with alcoholic drinks and toxicology and they make additives that I think have resulted in peoples’ deaths.

Kishan and Praveen hope they've struck gold. And found a device that could not only help distillers cut down on fakes and counterfeits, but also save lives in the process.

Their challenge now is to get the device out of the lab and into production.

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