A Very Wee Dram

These days, counterfeit goods are a large problem around the world. Cheap CD items such as movies, music, or books we call pirated and the quality may be poor reflecting the quality of the copying process.  Branded goods where we all rush to part with cash just for the name can be a different matter in terms of quality. The quality of the manufacture of the counterfeit can be high in many cases.

If it’s a watch and it doesn’t tell the time accurately or isn’t waterproof, then we can see it’s a poor quality counterfeit. If the quality is high, how do we know then? Many items can have markers such as unique serial numbers on them, but that doesn’t work for what we eat or drink.

Single malt Scotch is a popular tipple around the world and some brands with long sojourns in the cask are sought after and demand prices outside the capabilities of my wallet. These are prime targets for counterfeiters, but how would we of the uncultured palate know?

Ashok et al from the U of St. Andrew’s have come to our aid and have designed a Scotch Fake Detector on a tiny microfluidic chip that only steals a drop of Scotch from your closely guarded glass (1).  This portable device connects up to a Raman Spectrometer. So won’t fit into our messenger bag with our iPad and our wallet recovering in darkened seclusion from the shock of paying for the glass of hooch that your suspicious about.

As the Raman pattern is due to the inelastically scattered light from the vibrational states of the molecules in the whisky, the complex molecular blend that gives your chosen tipple its characteristic nose and flavor will give a unique Raman pattern, ­ like your fingerprints.

The problem is there are strong peaks from the ethanol that is in the whisky and that can vary slightly for different brands, but that isn’t enough. More exciting though is the analysis of the fluorescence background. The age of a Glenfiddich could be clearly estimated and a 12-year old separated from a 15-year old with an 18-year old being very different again.

The Glenmorangie distillery enjoys using different wine casks for ageing and again the background indicated very clearly if sherry, port, sauternes or simple old oak casks had been used.

For this to be a good anti-counterfeiting method a very large central library of spectra would have to be built up. Collecting samples from all over would leave the lab with a surplus sample disposal problem that I may be able to help with.

  1. P.C. Ashok, B. B. Praveen & K. DHolakia, Optic Express, 19, 22982, (2011).

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