Instant taste test for counterfeit whisky

To the enthusiastic connoisseur the oak tint and peaty aroma of a Bunnahabin island single malt sets it a universe apart from the average blended Scotch. But thousands of drinkers unknowingly glug their way through an annual £400m a year of counterfeit whisky.

For years the Scotch whisky industry has been involved in a worldwide battle against criminal gangs to halt the production and sale of inferior products which are passed off as the real thing.

It is estimated that up to 7 per cent of the world trade is counterfeit. In the UK, thousands of pubs and restaurants substitute cheap spirits for genuine Scottish malts and blends.

Until now the authentication process has proved long and cumbersome, with laboratory tests and a two-week wait required to confirm the provenance of a suspect drink.

Yesterday the drinks giant Diageo, which produces 42 million cases of malted and blended whisky a year from 30 distilleries, unveiled the world's first "miniaturised spectroscopic portable testing kit", which can not only tell the difference between real and fake whisky but also the difference between brands.

Each whisky his its own molecular "fingerprint", known as a light-signature, and each of the 10 "authenticators" currently in use by Diageo can store up to 16 of those signatures in its memory at any one time.

By dropping a tiny amount of liquid - about 5 milliltres - into the machine, the hand-held "laboratory in a box" takes about 30 seconds to determine not only if the whisky is genuine but the distillery from which it came.

The rapid results will allow trading standards officers and other enforcement officials to take immediate action against those peddling the poor quality, and often dangerous, imitations.

"The signatures of all of our brands are stored on computer and can be downloaded by officials working in the field, so a suspect drink can be tested against any of our brands at any time," said a spokeswoman for Diageo. "In time we want to roll this out to the rest of the industry because we believe that any counterfeit whisky is bad for the business as a whole and not just Diageo."

Already the device, which was developed at Diageo's brand technical centre in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, at a cost of just £100,000, has been successfully tested in Colombia, Spain and Venezuela.

With about 90 per cent of Scotch whisky sales being made overseas, where gangs often find it easier to pass off fakes, the "authenticator" could prove invaluable in countries where there is a shortage of ready expertise and analysis.

In South Africa last year, counterfeit whisky, sold under such labels as Original Scotsman and Glen Dowan, was found to contain little more than South African grape and cane spirit with added caramel.

Some would consider it ironic that Diageo is championing the integrity of whisky. The company recently caused consternation among connoisseurs when it turned its Cardhu single malt into a blend of other whiskies, but still insisted on calling it a "pure malt".

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week