Scientists battle fake Scotch with water testing

7th July, 2014 by Amy Hopkins

Forensic scientists have developed a new technique to battle counterfeit Scotch whisky brands, by identifying whether the water used to make the spirit actually originates from Scotland.

Whisky counterfeit

Researchers have discovered a new way to single out counterfeit Scotch whisky brands, by testing the provenance of the water from which they are made

As reported by The Times, a new isotope experiment is being used to test the “signature” of the water from each Scotch whisky region, enabling researchers to discover bogus “Scotch” whiskies created overseas.

According to EU law, products labeled as Scotch whisky must be distilled in Scotland using water and malted barley to which only grains or other cereals may be added.

The Scotch industry has long-suffered from counterfeit brands, which are said to cost the sector £500 million a year, accounting for 10% of its total sales.

UK trade body the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) objected to 100 registered whisky trademarks in 2013, claiming they did not adhere to official definitions. The association usually battles 70 counterfeit Scotch whisky brands at any given time.

However, researchers at James Hutton Institute in Dundee and Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen are now attempting to identify fakes through isotope “signatures” found in water, which point to the liquid’s geographical, chemical, geological and biological provenance.

Dr Wolfram Meier-Augenstein, professor of isotope forensics at Robert Gordon University, told The Times that by comparing the isotope ratio of authentic whisky with that of fake Scotch brands, researchers can “tell if it matches the characteristics of the genuine article”.

“Rather than looking for a needle in a haystack, we are reducing the size of the haystack,” he said.

“The provenance of the barley can be a bit of a grey area, as it is sometimes sourced from England in years when there has been a poor yield north of the border, but the water used to make the mash is usually sourced as locally as possible to the distillery.”

The SWA has welcomed the new technique, claiming that the industry is always “interested in exploring different techniques that may assist our product authentication efforts”.

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