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Technology that detects whisky’s age is ‘world first’

A team of researchers has joined forces with a technology firm to create what is thought to be the world’s first age verification service for whisky in a bid to tackle counterfeit products.

Everledger and the Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre have created a digital identify for whisky to help cut down on fakes

London-based blockchain company Everledger and the Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre (SUERC) at the University of Glasgow have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to fight fraud in the whisky sector.

The move will see SUERC researchers fit Everledger anti-tamper bottle closures to rare Scotch whiskies. The liquid in each individual bottle will be analysed using SUERC’s proprietary technology, which will be connected to the blockchain using near field communication (NFC) tags, resulting in a digital record that certifies the whisky’s origin and age.

Sales of collectable bottles of single malt Scotch reached a total of £57.7 million (US$76.6m) in 2018, according to Rare Whisky 101. Researchers at SUERC estimate that as many as 40% of all rare whiskies on the market could be fake. Research released by SUERC in 2018 showed that of 55 bottles of rare Scotch they had tested, 21 were either fake or not distilled in the year stated.

The SUERC has developed a way to accurately determine when whiskies were distilled using radiocarbon dating. By being given access to samples of rare whisky, the team have created a radiocarbon dating curve that is now used to determine the age of all types of vintage whiskies. The technology is able to detect the actual age of whiskies within a few years.

Gordon Cook, head of the SUERC Radiocarbon Laboratory and a professor at the University of Glasgow, said: “This method for identifying fake malt whisky samples extends from the removal of small samples through the cork, to alcohol distillation, high-precision analysis and finally, interpretation of the radiocarbon data using a unique calibration curve developed by our laboratory.

“This research has been carried out in response to a growing interest in these whiskies that, if genuine, can be worth tens of thousands of pounds per bottle, which may encourage fraudsters to attempt to fake the more expensive brands. We’re proud that we are now able to provide the first and only fully secure whisky age verification service in the world with the support of Everledger.”

The research team decided to use Everledger’s bottle caps and blockchain platform, which was launched in April 2020. Once the radiocarbon testing is complete, researchers add Everledger’s NFC-powered tamper detection label to the bottle cap to create a digital identity for the whisky. Through the use of a smartphone, the provenance of the bottle and its lifecycle journey can be viewed.

Dr Elaine Dunbar, research scientist at SUERC, added: “One aspect of the process that has eluded us is securing a permanent digital record of a whisky’s origin and age. We are therefore absolutely delighted to establish a partnership with Everledger, who will provide a lasting seal and a digital record of the whisky and details of its radiocarbon analysis.

“It’s the perfect way to provide additional peace of mind for those who choose to have us verify their whiskies, and to help cut down on the trade in fakes.”

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