Busting fake spirits with first-of-its-kind handheld device

For the first time, researchers have developed a handheld Raman spectroscopy device that can peer through bottles of spirit and detect if the contents are genuine.

While wine fraud is more common, counterfeit whiskies have grown in prevalence over the past 25 years as more people invest in old and rare bottles.

The fight to combat this is now evolving. In the journal Nature, researchers note that in the spirit drinks sector, counterfeiters often 'recycle' used genuine packaging, or employ good quality simulants. This can cause a major loss of revenue and, in some circumstances if dangerous chemicals are used, death.

In order to call out the fakes, they say that companies need "sensitive, analysis of the complex chemical composition while still in its packaging", but note that this has yet to be achieved.

But now the cross-team of scientists have created a new way of going through the looking glass, using handheld spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (a.k.a. SORS).

In the paper, they show that SORS has the potential for rapid in situ through-container analysis and achieved "unequivocal detection of multiple chemical markers known for their use in the adulteration and counterfeiting of Scotch whisky, and other spirit drinks."

They also show that it is possible to detect a total of 10 denaturants/additives in extremely low concentrations without any contact with the sample, as well as discriminating between and within multiple well-known Scotch whisky brands, and detect methanol concentrations well below the maximum human tolerable level.

The researchers joined forces from across the School of Chemistry, Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, with colleagues from the Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) in Edinburgh, Cobalt Light Systems in Abingdon, and the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton

They used lasers directed through glass, which allowed for the isolation of chemically-rich information from deep within the contents of a container. Nearly 150 samples of several well-known brands of Scotch Whisky, rum, gin and vodka in closed glass containers, including 40 simulated counterfeits were analysed blind using the handheld device, detecting multiple chemical markers known to be used in illicit fakes.

They also bought several bottles of spirit drinks off the shelf from local shops: These were first measured unopened, then opened and adulterated with different levels of methanol, and the tops replaced.

The SORS detected the contaminated bottles through multiple colours (clear/brown/green) of commercial glass bottles in several types of spirit drinks (Scotch Whisky, gin, and vodka), again, well below the maximum human tolerable level in spirit drinks.

The researchers conclude: "We believe that photonics approaches such as handheld SORS and TRS have significant and, as of yet, untapped potential for their application to food security challenges."

Related articles:

     Want our news sent directly to your inbox?

Yes please 2


Home  |  About us  |  Contact us  |  Advertise  |  Links  |  Partners  |  Privacy Policy  |   |  RSS feed   |  back to top