Researchers have developed technology that will authenticate rare whisky, writes JULENA DRUMI
Anyone experienced in acquiring collectable items will know all too well that one nagging question stands between wanting to buy and handing over the cash. Is it the real thing?
From paintings and sculptures to watches and stamps, the market in fake goods is as old as when the original pieces were created.
Companies such as the Scottish firm Snapdragon have been created to help tackle counterfeit trade, and products and regulations have been designed help provide some form of protection.
Now a team of researchers has developed age-verification technology to help tackle the global problem of fake vintage whisky.
Sales of collectable bottles of single malt Scotch reached £57.7m in 2018 and there has been an accompanying growth in sales of fakes. Researchers at the Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre (SUERC) at the University of Glasgow estimate that as many as 40% of all rare vintage whiskies in circulation could be fake.
In 2017, the most expensive dram of whisky ever sold was found to be fake. A Chinese millionaire paid £7,600 for 2cl of the spirit, purported to be an 1878 Macallan, in a Swiss hotel, but lab tests later confirmed the whisky probably dated back only to the 1970s.
Everledger and SUERC have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help combat the problem after top brands, retailers, auction houses and collectors requested a way of authenticating the provenance of rare whiskies.
SUERC has developed a way to accurately determine when whiskies were distilled using radiocarbon dating. By being granted unprecedented access to samples of the world’s rarest whiskies, its researchers have created a unique radiocarbon dating curve.
This finely-graded system can, in many cases, pinpoint the true age of old whiskies to within a couple of years, and quickly detect fakes. In fact, 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.
With the verification of this information now possible, SUERC’s customers were keen to go further and add an additional element of security to the process to guard against any risk that a rare bottle might be tampered with after it has been dated. Intelligent anti-tamper bottle closures are fitted to rare whiskies. The bottles are tagged, providing a digital record certifying the whisky’s origin and age.
The technology can be applied across several industries, including diamonds and luxury apparel.
Gordon Cook, head of the SUERC Radiocarbon Laboratory and a professor at the University of Glasgow, led the team which developed the carbon-dating verification process. “We’re proud that we are now able to provide the first and only fully secure whisky age verification service in the world,” he said.
Dr Elaine Dunbar, Research Scientist at SUERC, said: “One aspect of the process that has eluded us is securing a permanent digital record of a whisky’s origin and age,” she said, adding that the technology will provide peace of mind to all who trade in rare whiskies.
Calogero Scibetta, Everledger’s senior vice president of commercials, Europe, added: “Using technology to bring more and more scientific methods for authentication in the Wine & Spirits industry has been a committed focus for us since day one, and we are delighted to work with SUERC on whisky authentication and protection.
“We are honoured that such an institution has chosen to adopt the Everledger Platform as their platform for provenance and authenticity for the industry.”