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Heriot-Watt chemists trial ‘gin fingerprinting’

The technique can identify the chemical fingerprinting of gin, which researchers says could be used by producers to help futureproof gins, conduct quality control and identify fraudulent products. 
The team behind the study are Dr Ruaraidh McIntosh, Dr Dave Ellis, PhD student Kacper Krakowiak from Heriot-Watt and Professor Dušan Uhrín from the University of Edinburgh.  
Dr McIntosh describes gin as “very loosely defined” in comparison to Scotch whisky. “Producers need to know more so that they can ensure they have years of sustainable, flavoursome gin ahead of them.   
“And consumers and importers need to know that gin is genuine and the quality they’re expecting.” 
Gin is required by the European Union to be at least 37% alcohol, but it is otherwise less regulated than spirits such as whisky.  
The team used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy in their research to identify the exact composition of a gin. Dr Ellis shares: “NMR basically fingerprints the gin’s chemical compounds. It does this by detecting the signals given by the hydrogen atoms in each compound. These act as markers and enable identification. In under five minutes, we end up with an overlay of all these fingerprints, providing a snapshot of the compounds present.”   
The research has implications for the gin industry as a whole, including for consumers. Dr Ellis explains how the team “tested some fruit gins and gin liqueurs. The NMR identified the different varieties of sugar present in the gin, which are introduced through flavour additives, and their quantity. This is important information for consumers.” 
The technique may also provide a layer of futureproofing for gin producers. Dr Ellis continues: “UK distillers rely on imported juniper berries for their gin, and climate change could affect their quality and availability. If their traditional supply dries up, will sourcing juniper berries from elsewhere change the flavour? That’s what we could determine with this technique. 
“NMR has huge potential for the industry.” 
The research team is now expanding the study to include more gins and other drinks.  
The study’s findings have been reported in the Journal of Brewing and Distilling. 

6 February 2024 - Lucy Schofield