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Researchers' database used to test authenticity of spirits

Scientists from the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, alongside Dr John Edwards of Process NMR Associates, are developing a database of spirits.
Through using laboratory analysis of spirits such as whisky, Tequila, mezcal, and bourbon, the researchers aim to identify specific “chemical fingerprint” of spirits, so that counterfeit spirits can be tested for authenticity. 
The research follows a project announced earlier this year, in which researchers trialled a “gin fingerprinting” method to help futureproof gins, conduct quality control, and identify fraudulent products.
Michael Bryan is leading the database research project as part of his PhD studies at ICBD. He commented: “Once complete, this database will provide in-depth analysis of hundreds of legitimate spirits, becoming an information source to determine the authenticity of a product.”
Current methods for testing spirits are costly in money, time, and resource. The new methodology uses comparative mathematics to take some of the resource away from machinery. 
Bryan added: “By having a database of hundreds of spirits, outlining the legitimacy of a product, we can use less expensive techniques to sample a product. If it doesn’t meet those benchmarks, then we can quickly determine that it requires further analysis.
“This will ultimately save time and resources and ensure that we focus efforts on products that we suspect of being counterfeit.”
Statistics from the World Health Organisation, as cited by Heriot-Watt, estimate that “at least 25% of all spirits consumed are illicit”. Illicit spirits come with health risks; last year, Iran’s Alborz region saw a rise in deaths and poisonings from bootleg alcohol
The research has been published in the Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, in a paper titled “Worldwide Illicit and Counterfeit Alcoholic Spirits: Problem, Detection, and Prevention”.
Dr Annie Hill, the project’s academic supervisor, said: “This paper defines the problems and highlights potential solutions, and our continuing research aims to further increase awareness, and to develop accessible and affordable methods to enable wider detection and identification of illicit distilled spirit products.”

2 May 2024 - Lucy Schofield