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07.2009

Massachusetts Beverage Business

archivedAtPressTime

The WHISKY DETECTIVES

The vintage whisky business is big money – but the counterfeit whisky industry is even bigger. With a tremendous demand for rare vintage whiskies, the market has been flooded with fake bottles of worthless spirits. But even with all of the bogus whisky out there, collectors will go to great lengths and spend huge sums of money to obtain their coveted antique spirit. So what’s a wealthy investor to do? Leave it to scientists to solve the problem. Researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, which is funded by the National Environmental Research Council, have discovered that by using radio carbon dating they can pinpoint the date a whisky was made by detecting traces of radioactive particles created by nuclear bomb tests in the 195Os. Minute levels of radioactive carbon absorbed by the barley as it grew before it was harvested can indicate how old it is. Scientists can also use natural background levels of radioactivity to identify whiskies that were made in earlier centuries. According to Dr. Tom Hingham, the deputy director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, there have probably been more fakes among the samples they’ve tested than real examples of old whisky. Most of the tests have been conducted for the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, which is responsible for analyzing the authenticity of Scotch malt whisky. Vials of whisky extracted from the bottles are sent to the lab in Oxford, where the scientists burn the liquid and bombard the resulting gas with electrically charged particles so they can measure the quantities of carbon 14, a heavy form of carbon present in low levels in the atmosphere. It appears as if all of the detective work is paying off. In one recent case, a bottle of 1856 Macallan Rare Reserve, which was expected to sell for up to £2O,OOO, was withdrawn from auction at Christies after the scientists found it had actually been produced in 195O.

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