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Using Carbon Isotopes to Fight the Rise in Fraudulent Whisky

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2020

Gordon T Cook*
Affiliation:
Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Scottish Enterprise Technology Park, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride G75 0QF, Scotland, UK
Elaine Dunbar
Affiliation:
Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Scottish Enterprise Technology Park, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride G75 0QF, Scotland, UK
Brian G Tripney
Affiliation:
Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Scottish Enterprise Technology Park, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride G75 0QF, Scotland, UK
Derek Fabel
Affiliation:
Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, Scottish Enterprise Technology Park, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride G75 0QF, Scotland, UK
*
*Corresponding author. Email: Gordon.Cook@glasgow.ac.uk

Abstract

A major threat to the Scotch whisky industry is the sale of counterfeit single malt whiskies with purported distillation years in the 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries. However, these are often much more recent spirits, distilled in the latter part of the 20th or first part of the 21st centuries. These sales impinge upon the reputation of auction houses, retailers, brand owners and distillers. The atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and early 1960s has enabled a precise calibration curve to be created, however, there are several reasons why this may not be appropriate for establishing the year of whisky distillation. We have created a 14C calibration curve derived from known-age, single malt whiskies for the period 1950–2015 that enables whisky distilled during the period from 1955 onwards to have the distillation year determined to within 1–3 years for certain periods. However, because of the shape of the curve, two possible age ranges are often possible. The correct range can often be determined from a further plot of δ13C values against distillation year, which shows a trend of decreasing values through time. Several examples are given of the determination of both genuine and fake products.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2020 by the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona 

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