These scotch whisky packages look genuine, but are the bottle’s contents authentic? A new Raman spectroscopy method can  identify fakes quickly and accurately. Credit: Wikepedia; Creative Commons license.

Product counterfeiting and media pirating are big problems for the likes of Rolex, Gucci and Universal Studios. As publishers, we, too, have to deal with theft of copyrighted content. It’s a frustrating problem. The bad guys are hard to find, impossible to regulate and expensive to prosecute.

Counterfeiting, it turns out, affects the spirits industry, too.

“Counterfeiting is rife in the drinks industry, which is constantly searching for new, powerful and inexpensive methods for liquor analysis,” says Bavishna B. Praveen in a press release. She is affiliated with the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and coauthor of a new paper that addresses the issue.

The paper, published in the open access journal Optics Express, describes the use of Raman spectroscopy to analyze Scotch whisky similar to lab-on-a-chip technology. The method uses a device consisting of an optofluidic device and fiber optics, and is compatible with a portable near-infrared Raman system. The optofluidic chip is made of polydimethylsiloxane using soft lithography and does not need micro-optical filters, which makes it cheap to manufacture compared to a typical Raman probe. Cheap enough, actually, to be disposable, but the paper says the chip can be reused just by rinsing with water.

The device’s output—known as the Raman signature—detects the amount of alcohol in the whisky sample as well as other unique, identifying characteristics. The group showed that the device was able to classify whiskies by aromatic features, age, type and even cask with a high degree of accuracy (within 1 percent). The ability to quickly capture a whisky’s “DNA” gives producers the means to standardize and monitor quality, and especially, to authenticate products.

Lead author, Praveen Ashok said in the press release, “Whisky turns out to be very interesting: We can not only gather information about the alcohol content, but also the color and texture. These are dictated by the manufacturing process, which of course influences greatly the type of whisky people enjoy.”

The device is about the size of a credit card, does not need alignment and requires only about two seconds to analyze a tiny (20 µl) sample.

Professor Dholakia, also a coauthor, quips, “It is amazing to think that the technology we are developing for biomedical analysis can also be used to help us enjoy a wee dram—and with the minimum of waste.”

Full details are in the paper, “Near infrared spectroscopic analysis of single malt Scotch whisky on an optofluidic chip,” by Ashok, Praveen and Dholakia.