American whiskey leaves behind a web-like ‘fingerprint’, finds study

Researchers at the University of Louisville have discovered unique chemical 'fingerprints' in American whiskey that could help in the battle against counterfeits.

A phenomenon labelled ‘whiskey webs’ could help distillers to protect against counterfeits, aid quality control and develop new and faster ageing methods, suggests new research.

A  study by the University of Louisville in Kentucky found that when American whiskeys evaporate they leave behind unique ‘fingerprints’, setting them apart from Scotch and Irish whiskies, which behave differently.

These whiskey webs are left behind when the spirit evaporates on a flat surface. Each whiskey leaves behind a unique and elaborate pattern, researchers found.

‘Scotch whisky typically acquires its flavour while it ages in mature – often recycled – barrels, while American whiskey, such as bourbon, is aged in new, charred-oak barrels,’ said Matteo Rini, writing in the journal Physical Review Fluids.

‘Understanding what this means at the chemical level could help with spotting illegal counterfeits and suggest faster alternatives to traditional ageing.’

The paper describes how whiskey that is matured in charred, new oak barrels extracts more water-insoluble contents compared to those matured in un-charred barrels for the same amount of time.

‘Whiskey webs formed for a variety of American whiskeys but did not form for distillates, indicating the charred, new oak barrel and maturation conditions play a significant role,’ explains the paper.

‘As such, this technique could be used to differentiate American whiskeys from counterfeits, as well as provide insight into product maturation.’

It is hoped that further research will enable researchers to tell the difference between old and young whiskies simply by evaporating a drop of the spirit under controlled conditions.

This will help producers spot illegal fakes and could assist with quality control.


See also: Fake whisky ‘infiltrating’ rare Scotch market