Using Nuclear Bombs to Uncover Fraudulent Antique Malts

No, this is not a joke. Rather, it’s an interesting article about how carbon dating can help identify fake antique malts. Antique malts from the 18th and 19th Centuries will set you back tens of thousands of dollars, and counterfeiting is big business:

Researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, which is funded by the National Environmental Research Council, discovered that they could pinpoint the date a whisky was made by detecting traces of radioactive particles created by nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s.

They can also use natural background levels of radioactivity to identify whiskies that were made in earlier centuries.

Dr Tom Higham, deputy director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, said: “It is easy to tell if whisky is fake as if it has been produced since the middle of the twentieth century, it has a very distinctive signature.

“With whiskies that are older, we can get a range of dates but we can usually tell which century it came from. The earliest whisky we have dated came from the 1700s and most have been from 19th century.

“So far there have probably been more fakes among the samples we’ve tested than real examples of old whisky.”

In one recent case, a bottle of 1856 Macallan Rare Reserve, which was expected to sell for up to £20,000, was withdrawn from auction at Christies after the scientists found it had actually been produced in 1950.

My question is this – in order to properly date the bottles, they need samples. So they need to open the bottles in some way. Doesn’t that automatically degrade the value of the scotch?


One Response

  1. Although, using the antiquities black market as an analogy, authenticating the whisky will vastly increase the monetary value of the bottle (the main difference being that authenticating or purchasing illicit antiquities is destructive, whereas whisky authentication can help maintain the integrity of the antique malt industry). It might be the case that the increased value of the authenticated whisky outweighs the loss resulting from opening the bottle.
    Once it is authenticated, I assume it could always be re-sealed.

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