Scotch or Irish? Single malt or blended? While rare whisky enthusiasts may be able to distinguish the good stuff from run-of-the-mill by smell, most tipplers rely on the label, black or otherwise.

Whisky is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages worldwide but with some high-end brands fetching six figures, it’s also a favourite target for fraud.

It’s estimated up to a third of rare and collectible whiskies may be fakes.

To the rescue, Australian researchers have developed an electronic “nose” able to separate brands, origins and styles by “sniffing” the liquor.

“Until now, detecting the differences between whiskies has required either a trained connoisseur, who might still get it wrong, or complex and time-consuming chemical analysis in a lab,” according to University of Technology Sydney’s Professor Steven Su.

“So to have a rapid, easy to use, real-time assessment of whisky to identify the quality and uncover any adulteration or fraud, could be very beneficial for both high-end wholesalers and purchasers.”

Prof Su along with PhD students Wentian Zhang and Taoping Liu used a new e-nose prototype called NOS.E to identify the differences between six whiskies by brand, region and style in under four minutes.

They used samples of three blended and three single malt whiskies including Johnnie Walker red and black, Ardberg, Chivas Regal and Macallan’s 12-year-old.

With help from chemists Professor Shari Forbes and Dr Maiken Ueland, the trio found the e-nose achieved total accuracy for detecting region, 96.15 per cent for brand and 92.31 per cent for style.

NOS.E is designed to mimic the human olfactory system, using eight gas sensors to detect odours in a vial.

The sensor array generates a unique signal matrix according to the molecules it comes into contact with.

It then sends the data to a computer for analysis, with a machine learning algorithm trained to recognise whisky characteristics.

The researchers confirmed the findings using lab tests: time-of-flight mass spectrometry paired with two-dimensional gas chromatography.

The technology also has potential applications for wine and cognac as well as other products subject to counterfeiting like high-end perfume.



(Australian Associated Press)