Can You Detect Fake Booze without Opening the Bottle?

I’ve blogged about how Agilent’s Raman spectroscopy solutions are helping with public safety, airport security and hazardous substance identification.

Agilent recently acquired Cobalt Light Systems, a leader in Raman spectroscopy.  Cobalt’s spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS) can uniquely and noninvasively measure through opaque barriers and surfaces.

Scientists recently tested this capability in a creative new way.

UK researchers used Cobalt’s Resolve, the world’s first handheld SORS system, to accurately analyze alcoholic beverages while still in their original bottles and packaging.  It is the first time such a handheld tool has been used for a food or beverage product.

The researchers were able to “detect a total of 10 denaturants/additives in extremely low concentrations without any contact with the sample; discriminate between and within multiple well-known Scotch whisky brands, and detect methanol concentrations well below the maximum human tolerable level.”

While this research is nowhere near a commercial application, it highlights an important consumer problem.

The dangers of counterfeit alcohol are much worse than merely overpaying for a bad bottle of Scotch.  According to Drinkaware, “Commonly used substitutes for ethanol include chemicals used in cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and automobile screen wash, as well as methanol and isopropanol which are used in antifreeze and some fuels.”

Health effects from ingesting these toxic chemicals can include nausea, vomiting, kidney and liver problems, blindness and coma.

Earlier this year, a 20-year-old American student died under mysterious circumstances at a high-end Mexican resort.  Her death was linked to bootleg alcohol.  A subsequent raid by Mexican authorities seized 10,000 gallons of illicit alcohol that was being supplied to restaurants and nightclubs.

And by the way, I was not joking about the Scotch.  A Chinese millionaire recently paid more than $10,000 for a shot of 1878 Scotch, the largest sum ever paid.  It turned out to be fake, probably bottled in 1970.

Today’s blog post topic was suggested by Agilent employee Ruben DiRado.


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