Whisky webs are unique whisky fingerprints
And they’re helping combat counterfeit whiskey while also being used as artworks!
New research suggests that ‘whiskey webs’ could help distillers to protect against counterfeits, aid quality control and develop new and faster ageing methods.
So what are ‘whiskey webs’? A study by the University of Louisville in Kentucky found that when American whiskeys evaporate on a flat surface, they leave behind unique ‘fingerprints’. Before you ask, no, neither Scotch nor Irish whiskeys behave in the same way!
Researchers have found that each whiskey leaves behind a unique and elaborate pattern.
Essentially it’s down to the fact that Scotch whisky gets its flavour from ageing in mature – often recycled – barrels, while American whiskey, like bourbon, is aged in new, charred-oak barrels. Matteo Rini explains this concept 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,” he said.
The paper describes how whiskey that is matured in charred, new oak barrels extracts more water-insoluble contents compared to those matured in uncharred 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, of course, help producers spot illegal fakes and could also then assist with quality control.
They’re also undeniably beautiful and have been used as artworks, some of which have been on exhibition at the Smithsonian.