Just like you, whiskey has its own fingerprints.

Image credits: skeeze / Pixabay.

All distilled alcoholic spirits made have their own unique signature. The process involved in their creation leaves behind a chemical trace which can be used to identify a number of spirits, just like the identity of a person can be proven from their fingerprint. By reading the so-called fingerprint of a distilled spirit it becomes possible to identify the processes that might have been employed when it was made, for example.

Just like forensic fingerprinting, a number of identifiers are used to prove or disprove the nature of a spirit against what it claims to be. The process has been documented previously, and is suited to a range of spirits such as whiskey, gin, rum, sake, and brandy. Because of the popularity of aged spirits, the rise of authenticating alcohol has become a necessity for many producers and sellers.

How Does Distilled Spirit Fingerprinting Work?

The fingerprint of every distilled spirit is unique due to its particular manufacturing processes and ingredients. Even where the same ingredients have been used to make a vodka, for example, the subtly different amounts used and the unique processes of distillation by each maker will result in a one-of-a-kind fingerprint. Any single malt whiskey you purchase will have a fingerprint that is different from another, or from a blended whiskey.

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In a special lab, a sample can be broken down into its constituent parts. This is the first step required to make a correct identification of a distilled spirit. If the result is identical to a previously determined sample, then a positive identification can be established. On the other hand, if different identifying markers are revealed, then the spirit in question can be shown to be either an imposter or an adulterated version of the original. Likewise, something in the composition of the original which does not appear can also mean that the product in question is not what it appears to be. Anything from a diluted product to a blend of two products attempting to be passed off as a third can be identified using the fingerprinting technique.

Several approaches can be used to determine the composition of a spirit that is being fingerprinted. For example, a commonly used method is to measure the UV-Vis absorbance of a spirit. Each individual product will offer a slightly different spectrum of results. By comparing the spectra, it is possible not just to say whether a product is genuine, but what it is, if it is found not to be. Many of the samples taken in the process are small and are handled on a microplate reader with multiple samples being tested at once. Most of the techniques used rely on large amounts of data being collected in forensically controlled environments. Due to the huge quantities of data collected, operators will often employ specialist data analysis software to do some of the number crunching for them, so a great deal of expertise is not needed to be effective.

Why Fingerprint Spirits?

After all, this is a lot of hassle and a lot of work. Still, as technology becomes cheaper and cheaper, the industry believes that at least in some cases, this is completely worth it.

Some spirits are extremely expensive, fetching into the tens of thousands for a bottle — therefore proving their authenticity is among the chief reasons for having a fingerprinting system. It is not just buyers who use the technique for ensuring their acquisitions are what the seller claims them to be. Owners of rare spirits which are increasing in value may need to prove what they are for the purposes of insurance. The techniques employed are also used by professional distilleries in order to maintain the uniformity of a particular product. With the increase of whiskey distilleries in Ireland and the desire to purchase such items, it is crucial that both the maker and the end user have an alcohol testing kit, especially if they are buying expensive vintages.