The Tongue & the Tumbler

06 August 2019 | Aaron Wise
Listening to the radio on my way into work this morning, I was very excited to hear that scientists have finally found the solution to crack down on the widespread sale of counterfeit whisky – Hallelujah!

Everyone who knows me knows I love a dram or two, so I was very pleased to hear the ancient art of Scotch whisky making is being preserved… by an artificial tongue.

While the finest whisky tasters can literally sniff out the authentic from the counterfeit, the situation has become detrimental, with the UK losing around £6billion in sales annually to counterfeit goods; alcohol being among the top five affected.

Developed by Scottish engineers at the University of Glasgow and Strathclyde, the AI tongue is made of miniscule pieces of metal arranged in a checkerboard pattern to act like taste buds.

Scientists say the device is able to tell whether whisky is fake or not with 99 per cent accuracy, by analysing the way the liquid absorbs light and spotting the differences between drinks.

Pretty impressive, but it doesn’t stop there. The tongue’s metallic taste buds can also pick up on the subtler distinctions between the same whisky aged in different barrels, and tell the difference between the same whisky aged for 12, 15 and 18 years.

For those who appreciate the spirit, this is fundamental to the future of Scotch. The complexity of the drink takes years of practice and generations to perfect, it’s what makes the spirit account for more than 20 per cent of all UK food and drink exports.

Any enthusiast will agree that the finest whiskies cost a fair bit, especially if you’re a collector, so it’s deeply upsetting to hear counterfeit versions are infiltrating the market at an unprecedented rate.

One such case in 2017, saw an unlucky Chinese millionaire purchase what he thought was a dram of one the world’s most expensive bottles of Scotch whisky in Switzerland, only to find he had spent £7,600 on a fake.

This is not uncommon and I’m sure more people fall victim to counterfeit whisky than we’d like to believe, so I’m delighted technology has been created to combat the illicit industry.

Ultimately, this is great PR for the University of Glasgow and Strathclyde, who are championing their homeland’s liquid gold, while also being welcoming news to authentic brands and fans alike. It’s also good PR for whisky in general, as aficionados can rest safe in the knowledge that they’re drinking the real deal…and not some knock-off blend rebottled in a shady factory.

In the famous words of Ron Burgundy: “I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly.” And long may it continue to do so!