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Atomsmasher boffins probe duff whisky deluge

Mm, yes, that one's fake too. Put it in my desk

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Whisky aficionados are using radiocarbon dating to verify the age of expensive vintages, according to reports. Boffins at the National Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, tasked with checking out various top-end tipples, say that fakes are more common than not.

Dr Tom Higham, talking to the Telegraph, said that he and his team can get best precision with drams distilled since the extensive atmospheric atom-bomb tests of the 1950s. The old-time enthusiasm for letting off nukes above ground heightened levels of atmospheric carbon-14, allowing radiocarbon dating to get a good fix on whiskies made from barley grown in the Cold War era or later.

"It is easy to tell if whisky is fake as if it has been produced since the middle of the twentieth century, it has a very distinctive signature," Dr Higham told the Telegraph.

"With whiskies that are older, we can get a range of dates but we can usually tell which century it came from. The earliest whisky we have dated came from the 1700s and most have been from 19th century.

"So far there have probably been more fakes among the samples we've tested than real examples of old whisky," he added.

Apparently Higham and his team test samples of whisky by burning them and then bombarding the resultant exhaust gases with charged particles so as to measure levels of carbon-14. In one high-profile case they recently unmasked a putative bottle of 1856 Macallan Rare Reserve which had been expected to fetch £20k at auction. However it turned out to be merely fifty-year-old rubbish made in 1950.

In South Korea, all premium whisk(e)y has a government-approved RFID tag on it, allowing drinkers with suitably-equipped phones to check up on the provenance of their chosen alcoholic treat. However this doesn't seem as authoritative a method as having some boffins check it out with an atomsmasher.

Read all about it from the Telegraph here. ®

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