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Nuclear Testing Helps Identify Fake Vintage Whiskey

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the nuclear-booze-coozie dept.

Science 366

Hugh Pickens writes "Industry experts claim the market for vintage whiskey has been flooded with fakes that purport to be several hundred years old but instead contain worthless spirit made just a few years ago. Now researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit have developed a method that can pinpoint the date a whiskey was made by detecting traces of radioactive particles created by nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s. '"It is easy to tell if whiskey is fake as if it has been produced since the middle of the twentieth century, it has a very distinctive signature," says Dr. Tom Higham, deputy director of the facility. Nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s saw levels of carbon-14 in the atmosphere rise around the world so the amount of isotope absorbed by living organisms since this time has been artificially elevated. Whiskey extracted from antique bottles is sent to the laboratory where scientists burn the liquid and bombard the resulting gas with electrically charged particles so they can measure the carbon-14 in the sample. In one recent case, a bottle of 1856 Macallan Rare Reserve was withdrawn from auction at Christies, where it was expected to sell for up to £20,000, after the scientists found it had actually been produced in 1950. "So far there have probably been more fakes among the samples we've tested than real examples of old whiskey," says Higham.'"

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I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27820879)

And I turned into Whiskeyman. My powers include slurred speech, a drunken lurch, and blackouts.

Re:I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (5, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#27820997)

And I turned into Whiskeyman. My powers include slurred speech, a drunken lurch, and blackouts.

You're forgetting your most powerful ability: To turn even the ugliest woman into a supermodel!

Re:I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (0)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821319)

Unfortunately, it does this by temporarily remapping 'fugly' to 'hot' in your brain...

Re:I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (5, Insightful)

Achromatic1978 (916097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821685)

I was going to say "I think most of us were capable of interpolating that without your assistance", but your current Insightful mod might indicate otherwise. Kinda sad, really ...

Re:I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27820999)

My powers include slurred speech, a drunken lurch, and blackouts...

...and wiskeydick. [urbandictionary.com]

Re:I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (2, Funny)

thhamm (764787) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821075)

And I turned into Whiskeyman...

... played by noone other than rainier wolfcastle!

rainier: "ap ze fisky!"
coach: "UP THE WHISKEY!"
rainier: "up ze wizzki!"
coach: "... better."

Re:I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821197)

Where is your nemesis, tequila hombre? bato loco...

Re:I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821353)

Alcoholic Anonymous

Re:I was bitten by a radioactive whiskey (3, Funny)

Captain Sarcastic (109765) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821715)

Alcoholic Anonymous

Once a hard-drinking fast-living example of the high life, he had an encounter with a toxic substance... straight water.

Hiding his true identity, he goes from place to place, enlisting the unwary into his army, tempting them into temperance. When he begins to take the first of twelve steps towards his target, the end is near.

When asked why he struck terror into the hearts of oenophiles, whiskey aficionados, and beer drinkers, he said:

"Alcohol goes against my grain."

Taste (5, Insightful)

pilsner.urquell (734632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27820899)

What? They can't tell the difference by tasting it?

Re:Taste (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27820955)

I think the whole point of this is, if you're willing to pay £20,000 for a bottle of whiskey, you probably want to be the only one drinking it.

Re:Taste (1)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821721)

More importantly, if you're willing to pay 20,000 for a bottle of whiskey, you're never going to be drinking it. You want no one anywhere to be drinking it or saying that they have it.

Re:Taste (4, Funny)

PeelBoy (34769) | more than 5 years ago | (#27820963)

According to Pizza Hut, no.

Re:Taste (2, Interesting)

FredFredrickson (1177871) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821011)

The real bummer is never knowing (either by experiment, or by taste) without opening the bottle. And, of course, you'd leave the bottle unopened until the perfect occasion...

So... a new status would be started, called the 99% full original verified bottle of vintage whiskey. In fact, unopened full bottles will become the anti-status symbol.

Re:Taste (5, Insightful)

OpenSourced (323149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821015)

What? They can't tell the difference by tasting it?

I suppose they can, but telling the difference is not the same as proving it. You need some kind of proof to accuse somebody of making fakes, not just its subjective taste.

Re:Taste (4, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821049)

'cus, you know, nobody buys wine for how it tastes... just for how impressive it looks in your liquor cabinet.

Re:Taste (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821567)

Mine is bigger.

Re:Taste (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821663)

But doesn't opening it (and burning it :P) ruin the point of a 20,000GBP bottle?

Re:Taste (5, Insightful)

Burning1 (204959) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821071)

If you spend 20,000 pounds on a bottle of whiskey, you're going to taste the difference, even if there isn't one. Belief can have as much an impact on perception as reality.

Penn & Teller did a great experiment in an episode of their show, Bullshit. In one episode, they serve hose water in fancy bottles with fantastic stump lines about how great and rare each different bottle of hose water is. Most of the diners tasted a difference between the various bottles of hose water.

In another, they had a prop design guy use (extremely) cheap ingredients to create tantalizing foods. The waiter would convince diners that stale bread was an exotic french import, receiving rave reviews in the process.

Advertising is all about perception, and a lot of our consumer economy is based on it. My girlfriend works for a high end cosmetics chain... You wouldn't believe what a rip off that stuff can be.

It makes me wish I was in the cosmetics business.

Anything "high end" is generally a rip off (1, Insightful)

DomNF15 (1529309) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821385)

Do you really think there are $90,000 worth of parts and labor in an S-Class Mercedes (does the S stand for stupid, or stinking rich, or both)? Also, when I go to a restaurant and order a $60 bottle of wine, it makes me feel bad when I see that same bottle in Bottle King for $12...

Re:Anything "high end" is generally a rip off (1)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821699)

If you can't get the same caliber of parts and labor anywhere else then they can charge whatever they want. It's not entirely about image.

Re:Anything "high end" is generally a rip off (2, Insightful)

superdave80 (1226592) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821719)

Do you really think there are $90,000 worth of parts and labor in an S-Class Mercedes...

For someone that likes to call others stupid, you don't know anything about cars, do you? You really think that a Ford Festiva and a Mercedes have the same performance and quality of parts? This isn't a case of "I THINK my car has better parts/performance". You can actually buy mechanical parts that have higher tolerances, better engineering and longer lasting materials. And you can prove it with testing methods.

Re:Anything "high end" is generally a rip off (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821729)

There is a reason beyond marketing b.s. why an M-Class SUV costs about 1/2 as much as an S-Class Sedan. The latter is made in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg. The former is made in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

One can be assured, there is a significant difference in labor cost in addition to a substantially different method of production, which you may find unnecessary, but it is nonetheless legitimately present.

Re:Taste (4, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821509)

Advertising is all about perception, and a lot of our consumer economy is based on it. My girlfriend works for a high end cosmetics chain... You wouldn't believe what a rip off that stuff can be.

It makes me wish I was in the cosmetics business.

Would you be able to live with yourself though? Constantly lying to people and ripping them off, it would really wear on a person with a conscience.

Re:Taste (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821539)

If you spend 20,000 pounds on a bottle of whiskey, you're going to taste the difference, even if there isn't one.

Does it taste like hubris?

Re:Taste (1)

CAFED00D (1337179) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821645)

In the Penn & Teller special (I know it's on YouTube somewhere) the "Water Steward" in the restaurant told one couple that it was an import brand, called "Agua de Culo". They happily drank it. Now *that's* marketing.

Re:Taste (1)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821265)

I'm fairly sure that they're taking a very very small sample of the whiskey if 750ml sells for $20,000.

Re:Taste (2, Informative)

antagonizt (613384) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821387)

Whiskey unlike wine does not age in the bottle. A hundred year old bottle of crappy whiskey will taste as bad as a new bottle of crappy whiskey. When bottles of whiskey talk about age they are referring to the length of time it spent in the barrel.

Re:Taste (1, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821417)

Well it's whiskey, not whisky, so probably not.

Re:Taste (1)

teg (97890) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821445)

What? They can't tell the difference by tasting it?

Not without having an identical sample to compare it to... In the case mentioned here, I doubt that is handy. And while they might be able to easily identify it if the contents was Johnnie Walker Red Label, distinguishing 1950 and 1850 from the same distillery would probably be a lot harder.

Re:Taste (3, Informative)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821477)

You can if you're the Highlander:
  • CONNOR: "Brandy. Bottled in 1783."
  • BRENDA: "Jesus. That's old."
  • CONNOR: "1783 was a very good year. Mozart wrote his Great Mass. The Montgolfier brothers went up in the first hot-air balloon. And England recognized the independence of the United States."

Shocking. (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27820905)

I never would have expected fakes to outnumber genuine articles in a status driven market with poor verification.

Re:Shocking. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27820915)

My magical fake detector has determined that you are fake. It is never wrong.

Re:Shocking. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821347)

My magical fake magical fake detector detector has determined your magical fake detector is fake. It is never wrong.

Re:Shocking. (4, Funny)

The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821021)

I never would have expected fakes to outnumber genuine articles in a status driven market with poor verification.

I never thought it possible but this could be a niche market to rival audiophile products in regards to fraud.

Business Opportunity...? (5, Insightful)

sampson7 (536545) | more than 5 years ago | (#27820975)

It sounds like "real" old whiskies are set to see a dramatic increase in price. Imagine if a rare collectible that fetched thousands of dollars at auction were about to become 50 or even 80 percent rarer. The intersection of the good old supply and demand curve sounds like it's about to jump....

But really, who needs anything better than a 16 y.o. Lagavulin, anyway? F'ing Snobs.

Re:Business Opportunity...? (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821267)

So where's this "business opportunity" you speak of? Well here's mine: decreasing the radioactive content of "fake" whiskey to match that of the "genuinely" old stuff!

Re:Business Opportunity...? (4, Insightful)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821661)

Well here's mine: decreasing the radioactive content of "fake" whiskey to match that of the "genuinely" old stuff!

Well, if you do manage to invent the nuclear damper [wikia.com] and accelerate the 1/2 life decay of carbon-14, let me know. I can think of a lot of people who'd be interested in forcing accelerated decay of stuff like plutonium.

Re:Business Opportunity...? (1)

Timberfox (1537013) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821311)

that really makes me was to...liquidate... all my finacial assets

Re:Business Opportunity...? (1)

pilsner.urquell (734632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821381)

My belief exactly. Whiskey [scotlandwhisky.com] stops aging after about 30 years in the casket and most of that in the first 15 years or so. Buying a 100 year old bottle of whiskey is just a wast of money.

Re:Business Opportunity...? (1, Informative)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821453)

You quote a url and you can't even spell the key word right. Barbarian.

Re:Business Opportunity...? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821461)

But really, who needs anything better than a 16 y.o. Lagavulin, anyway? F'ing Snobs.

Pedophiles?

The Same Technique Was Used: +1, Informative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27820993)

was used to detect heart stem cell regeneration.

Yours In Medicine,
Comrade Kilgore Trout [youtube.com]

Re:The Same Technique Was Used: +1, Informative (3, Interesting)

RDW (41497) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821291)

Yes, the 'real' applications for this technique are much more interesting, possibly even to whisky drinkers:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/02/science/02cell.html [nytimes.com]

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/03/science/03heart.html [nytimes.com]

The nuclear powers helpfully performed a gigantic pulse labelling experiment on the DNA of the entire biosphere back in the 50s, which allows the cell 'birthdays' in various tissues of people born in that era to be determined. The measurements can be calibrated by the C-14 content in tree rings, so you can work out if the cells are (e.g.) as old as the person (certain brain cells) or renewed more recently (like heart muscle).

Such a waste (2, Informative)

ironicsky (569792) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821019)

If a bottle of whiskey is supposedly worth $20,000, assuming its a 26oz bottle and they take even 1oz out for burning that drops the value almost a grand.
Seems like an expensive waste to me.

Re:Such a waste (2, Funny)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821073)

But, if it turns out to have been created last tuesday, then you're only burning a few cents worth.

Re:Such a waste (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821087)

If your bottle is a fake, then it is not burning $1000 worth of whiskey.

If your bottle is genuine, then in the face of all of the fakes your genuine old liquid will be worth far more. So much more, that the ounce burnt will be "a drop in the bucket".

At any rate, give me a bottle of Boones' farm (strawberry), a six pack of Corona Extra (lime, of course), and Bacardi Limon w/ Cranberry. I'm not a picky alcoholic.

Re:Such a waste (1)

pwfffff (1517213) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821189)

"At any rate, give me a bottle of Boones' farm (strawberry), a six pack of Corona Extra (lime, of course), and Bacardi Limon w/ Cranberry. I'm not a picky alcoholic."

Really? How can you put those two sentences next to each other without seeing the irony?

Or is this that internet sarcasm thing I'm always hearing about?

Re:Such a waste (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821361)

Strawberry Boones farm, Corona extra lime, and Bacardi Limon w/Cranberry?

It's always so sad to see 12 year old girls become alcoholics.

Re:Such a waste (1)

crazybilly (947714) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821561)

mod parent up +1 Hysterical

Re:Such a waste (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821091)

This can likely be done on the order of uL.

Re:Such a waste (1)

PeelBoy (34769) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821131)

If it turns out to be fake it could have been a $20,000 waste.

Re:Such a waste (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821187)

If it turns out to be fake it could have been a $20,000 waste.

That's 20,000 _pounds_ which is considerably more than US dollars, right?

Re:Such a waste (1)

Arimus (198136) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821363)

Not much more these days :(

20 000 British pounds = 29 966 U.S. dollars

Used to be nearer 40k USD. Then someone pulled the plug on the world's money supply...

Re:Such a waste (1)

Chaymus (697182) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821149)

It's pounds, not USD (assuming that was the $ you meant) so it's a little more drastic than that.
Also, I doubt they'd allow an ounce to be used, this should be able to be done with a drop or two, similar to paintings only needing the tiniest sliver off the side. It could be the lab guys ask for an ounce and test the remainder of their empty glass, I know I would...
What I'm interested in is who would want to open a bottle that hasn't been opened in so long just to test it? I find it difficult to believe this test wouldn't require near immediate consumption after opening to not change the flavor. I don't drink the cheap stuff, but 20,000 for a bottle is a little hard to swallow ;)

Re:Such a waste (3, Interesting)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821273)

A mass spectrometer can operate on a few milligrams of carbon. That means you need perhaps as much as 50 microliters of whiskey, or about 0.0017 oz.

Burning $0.50 worth of whiskey makes sense to me when testing a $20,000 bottle that has a greater than 50% chance of being a fake.

Re:Such a waste (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821505)

I suspect that onece the bottle is opened it's worth considerably less. But then I actually know what the fuck I'm talking about, in so far as I can spell "whisky", I've ben to Scotland (twice) and I can point ot it on a map.

carbon 14 useless after 1945 (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821041)

Not because its so recent, but because its been contaminated by nukes. On the other hand,t he 2nd half of the 20th century will have a very distinctive stratigraphic signature in the far future from the atmospheric nuke tests.

Re:carbon 14 useless after 1945 (2, Insightful)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821135)

And of course assuming that Carbon-14 had never spiked for any reason in the past before we knew what it was and measured it regularly.

Re:carbon 14 useless after 1945 (1)

Gonoff (88518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821471)

We have pretty good records going back a long way. My favourite is the core samples taken from the north & south poles etc. They contain atmospheric samples trapped in the ice going back a long way. They can be used to prove C14 CO2 and other stuff.

Re:carbon 14 useless after 1945 (4, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821513)

We can compare C-14 dating to other known dates. For example, C-14 dating agrees with dating from dendrochronology(the fancy word for counting tree rings). C-14 dating also agrees with other forms of radioactive dating and known historical data. We can be very sure there hasn't been any spike in the last 9000 years or so. Sudden spikes would also show and make a lot of archaeology just not look like it made any sense. And if there were any form of spike we'd likely see an impact in the ratios of other isotopes. If there had been substantial nuclear detonations for example, we'd be able to tell.

A spike won't add a uniform extension or contraction to dates. For most forms of spiking, you'll get a lot of stuff looking like it is from a very short time period or you'll get a very large period where you don't see almost anything (depending on whether you have a process adding too much C-14 or reducing C-14 levels). We can be pretty sure that C-14 dating is accurate.

Re:carbon 14 useless after 1945 (1)

bothemeson (1416261) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821725)

Unless you use the crappy calibration software that the Oxford lab produces! Seriously, check out the methodology :-(

How old is old enough? (1)

sqrt(2) (786011) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821159)

Hopefully the test doesn't require burning too much of the purchase ;)

I'm not that experienced when it comes to whiskey, but is there a huge difference (a £20,000 difference) between a 50 year old bottle and a 150 year old bottle in terms of the actual quality of the whiskey or does the price simply reflect the rarity and status? Is there ever a point where the whiskey doesn't get better after more time?

I think I'll stick with J&B.

Re:How old is old enough? (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821283)

I'm curious about this too. I recently attended a get-together with some old friends, and we shared a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label for the occasion. I'm not a Scotch connoisseur, so I think it was pretty much wasted on me, but everyone else seemed to think it was the greatest thing ever.

Re:How old is old enough? (1)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821369)

I recently attended a get-together with some old friends, and we shared a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label for the occasion.n

Ugh. Blended scotch.

Presumably they weren't very good friends. ;-)

Re:How old is old enough? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821307)

Is there ever a point where the whiskey doesn't get better after more time? Is there ever a point where a little extra penis length doesn't matter in a bragging contest? Yes, at the point where it is already older or longer than every other example you are comparing it to. "So Bob, you say you have a bottle of fine 150 year old whiskey? Well, I've got a bottle of 151 year old whiskey! Suck on that loser!"

Although I never win the whiskey age bragging contests, the penis length contests are a different matter...

Re:How old is old enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821415)

Although I never win the whiskey age bragging contests, the e-peen length contests are a different matter...

There, fixed that for ya.

Re:How old is old enough? (4, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821523)

Although I never win the whiskey age bragging contests, the penis length contests are a different matter...

Perhaps you need to hang out at a different bar...

Re:How old is old enough? (4, Informative)

Fortunato_NC (736786) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821433)

Whiskey (or any liquor that is aged for flavor) only ages "in the barrel". Once it is bottled, it does not age anymore, because glass is inert. So if your grandfather bought a bottle of 12 year old Chivas in 1960 and left it gathering dust in his liquor cabinet for the next 49 years, you do not have 61-year old scotch, you have 12 year old scotch that's been in the bottle for 49 years. The value in these old bottles is not necessarily in their age per se, it's in their rarity - many of these old distilleries have long since ceased production and gone out of business, their recipes are lost, and the old bottles represent a legacy of sorts for the regional producers who thrived before giant corporations took over the production of spirits. It's kind of like buying NOS (new old stock) stickers for your MAME cabinet or arcade build. Only in this case, the "relics", such as they are, are a link to the past that simply can't be recreated once they're gone. The process that's descibed in the article ensure that the unscrupulous among us don't try to take advantage of people's desire to connect with that which came before.

Re:How old is old enough? (1)

subtr4ct (962683) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821451)

I discovered recently that I like Macallan 12 better than Macallan 18. For me at least, there is such a thing as too much time in the casks. I had always heard that unlike wine, whiskey does not really change after it is bottled (reference, anyone?). The appeal of the age would then just be that there was a qualitative difference in the process or ingredients way back when? Without extensive taste testing, I would tend to expect that any marginal improvement (if any) as bottled scotch gets really old is minimal. The crazy market prices can probably be attributed to status-seeking behavior on the part of the buyers.

Re:How old is old enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821467)

Is there ever a point where the whiskey doesn't get better after more time?

I can say with certainty that there is such a point somewhere between St. Patty's Day and the day that follows it. I would post my methods for peer review, but my notes don't make any sense.

Which is a shame, as I even went to the trouble of avoiding other food and drink to avoid contaminating the results.

Re:How old is old enough? (1)

Kilroy (2297) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821481)

It is entirely status. The age labels on whiskey refers to how long it was in the barrel for.

Re:How old is old enough? (1)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821651)

Yes, there is absolutely a period where whisky doesn't get better after more time - when you take it out of the barrel and bottle it!

An "1856" Macallan could just ba a "10 year old" that has sat in a bottle for 150 years. And likely wouldn't taste much different (though I do have to say, it would be interesting to see how the overall taste due to production differences may have changed in that time...)

What the hell.. (4, Funny)

drewsup (990717) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821169)

They opened the bottle to test the whiskey and my cat disappeared.. where d he go????

Re:What the hell.. (1)

Gonoff (88518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821507)

Shroedinger stole it.

Send the "fakes" my way for proper disposal. (3, Funny)

fotbr (855184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821203)

Subject says it all, really. After all, alcohol abuse is bad.

Have they proved that the test is accurate? (1)

kalirion (728907) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821235)

I seem to recall a bunch of other tests (fbi bullet matching, dna identification) which were assumed to work for decades. So how do you attempt to disprove this one? Test hundreds of bottles of "known" 150 year old whiskeys?

Re:Have they proved that the test is accurate? (1)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821617)

Carbon-14 testing is calibrated against other, trusted external indicators. One example is counting tree rings in trees in the vicinity of the sample.

In this case it is actually simpler. Since the test is only verifying that the carbon-14 level is does not exhibit a spike caused by nuclear testing, it doesn't need full calibration. If the carbon-14 level is extraordinarily high, then it's post-1945, if not, then it's pre-1945. I don't think they are currently verifying exact ages.

On a side note, while bullet matching is unreliable for a number of reasons, DNA testing is not nearly so unreliable as you posit. Granted, initial tests were less reliable, but they get more and more accurate every year. Yes, they do exhibit false matches, and corroborating evidence should be required for a conviction, but they are extremely useful for ruling out suspects that might otherwise be prosecuted.

Born on date? (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821257)

I gotta make sure my Budweiser is fresh!

Just kidding, all Budweiser is crap that I would never let past my lips.

Worthless? (2, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821263)

No spirit is worthless if it contains alcohol of the appropriate kind.

Re:Worthless? (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821709)


No spirit is worthless if it contains alcohol of the appropriate kind.

Now add a bit radioactivity, and you have an after taste like non-other.

At last! (1)

Evildonald (983517) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821295)

Finally! After all these years we've found a useful application of science.

In Other News (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821309)

Sales of "fake" vintage whiskey at low prices have skyrocketted among the "scientists" involved.

Ridiculous waste (1)

Nerdposeur (910128) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821379)

If you're going to shovel over a truck full of money for a single bottle of hooch, maybe it's time to consider what kind of ego problems you have and whether the money is better spent on therapy.

Whiskey and its age (5, Informative)

skwang (174902) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821391)

As a whisk(e)y connoisseur let me add my 2 cents with following points.

1. The older a whiskey is the more expensive it gets due to rarity, not quality. Many people have a bias toward older whiskeys (whiskies) because they think they are better. Like wine, some whiskeys age well, others don't.

2. Whiskey must be stored in oak barrels to age. Once it is out of the barrel, and in a bottle or steel vat, it no longer ages. So a 10 year old whiskey sitting in a bottle for 50 years is still a 10 year old whiskey.

3. Whiskeys in barrels lose about 2% a year due to evaporation, known as the angel's share. That 2% is mostly water in hotter climates, but in cooler ones, like Scotland, what is lost is mostly alcohol. Thus a spirit which is put into a barrel at 60% alcohol by volume (ABV) will be reduced to 50% ABV then 40% ABV as time goes one. This is important because once the produce drops below 40% ABV, it can no longer legally be named whiskey. Thus whiskeys are usually never older than 40 years of age to due the angle's share.

4. Whiskey is how it's spelled in the USA (where I am writing this.) In Britain and Canada it is spelled whisky. Since the article discusses whisky from The Macallan distillery (yes the "T" is capitalized), the article's title and summary misspelled "whisky."

Re:Whiskey and its age (5, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821581)

2. Whiskey must be stored in oak barrels to age. Once it is out of the barrel, and in a bottle or steel vat, it no longer ages. So a 10 year old whiskey sitting in a bottle for 50 years is still a 10 year old whiskey.

Are there any other laws of physics that whiskey violates? No wonder there are so many scottish physicists.

Re:Whiskey and its age (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821595)

IIRC It's called Whisky if it comes from Scotland, anything else is Whiskey

Re:Whiskey and its age (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821701)

whiskey == irish whiskey
whisky == scotch

Re:Whiskey and its age (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821723)

wow, thanks for that extremely artioculate, and educated post. lacking mod-points, or a way to mod things +6 informative, this thanks will have to do! best post i've seen today!

Another clue (2, Insightful)

tsstahl (812393) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821393)

Another clue to the growing problem of fakes is the supply of hyper-aged whiskey _increasing_. Just a layman's observation.

creationists (5, Funny)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821399)

Creationists, however, deny the accuracy of carbon dating. Therefore, all the fake whiskey will be sold to them at full price.

Re:creationists (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821555)

This is not technically "carbon dating", it's detecting the presence of a newer isotope that wasn't present in any quantities prior to a certain date.

It's like detecting fake paintings because the paint uses modern pigments instead of what the contemporary artists used.

So, try again.

It's whisky the're testing, not whiskey (2, Informative)

Anonymous EPA (1127109) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821405)

What they are testing is the stuff made in Scotland called "whisky".

The brown spirit made in other countries (including Ireland, Japan, Canada and the country to the South of Canada) is called "whiskey". This is quite different.

Only whisky attracts idiots to put silly values on bottles of the stuff they are never going to drink.

The only proper thing to do to a bottle of whisky is drink it (not all at once ;-). The same applies to a bottle of whiskey, and after a few, you will no longer mind you don't actually have a bottle of whisky to drink.

A

Re:It's whisky the're testing, not whiskey (1)

SalaSSin (1414849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821557)

Sorry dude, have to correct you there.

Whiskey is Irish originally, american stuff is named whiskey after that, whisky is scottish by origin, and the liquid from japan is named after that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whisky [wikipedia.org]

And don't get me started on that garbage named scotch in america... It isn't scottish, and it isn't even worthy the name of whisk(e)y...

Not just whiskey (4, Informative)

je ne sais quoi (987177) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821431)

Atmospheric contaminants are routinely used to date the age of groundwater (e.g., in wells) and even to measure the residence time for water in the watershed of rivers. The most commonly used radioactive element is the hydrogen isotope, tritium. You can see a curve for it here [eawag.ch] , where the tritium level peaks in 1964 or so. You measure how much tritium is in the groundwater, then you compare it to that curve to which I linked after accounting for the decay of the tritium (half-life = 12.32 years), the match shows when that water fell as rainfall. Lot's of different contaminants are that way: CFC's used in air conditioners were useful until they were banned, SF6 is used in industrial transformers and does the same job.

It wasn't fake (1)

olivier69 (1176459) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821495)

scientists burn the liquid and bombard the resulting gas with electrically charged particles

After the lab test :

Yes, it was a real one !

50-60 years is still old for a whisky (1)

SalaSSin (1414849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821521)

Hell, a bottle of whisky from the 1950's still is a nice old whisky!! The scottish single malts i usually buy are only around 15-20 years old.

Charcoal Mellowed Isotope by Isotope (1)

JackSpratts (660957) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821531)

I prefer my booze radioactive. The buzz is zippier, and my dates glow.

A quick "age" in the hot pile does the trick.

- js.

It's whisk*y* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27821569)

The Macallan is a Scottish single malt whisky, not an Irish or American Whiskey.

I know return you to your scheduled Mountain Dew and Cheetos.

There's No Such Thing As "Worthless" Whiskey (2, Funny)

tspauld98 (512650) | more than 5 years ago | (#27821625)

You insensitive clod!

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