London, May 3 (ANI): Researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, which is funded by the National Environmental Research Council, have discovered that they can pinpoint the date of a whisky by detecting traces of radioactive particles created by nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s.
According to a report in The Telegraph, bottles of vintage whisky can sell for thousands of pounds each.
Industry experts are claiming that the market has been flooded with bottles of fakes that purport to be several hundred years old, but are instead worthless spirit that was made just a few years ago.
Scientists have found, however, that minute levels of radioactive carbon absorbed by the barley as it grew before it was harvested to make the whisky can betray how old it is.
They can also use natural background levels of radioactivity to identify whiskies that were made in earlier centuries.
Dr Tom Higham, deputy director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, said: "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.
"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.
The technique the scientists use is known as radiocarbon dating and is more commonly used by archaeologists to date ancient fragments of bone and wood.
It relies upon the fact that all living organisms absorb low levels of a radioactive isotope known as carbon 14, a heavy form of carbon which is present in low levels in the atmosphere.
After death, levels of this isotope in animal and plant remains will slowly decay away, meaning scientists can estimate their age from the amount of carbon 14 that remains in the sample.
Most of the tests on whiskies have been conducted for the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, which is responsible for analysing the authenticity of Scotch malt whisky.
Phials of whisky extracted from the antique bottles are sent to the laboratory in Oxford, where the scientists burn the liquid and bombard the resulting gas with electrically charged particles so they can measure the quantities of carbon 14 in the sample.
In one recent case, a bottle of 1856 Macallan Rare Reserve, which was expected to sell for up to 20,000 dollars, was withdrawn from auction at Christies after the scientists found it had actually been produced in 1950. (ANI)