Scotch and science – a perfect blend

18 Dec 2015

Lovers of Scotch the world over might stop as they sip their favourite dram to reflect on the tradition and craftsmanship that goes into making it.  Some might contemplate the art of selecting and marrying casks to make the perfect blend.  But what of the science our Scotch Whisky industry embraces and drives to assure the provenance and authenticity of our traditional products?

It was the science underpinning Scotch Whisky's protection that was highlighted this week as the UK Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport launched his annual report entitled "Forensic Science and beyond: authenticity, provenance and assurance". We were delighted to be invited to contribute to the report to highlight the vital role that science and scientists play in safeguarding Scotch Whisky and its supply chain.

An episode of Prime Suspect it is not, but for those interested in both science and Scotch, learning about how lab-based testing plays an increasing part in identifying fake Scotch Whisky can be just as thrilling. 

When a consumer opens a bottle of Scotch, we want them to have complete confidence that they are getting the best product, made traditionally to strict standards. The reputation of Scotch has taken centuries to build and the industry and the SWA are committed to maintaining and building on that heritage with new, cutting-edge science.

With the help of independent laboratories such as the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, we are able to deduce if suspect samples are not what they purport to be on the label, or worse, dangerous to health.

Over years of analysis, the industry has built up an excellent understanding of the chemical fingerprint of Scotch and can check the authenticity of samples though advanced chemical analysis techniques. 

The SWA's legal team at any one time has about 70 actions in courts around the world to tackle fake Scotch Whisky and many more investigations under way. These investigations are underpinned by science and this ability to determine whether the suspected product is consistent with Scotch Whisky through forensic analysis is crucial in the fight against fakes.

Each brand also has unique and confidential authenticity indicators underpinning the analytical fingerprints of their products. Brand owners stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters through better packaging design and making product security more robust.  Fast and reliable field tests have even been developed for use in market making investigation more efficient.

To stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters, the industry, along with producers of other quality and luxury consumer goods, will continue to look to the scientific community to help identify new ways to maintain levels of confidence about the provenance of Scotch and its brands.

Not only that, but science helps support the smooth running of distillery plant and equipment, can describe what happens when malt germinates through to how spirit interacts with wood in casks during maturation, and can even analyse the sensory experience of consumers savouring a nip of Scotch.

Now science can be added to the list of things to mull over the next time you sit down to enjoy a dram.

To read the chief scientific advisor's report in full see

Julie Hesketh-Laird, deputy CEO, Scotch Whisky Association