The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have developed an electronic nose (e-nose) that can distinguish between different brands, origins and styles of whisky by “sniffing” the liquor.
As one of the most popular alcoholic beverages worldwide, some high-end whisky brands fetch for five or six figure prices, making it a favourite target for fraud.
To combat this, UTS Associate Professor, Steven Su, and PhD students, Wentian Zhang and Taoping Liu, collaborated with chemists Professor Shari Forbes and Dr Maiken Ueland.
“Up until now, detecting the differences between whiskies has required either a trained whisky connoisseur, who might still get it wrong, or complex and time-consuming chemical analysis by scientists in a lab,” Su said.
“So, to have a rapid, easy to use, real-time assessment of whisky to identify the quality and uncover any adulteration or fraud could be very beneficial for both high-end wholesalers and purchasers.”
The team used a new e-nose prototype (called NOS.E) to identify the differences between six whiskies in less than four minutes.
The experiment used samples of three blended malts and three single malt whiskeys, including Johnnie Walker red and black label whiskey, Ardberg, Chivas Regal and a Macallan’s 12-year-old whisky.
The study, recently published in the journal IEEE Sensors, showed the e-nose reached 100 per cent accuracy for detecting the region, 96.15 per cent accuracy for brand name and 92.31 per cent accuracy for style.
NOS.E is designed to mimic the human olfactory system, using eight gas sensors to detect odours in a vial of whisky. The sensor array generates the unique signal matrix according to the different odour molecules it encounters. It then sends the data to a computer for analysis, with a machine learning algorithm trained to recognise whisky characteristics.
The researchers confirmed the NOS.E findings using lab tests on the whisky samples: time-of-flight mass spectrometry paired with two-dimensional gas chromatography, which yielded similar results.
The technology has applications not only in the alcohol industry with beverages such as wine and cognac as well as whisky, but also for other products that are subject to counterfeiting such as high-end perfume.
The e-nose technology has also been used to detect illegal animal parts sold on the black market, such as black rhino horns, and has great potential for health applications and disease detection.
For more information about the research, view “The Use of Electronic Nose for the Classification of Blended and Single Malt Scotch Whiskey” in IEEE Sensors.