MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: Is there an accurate test to determine beverage content?

Date: Mon Nov 6 19:44:19 2000
Posted By: Charlie Crutchfield, Retired
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 972930022.Ch

Dear Scott;

Probably the best way to find out if a "cheap" alcohol has been used instead of a good [expensive] name brand is chromatography. Either Gas chromatography or HPLC. I saw a publication some years ago showing the differences in composition between -say- Rye, Scotch, and Corn whiskeys using gas chromatography. All of these contain water and ethyl alcohol as the major ingredients. They could be distinguished by the identity and amounts of the very minor components. It is probable that different brands of [for example] scotch could be distinguished and identified by this method.The similar technique and apparatus HPLC might also work. For the analysis of what kind of whiskey was mixed with Coke, the minor ingredients in the Coke would also have to be identified, else they would confuse the issue.

This would not be an easy problem to solve, much background study and laboratory work would be needed. There are really three problems here:

  1. How to distinguish between the various kinds of whisky Scotch, Irish, Corn, etc.
  2. How to distinguish between various brands of-say-Scotch whisky. Seagrams, Jack Daniels, etc.
  3. How to dentify these when mixed with: Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, etc.
You are probably not the first to ask these questions. The makers of Jack Daniels do not want cheap stuff sold as their product. They almost certainly have asked and answered this question some time ago.Maybe they have worked out the procedure for this. Maybe they have added a trace of some chemical substance that is not normally present in whiskyso that they can easily identify their product.

They of course are unlikely to tell you just what this "Tag" is, or even one exists. I know that petroleum companies add a "Tag" to their gasoline.

I suggest that you ask the a couple of the major distillers about this. Also, ask your state alcohol control officials, or the federal ATF board, also the US Customs would know of this.

Ths is the kind of problem that I myself would like to work on if I were not retired.

Regards, C.A. Crutchfield

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