Counterfeit whisky is a big problem—hence why researchers in Scotland have invented a "tongue" better able to distinguish between fake and authentic bottles than the human equivalent. Alasdair Clark of the University of Glasgow explains the artificial tongue "uses two different types of nanoscale metal 'tastebuds', which provides more information about the 'taste' of each sample and allows a faster and more accurate response." In testing, seven single malt whiskies and other liquids were poured over a checkerboard pattern of tiny squares made from gold and aluminium coated in different chemicals, per the BBC and Guardian. The device then gave off a distinct "fingerprint" that could be used to identify the liquid based on how light is absorbed or reflected. Indeed, the device identified differences in the same whisky aged in different barrels with 99.7% accuracy.
It also differentiated between Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch, and Laphroaig whiskies aged 10, 12, and 18 years, per the Guardian. "You could train your particular 'tongue' to know what one of these whiskies 'tasted' like, so that when the fake stuff came along it could identify it and when the real stuff came along it could confirm that it was the real stuff," says Clark, lead author of a study published in the journal Nanoscale. But the device could also identify poisons or monitor pollution in rivers. "It could be used in food safety testing, quality control, security—really any area where a portable, reusable method of tasting would be useful," Clark says, per the BBC. Annabel Meikle of the Keepers of the Quaich, an international society of whisky experts, says the device could eventually replace human taste-testers, per AFP. Master blenders will be "really quite grateful." (He paid $10,000 for a nip of scotch. It was a fake.)