An Artificial Nose Is Sniffing Out Fake Whiskey

Study suggests NOS.E prototype is quite accurate and quick to boot
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2022 9:42 AM CDT
An Artificial Nose Is Sniffing Out Fake Whiskey
A bottle of Macallan Select Reserve 1948 is on display at Bonham's auction house in London.   (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Few people can identify a whiskey from only a sniff—which is a problem for those willing to pay more than $10,000 for a supposedly rare dram in an industry proliferated by fake vintages. At least it was a problem before the NOS.E—an electronic nose that researchers say can identify a whiskey's style, brand, and region within minutes. "Up until now, detecting the differences between whiskies has required either a trained whiskey connoisseur, who might still get it wrong, or complex and time-consuming chemical analysis by scientists in a lab," Steven Su, a biomedical engineer and associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, says in a release.

But NOS.E is both quick and "relatively inexpensive," per Smithsonian. Its eight gas sensors mimic the human olfactory system, sniffing out odor molecules. The data is then assessed with a machine-learning algorithm trained to recognize whiskey characteristics indicative of style, brand, and region. At a 2019 trade show, researchers had the NOS.E prototype "sniff" three blended-malt whiskies and three single-malt whiskies made by Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Macallan, all of Scotland's Speyside region, and Ardbeg of the southeastern Isle of Islay, with results provided in just four minutes, according to a study published this month in the journal IEEE Sensors.

Later, researchers carried out tests on the same six whiskies, using time-of-flight mass spectrometry and two-dimensional gas chromatography, which showed NOS.E to be 100% accurate on region, 96.15% accurate on brand, and 92.31% accurate on style. This provides "the potential for quality assessment and fraudulent detection," according to the study. Or as Food & Wine puts it, "we're a step closer to accurate and nearly-instantaneous identifications for whiskies of all sorts." NOS.E also has the potential to detect counterfeit wines and perfumes, according to the release. Similar technologies have been used to detect respiratory diseases including COVID-19, as the New York Times reported last year. (An artificial "tongue" has been developed, too.)

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