UofL scientists decode ‘whiskey webs’ that could catch counterfeiters

New research at UofL has uncovered a new way to identify bourbon.
A close-up of the microscopic 'fingerprints' each brand of bourbon leaves behind. Drops from...
A close-up of the microscopic 'fingerprints' each brand of bourbon leaves behind. Drops from different bottles of bourbon leave behind specific microscopic signatures(WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Nov. 16, 2018 at 6:25 PM EST
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'Whiskey webs' decoded at UofL could catch counterfeiters

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A University of Louisville scientist has discovered new microscopic properties of bourbon.

Once diluted and evaporated, droplets from different bottles are leaving behind specific microscopic signatures.

"We saw these structures, and these were new to us," Dr. Stuart Williams, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Louisville, said.

His lab has tested 60 different bourbons and other new barreled whiskeys. Those are the types of alcohol that leave the signature.

Williams said 'Whiskey Webs' are left behind when you take different bourbons dilute them,let them evaporate and look at them under a microscope.

“From the same bottle, under the same conditions, Makers Mark looks like this, Jim Beam looks like this,” Williams said describing the webs.

He said they’re a repeated signature for each bottle--kind of like a fingerprint--that continues to show up.

Bottles of bourbon ready for inspection.
Bottles of bourbon ready for inspection.(WAVE 3 News)

But scientists say they don't yet know why.

"When a web is there, we can determine its bourbon," Williams said. "In the future, we hope to differentiate say your 23-year-old Pappy from something less expensive."

An application Williams said may help bourbon buyers of the future spot a counterfeit—with just a seven-dollar lens and a smartphone.

But to get to that point, Williams has enlisted the help of students to look at variables, like the environment, especially for field work with smartphones.

"If you're in a dive bar or if you're outside having a picnic on a warm sunny day," Adam Carrithers, a student researcher at UofL, said.

Williams said many different things could be creating or disturbing the webs. Those solving that mystery said its been beyond exciting.

"I grew up in Bardstown, which is the Bourbon capital of the world," Carrithers said. "So, it really hits close to home for me."

All in the lab hoping each small drop will soon lead to an even bigger breakthrough.

Williams said he hopes to sell art of the ‘Whiskey Web’ images to help fund his research.

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