Scotched: St Andrews team reveal way to expose cheap whisky
It offers spiritual salvation to ensure you're not served cheap or dangerous drinks in a pub or even by a cheapskate friend.
Scottish researchers have unveiled a new technique which uses a laser to detect fake or toxic whisky and other spirits.
They believe it could mean portable detectors being created which would allow consumers to test their own drinks when out and about. The St Andrews team are hoping to interest industry with their patented technology.
Praveen Ashok, Bavishna Balagopal and Professor Kishan Dholakia of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the university reveal how they can place a "teardrop" of whisky on a transparent "plastic chip, no bigger than a credit card".
Light is then delivered to, and collected from, the liquor sample using optical fibres - each has the dimensions of a human hair - to diagnose the sample by a collection of light scattered from it.
Previous work by the team showed they were able to investigate and discriminate single malt Scotch whiskies based on brand, age and even which cask had been used.
Writing in the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, they explain the method exploits both the fluorescence of the whisky and also what is known as the Raman signature of the whisky - this is when light scatters but shifts slightly in energy due to interaction with the molecules in the sample.
The latest study now shows this elegant technique is highly sensitive and can be used to detect trace toxic additives such as methanol at concentrations of less than 1 per cent by volume.
Researcher Praveen Ashok said: "Sadly, many people lose their lives each year to bootleg drinks and our hope is to see this powerful, simple technology used to alleviate this serious issue".
Researcher Bavishna Balagopal said: "It is exciting to see the surprising and powerful ways modern photonics can help people, particularly in developing countries."
Professor Kishan Dholakia added: "This technology not only can ensure a high degree of quality control for the international drinks industry but could also lead to portable sensors to ensure everyone can enjoy a drink, safe in the knowledge that no toxic additives are present.
Toxic liquor claims hundreds of lives all around the world every year. Especially in Afro-Asian countries, where illegal moonshine liquors are common, methanol is often intentionally added to increase the effect of the liquor.
Alcohol on the shelves in an off-licence. The Scottish government's plan pushes the basic price of whisky to £14 a bottle. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
A judge has ruled that Scottish government plans to set a minimum price for alcoholic drinks are legal, in a case that will be seen as a significant victory for health campaigners but will spark an appeal by the drinks industry.
The judicial review ruling in the court of session, Scotland's supreme civil court, is a heavy blow for the multibillion-pound drinks industry. The case was backed by two of the largest European wine and spirits organisations: the European Spirits Association and the Comité Européen Des Entreprises Vins, which represents wine-makers.
In a case being closely watched by UK ministers in London, the SWA said it would appeal against the ruling, setting the scene for a protracted legal battle between the industry and the Scottish government which is likely to end up in the European court of justice.
Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the SWA, confirmed that it would immediately appeal against the decision, along with its European trade body partners. He said the association was "disappointed" and "surprised" at the ruling.
He said the final ruling that would ultimately decide the legality of minimum pricing would come from the European court in Luxembourg: "The crux of the matter has always been the issue of European law; that will remain the issue which will have to be addressed, and which we will be addressing in our appeal."
Hewitt said his association's members were anxious to block the proposals "without a shadow of a doubt. It is a matter of very great importance for them."
He said the SWA was confident of its position. "The view from Europe has been very different to that expressed by the court and we are not alone in having concerns about the legality of minimum unit pricing," Hewitt said.
"The European commission and more than 10 member states have expressed their concerns that minimum unit pricing contravenes European Union trading rules and their opposition to the Scottish proposals."But Dr Brian Keighley, chair of the British Medical Association's Scotland branch, said he was pleased with the ruling and appealed to the drinks trade to accept it without further legal battles.
"The alcohol industry may decide it has grounds for appeal, but I urge them to put people and health before profits and accept the decision of the courts," he said. "Any credible alcohol strategy must have at its heart measures to tackle price and availability. Scotland is awash with cheap alcohol and Scots are paying the price with their health."
Scottish ministers – who see this policy as a major milestone in public health policy similar to the public smoking ban pioneered in Ireland and Scotland – have already conceded that the legal dispute could delay introducing minimum pricing for several years.
Alex Neil, the Scottish health secretary, said he was pleased with the ruling, but indicated it was just the first court case to come. "We welcome today's favourable opinion from the court of session on minimum unit pricing of alcohol," he said.
"We have always believed minimum unit pricing is the right thing to do to tackle Scotland's problematic relationship with alcohol. Minimum unit pricing will target cheap alcohol relative to strength that is favoured by hazardous and harmful drinkers and which contributes to much of the alcohol-related harm we see in Scotland.
"We now look forward to being able to implement minimum unit pricing and making that transformational change in Scotland's relationship with alcohol."
The SWA had argued that introducing minimum pricing was outside the Scottish parliament's legal powers as a devolved government and broke several parts of European law, by conflicting with open border, common market rules.
But Doherty rejected all those grounds, stating that the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was within Holyrood's legal powers, while the Act of Union between Scotland and the rest of the UK was not an impediment to the minimum pricing measures. Nor, he said, was it incompatible with EU law.
He said that even if these measures did restrict some imports, they were justified under EU law "on the grounds of the protection of the life and health of humans".
He also ruled that Holyrood "retained competence to introduce minimum pricing notwithstanding the fact that there had been a degree of EU common organisation of the market" for wines, beers and industrial alcohol.
Cooling drinks with ice? Passé. It dilutes the drink down anyway. Whisky rocks were the way to go for a bit, but now? Passé. It seems. Because judging by the massive interest on Kickstarter over the above stainless steel Pucs, it appears that metal is in. The Pucs are a set of metal discs that you stick in the freezer and then drop into your drink when the time comes, just like Whisky rocks. Cools the drink down and can be re-used over and over. And they do look rather snazzy in those wooden Black Walnut or Maple cases.
Now here’s the annoying part: it’s $38 for 6 Pucs and its case. That’s a lot of money just to be all Hipster-y about your drink cooling. But hey, we don’t judge.