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This ’E-Nose’ Can Sniff Out Fine Whiskies From Fraudulent Ones

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 4/8/2022 Tony Ho Tran
Dylan de Jonge / Unsplash © Provided by The Daily Beast Dylan de Jonge / Unsplash

So you’re at a bar with friends and order a whiskey neat. To impress them, you bring the glass up to your nose for a sniff, and make some vague comments about the woody aromas before taking a sip. While your attempts to pretend you know anything about whiskey are pretty weak (you can’t tell a bourbon from a White Claw), there is hope: Researchers have recently created an “e-nose” that can tell different types of whiskey apart.

A team of scientists from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) recently published a paper in the journal IEEE Sensors about the device, dubbed “NOS.E”, that they claim can distinguish between different origins, brands, and styles of a whiskey simply by “sniffing” it. The e-nose was created in order to help sniff out fraudulent junk whiskies billed as high-end liquor.

“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, an associate professor at UTS and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “So to have a rapid, easy to use, real-time assessment of whiskey to identify the quality, and uncover any adulteration or fraud, could be very beneficial for both high-end wholesalers and purchasers.”

Unfortunately, NOS.E doesn’t look like a disembodied human nose that you hold up to a glass of whiskey. Instead, the liquor is poured into a small vial on the device. The liquid’s vapors are then injected into a gas sensor connected to a computer that uses a machine-learning algorithm trained to identify different whiskies.

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The team was able to use the device to identify three blended malts and three single malt scotch whiskies. According to the study, the e-nose produced 100 percent accuracy for detecting the region of a whiskey, 96.15 percent for its brand name, and 92.41 percent for its style—a heckuva lot more accurate than most people’s noses.

It might seem a little silly, but the device can be incredibly valuable to high-end liquor manufacturers, dealers, and collectors. Scammers frequently create fakes of highly sought after bottles of whiskeys. In fact, a 2018 study found that up to one-third of all rare bottles of single-malt scotch whisky were fake—which can be a sobering realization after you spend $1,000-$5,000 for a bottle. As such, a device that can suss out fakes from the genuine article could save collectors and manufacturers a lot of money.

For now, though, NOS.E is still a prototype. However, the researchers believe that the e-nose has a whole range of potential applications outside of the alcohol industry including detecting illegal animal parts on the black market, identifying counterfeit perfumes, and even detecting diseases in humans.

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