It is a skill that can take years to perfect.
But now, distinguishing a Scottish malt whisky from an Irish blend is to get a whole lot easier with the help of an artificial 'tongue' developed by scientists.
Researchers have created an array of glowing dyes that react with different trace flavours and chemicals in whisky to produce a unique fluorescent signature. By adding a drop of whisky to several different dyes, they found they could detect distinct patterns in different spirits according to their brand, age and if they are single malt or a blend
Professional whisky tasters can spot the subtle difference between different Scotch malts quite easily, or can quickly distinguish between an Irish whiskey and a bourbon. For the average drinker, however, such skill is beyond them and the researchers say their test could help consumers tell if their chosen tipple is the real thing or a counterfeit.
Sadly, it would require them to give up a few drops of their precious Water of Life to find out, explains Dr Uwe Bunz, an organic chemist at Heidelberg University who helped develop the test. He said: 'You need to mix a drop of whisky with each polymer separately to obtain a useful signal.
'That is not an issue as we only need three different polymers.'
However, the reaction from professional tasters has been lukewarm. Leonardo Ciaccheri of the Italian National Research Council told Newscientist that the synthetic tongue needs to be exposed to many more whiskies in order to be reliable.
The results from researchers showed that the dyes could distinguish between a Bowmore from a Poit Dhubh, but that still isn’t precise enough according to Ciaccheri.
“One is a single malt and the other is blended,” told the publication. Instead, Ciaccheri believes that the researchers need to try both single malt and blended whiskies from the same distillery.
Bunz isn’t slowing down for anyone though. He’s already onto developing a synthetic tongue for tasting red wine. In the meantime, the need for counterfeit whisky measures will continue to grow as prices skyrocket to as high as US$600,000 for a Japanese collection that recently went to auction.
Counterfeit Whisky is a major problem for an industry that is worth £4 billion in Scotland alone.
Many distilleries in Asia produce cheap knock-offs of fine malts to get a slice of this industry.