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Machine learning in whisky identification and verification

Whiskey Distillery
(Credit: Pixabay)

Researchers based at the STFC Hartree® Centre worked with the Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI) using data analytics to tackle counterfeiting across the sector.

left-hand quote markWithout efficient data processing techniques, the time cost prevents such techniques ever becoming part of a routine authentication provision within the Scotch Whisky sector.right-hand quote mark

Ian Goodall, SWRI


The SWRI carries out pre-competitive fundamental research on behalf of its members, representing approximately 90% of the production capacity of the sector. SWRI offers analytical services, using traditional techniques such as GC-FID (Gas Chromatography – Flame Ionisation Detector) or GC-MS
(Gas chromatography–Mass Spectrometry) to detect counterfeits. Using these methods to distinguish between different samples can be challenging given the complexity resulting from the number of
different compounds present in the vapour above a whisky sample. SWRI wanted to explore analytics and AI models to improve the identification of authentic Scotch whisky using traditional GC-MS data
and more complex GCxGC-MS sampling, as developed at The Open University.


left-hand quote markWe look forward to exploring the potential
of the advanced analytical and data processing
techniques developed in conjunction with both
the Open University, IBM and STFC to help us
combat counterfeiting. Scientific progress
is most effective when different ideas and
expertise can collaborate.right-hand quote mark

Ian Goodall, SWRI

The team developed machine learning models to identify spectral regions of relevance, distinguish between real and counterfeit whiskies and determine the likelihood a given sample is from a previously identified whisky. Models were applied to both one-dimensional GC-MS data two-dimensional GCxGC datasets and developed into an application that enabled visualisation of the spectra of a whisky sample in the context of previous known samples. The tool predicts the veracity of a given sample
corresponding to a genuine Scotch whisky.


As a premium product, Scotch whisky is a counterfeiting target. Identifying more sophisticated counterfeit samples requires more sensitive analytic techniques providing analyte-rich whisky profiles and identify unknown markers for counterfeit detection.This is challenging for existing analytical methodology and the task of automating processing of large data files, ultimately becoming prohibitive to implementing routine authentication provisions due to cost implications. The SWRI looks forward to exploring these challenges further as part of the Innovation Return on Research (IROR) programme, a collaboration between STFC and IBM Research.

At a glance

  • Whisky counterfeiting harms authentic Scotch whisky companies


  • Current analytical methods rely on human expert analysis and do not exploit more sensitive experimental methods


  • Collaboration with the Open University to apply machine learning models that can help detect counterfeit whiskies


  • Developed an application for viewing the spectroscopic data for whisky samples, helping
    protect the Scotch whisky brand cost effectively

Read the full case study

Scottish Whisky case study (PDF, 836 KB)

Last updated: 13 February 2020


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