July 16th, 2009 by Boisdale
The age of a given offering of whiskey is one that has a great deal of impact on the taste and character, as well as the value and the level of investment accompanying a given example of vintage whiskey. But how does one know for sure, the validity of a given age(as often proposed by the seller..)? The answer resides most often in verified radiocarbon dating. On occasion, a given vintage whiskey is had up for sale projecting an age of one hundred, one hundred and fifty years or more. Given the price premiums on something of this age, (which often can reach in to even the tens of thousands of dollars) The authenticity of these claims has to be insured, for obvious reasons.
Found in the air in the form of Carbon Dioxide, Carbon 14 is a naturally occurring radioactive particle that plants will take in through the process of photosynthesis. Thus, the amount of these particles that could be found in a given plant would attest to the amounts found naturally in that plant’s environment over the course of it’s lifespan. Even given the decay of these particles over a period of time, the given ratio of these particles to actual “stable” carbon still present allow for a good indication as to the age of a given organic material. This would have been harder today without the impact of an unnatural carbon addition: nuclear testing.
Because of the impact of the nuclear bomb technology, and its demand for testing, carbon 14 particles can often be found in higher concentration levels in those organisms having a lifespan that coincides somewhere with the 1950s. The problem with this method lies most immediately in the fact that anything before about 1950 or so doesn’t have the same clear distinction as to its age boundaries. In this way, it becomes more of an “is it vintage or not” question before an “how old is it exactly” question. Despite this, most fakes found around at present are probably going to have been manufactured after 1950 or so.
Discerning for yourself how to tell a fake is slightly more difficult, as you probably don’t have access to being able to burn the whiskey before electrically charging the process give off for analyzation. For the laity though, the easiest way to check for validity, say, on ebay lies first in the label. Check for small incisions in the bottom of the label, (a process applied by the bottling plant), or any lackings in the luminosity on the label’s lettering will often expose a fake as well.