Radioactive isotope exposure date fakes aged whiskey left behind by nuclear explosion

The old whisky is worth more than 100,000 bottles of Scotch whisky sold at auction in 2018 for a total price of $49 million, the most expensive of which is the 1926 Macallan Valerio Adami whisky, which sold for more than $1 million. But how do you determine that the date of old whisky is true, and how do you identify the date of the fake whisky?

Radioactive isotope exposure date fakes aged whiskey left behind by nuclear explosion

Image: © U.S. National Archives

One approach is to use the radioactive remnants of ground-based nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and 1960s. The bomb releases the radioactive isotope carbon-14 into the atmosphere after the explosion, which is absorbed by plants and animals and begins to decay after the organism dies. The traces of carbon-14 are left in barley that makes distilled whisky. The decay rate of carbon-14 is known, and by calculating the content of carbon-14 scientists can determine whether whisky was made before or after the nuclear age. In the study, published in the journal Radiocarbon, about half of the whisky in the researchers’ tests was not as long as the label, such as a bottle of whisky called 1863, which was actually made between 2007 and 2014.