TAINTED OR FAKE alcohol is a very real and frightening problem often resulting in significant injury or death. Over the past year there have been several incidents at popular vacation resorts. One of the key issues is that it’s usually impossible to detect fake alcohol as it looks and tastes like the real thing. However, through advanced technology there may be a way to identify fake spirits before the bottle is even opened. There is a handheld device known as SORS (spatially offset Raman spectroscopy) that uses a laser to shine through materials such as colored glass and opaque plastic. Within one minute, information is readily available about the contents of the bottle. The instrument was actually not initially designed to be used for the food and drink market but was developed for something different altogether: checking for explosives in plastic or glass bottles at airports. SORS devices are used at many airports in Europe although not yet in America. Lead researcher Roy Goodacre, a professor at the University of Manchester in England, and his colleagues used an SORS gadget to analyze 141 brands of Scotch whisky, rum, gin and vodka in closed glass bottles. The device was successful in detecting flavorings, methanol and other compounds that are often added to counterfeit products. “This new approach can detect methanol at levels of only O.O25 percent, which is well below the maximum human tolerance threshold of 2 percent methanol in a 4O percent spirit drink,” Goodacre said. Methanol poisoning is a worldwide problem which seems to be on the rise. Although the liquid can be absorbed through skin or eye contact, methanol poisonings usually occur as a result of drinking contaminated beverages. The research team, whose findings are published in the journal Nature, envision the device being used by regulatory bodies, but in the future it may be on the market for personal use. “You can imagine that with further development and miniaturization, then consumers themselves could have a device that they can also check whether they have been served bootleg alcohol in a bar or club,” Goodacre said.