The Proof is in Your Holiday Drink
If you think bootlegging was limited to the age of Prohibition then you have never tested liquor for authenticity using mass spectrometry. Maybe it is a scientist thing, but we simply cannot help but bring up the subject as people toast one another this holiday season.
I was surprised to hear that my favorite holiday drink (champagne) could be something other than what I thought it was. For instance, cheaper alcohol could be placed in a more expensive bottle and passed off for the real thing. Other times it may be diluted with water or artificial coloring.
Methanol versus Ethanol
Want to know what is even worse than having your fake drink passed off for the real thing? Unlawful sellers have been known to add methanol to liquor instead of ethanol. Methanol is a chemical originally distilled from wood and mostly now by oxidizing methane. Methanol is found in many products we use, however, drinking it is not good. Highly toxic when ingested, methanol can cause severe illness and sometimes death. Ethanol, which is legitimate alcohol, is the result of fermented yeast, starch, or sugars.
How and Why is Alcohol Adulterated?
I do not want to get into a debate on the topic but rather shed light on how scientists have the ability to help the industry by testing for adulterated alcohol. From what I know about the topic, the bad guys are bootlegging alcohol for profit. They use methanol as it gives you a cheaper high. Drink too much and you might find yourself experiencing dire side effects as soon as 40 minutes after consumption that include a headache, dizziness, seizures, blindness, stomach discomfort, and even death.
Keep in mind legitimate producers want to do everything they can to preserve the authenticity of their product. Looking or smelling a bottle of alcohol alone does not provide enough evidence of artificial ingredients. Which is why in this technical note, researchers describe how LC-MS/MS was used as an analytical method with PCA data processing to prove authenticity and quality of liquors.
Is your lab testing for liquor authenticity? Share your story.