Elemental Profiles of Whisk(e)y Allow Differentiation by Type and Region

Helene Hopfer, Greg Gilleland, Susan Ebeler, Jenny Nelson
2017 Beverages  
Elemental fingerprints could provide an analytical approach to product differentiation and authentication, and have been used in the past for various distilled spirits, including brandy, gin, bourbon and tequila. However, a comparison of elemental differences between different whisk(e)y types, such as Bourbon and Scotch, is still missing. In this study we compare the elemental fingerprints of 68 commercial whiskies for differentiation by type (Bourbon, Tennessee, Scotch, Irish, Japanese) and
more » ... h, Japanese) and region. Concentrations from sub-µg/L to mid-mg/L of 53 different elements were determined with inductively-coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and microwave plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy (MP-AES), and used in subsequent statistical analyses. Significant differences in several elements were found for type, and allowed a classification according to whisk(e)y type. Elemental differences were also found for different production areas within Scotland, thus, providing further evidence that Scotch whiskies could be differentiated by elemental analysis. Major sources of elemental differences seem to be processing equipment (Cu, Fe, Ni, Cd, Sn, Mo, V) and raw materials, such as water (Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Sr). Beverages 2017, 3, 8 2 of 12 as well as how long the whisk(e)y is aged are again regulated and are another source of differentiation among the different whisk(e)y types. For certain types of whisk(e)y additional steps are taken, such as a filtration step in the case of Tennessee whiskeys, which are filtered through sugar maple charcoal prior to barreling in the so called Lincoln County Process [1]. Bourbon and Tennessee whiskeys must contain at least 51% corn, but typically contain between 60% and 80%, with the remaining grains being either rye, wheat, malted barley or mixtures thereof [2] . In both cases the distilled product is stored in newly charred barrels for at least 2 years, and both have the same alcoholic strength requirements after distillation (max. 80% (v/v)) and before ageing (max. 62.5% (v/v)). The difference between those two types lies in where the whiskey is produced-Kentucky vs. Tennessee, and the additional charcoal filtration step for Tennessee whiskeys [2] . For single malt Scotch the mash contains 100% malted barley, and all production has to occur in Scotland, using copper pot stills. In contrast to Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, Scotch whisky is stored in used barrels (e.g., from Bourbon or Sherry production) for at least three years. The alcoholic strength is limited to 94.8% (v/v) after distillation and 63.5% before ageing [1]. Whiskies from Ireland are produced from malted or unmalted barley or unmalted grains. The site of production has to be either in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Both copper pot stills and continuous column stills can be used, and typically three distillations are performed. The alcoholic strength is limited to 94.8% (v/v) after distillation, and the final product is aged a minimum of three years in wooden casks [3] . The Japanese whisky tradition is heavily influenced by Scotch production, but with less stringent regulations. In Japan, both malted and unmalted grains, typically barley, are used in one of nine Japanese distilleries, with the majority producing blended whiskies. While copper pot stills are mostly used for double distillation, continuous column stills are also used, mainly for the production of blended whiskies. For aging of Japanese whiskies, both newly charred and used barrels are used for a minimum duration of three years [4] . Analysis of whisk(e)y is aiming at different aspects, with process control and quality assurance of raw materials, intermediate steps and the final products being the most important. Additionally, whisk(e)y production is often strongly regulated with regards to the geographical origin: Scotch whiskies can only be produced in Scotland, while Tennessee and Bourbon whiskeys are required to be distilled in the state of Tennessee, Kentucky, etc. Analytical methods aiming at geographical authenticity testing have gained more interest over the past years [5]: Whisk(e)y is a complex product, containing several hundreds of volatile and non-volatile compounds, so called congeners, including alcohols, esters, acids, phenols, carbonyls as well as sulfur and nitrogen compounds [5] , that are typically analyzed by gas chromatography (GC) or liquid chromatography (LC) [6] . Variations in higher alcohol congeners discriminated among Bourbons, Tennessee, Scotch and Irish whisk(e)y samples [7] , as well as between different single malt and blended Scotch whiskies [8]. Differences in sensory properties, i.e., aromas and flavors, were also used to discriminate among Scotch whiskies [9] and other whisk(e)y types and spirits [10], with distinct sensory profiles for Scotch whiskies of different categories [9] , and between Scotch and other whiskies and spirits [10] . However, these analytical techniques showed overlap for non-Scotch whiskeys [11] , therefore, analytical strategies that improve the discriminability of different whisk(e)y types are needed. From an elemental analysis point of view, several factors impact the elemental profile of whisk(e)y, including origin and type of raw materials used, processing steps, as well as packaging and storage. These factors are not well studied, in fact, there are only a handful of scientific reports that study the elemental profiles of whisk(e)y types exclusively [12] [13] [14] . This is somewhat surprising as whisk(e)y is appreciated all around the world, and among the different types, demand is growing. For example, in the U.S. single malt Scotch whisky sales nearly tripled over a 13-year period [15], while Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey sales experienced a 155% growth in the same period [16] . In one of these whisk(e)y focused studies, copper levels were used to differentiate between blended and grain malt Scotch whiskies [13] , and although elemental analyses of seven additional elements (Zn, Pb, Ni, Fe, Ca, Mg, Na) were obtained, no "characteristic metal fingerprints" [13] (p. 459)
doi:10.3390/beverages3010008 fatcat:5kwf3iy4ezbbpgeurxmqkz2zle