Scotch whisky provenance

A dram or a scam?

Blockchain provenance firm Everledger is working with the University of Glasgow to authentic rare Scotches whiskies

Of the 50 rare bottle of Scotch whisky tested by the Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre in 2018, 21 were fake or labeled as older than they really were.

It’s a horrifying (to some of us) number, and one that provenance tracking firm Everledger says it can prevent by combining its blockchain technology and the internet of things (IoT)—with a bit of radiocarbon dating technology thrown in for good measure.

It’s part of a partnership with the University of Glasgow’s SUERC, which works with leading brands, retailers, auction houses, and collectors to authenticate the provenance of rare whiskies. 

To do this, it turned to Everledger, which offers anti-tamper, intelligent bottle closures. These use IoT scannable near field communication (NFC) tags to connect bottles of whisky to Everledger’s immutable blockchain, which is built on IBM Blockchain’s Hyperledger Fabric.

However, the smart tags are the second step in the process. When the whisky is bottled, it is dated by SUERC’s radiocarbon dating technology and then assigned a unique digital identity including its age and provenance, which is recorded on Everledger’s blockchain. 

 “One aspect of the process that has eluded us is securing a permanent digital record of a whisky’s origin and age,” said Dr Elaine Dunbar, a research scientist at SUERC, in a statement. “We are therefore absolutely delighted to establish a partnership with Everledger who will provide a lasting seal and a digital record of the whisky and details of its radiocarbon analysis.” She added: 

“It’s the perfect way to provide additional peace of mind for those who choose to have us verify their whiskies, and to help cut down on the trade in fakes.”

Authenticating the provenance of rare Scotch whisky’s is big business, SUERC noted, saying bottles worth $78 million were sold by retailers, auction houses and collectors in 2018 alone. 

Beyond the dram

Tracing provenance is big business, according to consulting giant PwC, which said in October that tracking the provenance of everything from organic chickens to blood diamonds will be a $1.76 trillion business over the next decade. 

Everledger’s smart anti-tamper tags are also used in the broader wine and spirits industry, and by retailers and insurance underwriters in the luxury goods, art, and apparel industries.

The firm also works with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and a number of diamond and gemstone miners and dealers, working both the provide proof of authenticity, but also that the stones are ethically sourced, in order to exclude conflict gems.

Ford and the U.S. Department of Energy use Everledger to provide electric vehicle batteries with blockchain-based “passports” that track their entire lifecycle, from raw materials sourcing to vehicles to recycling and non-polluting disposal.

“Whether it’s fine whiskies or precious gemstones, the authenticity and backstory can be equally as important as the item itself,” said Everledger CEO Leanne Kemp. “Organizations like SUERC lead the way when it comes to protecting, and increasing, the value of these prized assets, while defending the industry from fraudsters.”

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Leo Jakobson, Modern Consensus editor-in-chief, is a New York-based journalist who has traveled the world writing about incentive travel. He has also covered consumer and employee engagement, small business, the East Coast side of the Internet boom and bust, and New York City crime, nightlife, and politics. Disclosure: Jakobson has put some 401k money into Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.