Radiocarbon dating, often called C-14 dating, is something you've probably heard about in dating prehistoric artifacts and fossils. It requires very specialized, highly sensitive lab equipment to detect the levels of carbon-14 isotope in a minute sample.
It's also the test that's revealed most 19th century whiskey “relics” to be recently made counterfeits.
Forgers fill their fakes with modern whiskeys. The “smartest” fakers will use a moderately expensive whiskey with some age on it, like 10-20 years. The idea is that even if the bottle is opened, the fake contents still might fool the taster’s senses. But most of these scumbags don't even care what's in their fakes -- because if the bottle is ever opened and tasted, by then they'll be long gone.
A 1 ml sample was extracted and sent to Prof. Gordon Cook's radiocarbon accelerator unit at the University of Glasgow. His lab is reknowned for its experience dating rare spirits -- and fake ones.
Importantly, the Baker's sample was submitted as one of three blind whiskey samples. The other two were "controls" distilled in 1960 and about 2004. But the lab didn't know that -- they only knew what the samples were labeled: X, Y, and Z. And that they were testing for purported 19th century distillation.
"Y" was the Baker's. Two months later, Prof. Cook issued his report:
The controls were correctly identified as not 19th century, and post-1955. While these may sound like imprecise results to a layman, in the worlds of whiskey and science, it's ideal.
A second 1 ml sample was sent to a well-known university lab in England (who hasn't given us permission to name them yet), which independently replicated these results, also under the same blind protocol, with neither lab knowing about the other.
After years of painstaking research, a tiny carbon atom was the giant cherry atop an authentic World's Oldest Whiskey sundae.