Whiskey Stains

Image of a research poster displaying many whitish web-like stains left after whiskeys evaporate

Complex fluids leave behind fascinating stains after they evaporate. We’ve seen previously how coffee forms rings and whisky forms more complicated stains as surface tension changes during evaporation drive particles throughout the droplet. Now researchers are considering the differences between traditional Scottish whisky, which ages in re-used, uncharred barrels, and American whiskeys like bourbon, which are required to age in new, charred white oak barrels.

When diluted, the American whiskeys form web-like patterns – seen above – that vary from brand to brand, like a fingerprint. The charring of the barrels allows American whiskeys to pick up more water-insoluble molecules compared to whisky aged in uncharred barrels. Since the webbed patterns form in American whiskey but not Scotch whisky, it’s likely those molecules play an important role in the evaporation dynamics and subsequent staining. (Image credit: S. Williams et al.; research credit: S. Williams et al.; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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