One of the dangers of drinking in unfamiliar territory can be the quality of liquor on offer. Rotgut, the slang term for an inferior alcoholic concoction, can be dangerous to your health, not just your wallet. How big an issue being served rotgut actually is seems to depend as much on where in the world you find yourself as which nightclub or party you're at. Rotgutonix is a new take-anywhere prototype device that analyzes your chosen beverage and lets you know if it's genuine or a nasty pretender.

Rotgutonix designer Emilio Alarcón says cheap imitation liquor leads only to trouble. It was after a particularly bad personal experience with rotgut while out with friends in his native Spain that he decided to try to create something to help avoid such trouble in the future.

It is claimed that drinking rotgut can result in an abnormal burning sensation in the throat, massive headache, nausea, vomiting, gastric irritation, or it can lead to a state of drunkenness and general malaise that sometimes lasts for days. It can also cause irreversible blindness and even death.

Help is at hand

But how do you know if you're being served a genuine nip of Johnny Walker or some cheap, dangerous forgery? The Rotgutonix prototype device examines your drink and looks for a unique chemical signature or composite that identifies it as genuine. If the marker is found, the device reports success. If not, it will advise you to avoid the rotgut.

Some places suffer from outbreaks of imitation booze more than others but as the economic downturn bites ever harder and unscrupulous drinks merchants look to make a fast buck, the device might be destined to be a must-have accessory.

It works by simply dipping the AAA-battery powered detector into drink and after only 20 seconds it will determine if you've been served genuine Johnny Walker, JB, DYC, Pampero, Brugal and Havana Club or if you've been given an inexpensive, potentially unsafe counterfeit - rotgut.

Alarcón is currently working on a second version of the Rotgutonix which will detect more brands but explained to Gizmag that finding a chemical composite which can uniquely identify each brand and then getting the device to recognize that marker poses some difficulty.

He is looking into the use of technology that identifies the alcohol strength in different brands too but accounting for variations in different bottles of the same brand of liquor is presenting a few problems. He is hopeful that he will soon be able to announce a commercially available, affordable device which is able to accurately verify up to 20 popular brands.

How useful you will find such a product once it's ready for sale depends on what you drink, where you drink it and how bad the local rotgut problem is. It won't tell you if someone has slipped rohypnol (the 'date rape' drug which has no smell or taste) into your drink but it should let you know if the brand you've paid for is what you're being served.