Scientists have invented the world's first handheld device that can detect counterfeit spirits and liquor simply by looking at the drink through the bottle.

A team of researchers at the University of Manchester developed the SORS (spatially offset Raman spectroscopy) device, which can identify fake alcoholic drinks such as vodka and whiskey whilst still in their bottles using a laser.

When the beam of light is aimed at the contents the device it is said to enable "the isolation of chemically-rich information that is held within the spirits" and can provide a highly accurate chemical analysis of contents.

The team tested the counterfeit-sniffing gadget on around 150 well-known brands of whisky, rum, gin and vodka, as well as 40 counterfeit products. The device was able to successfully distinguish the difference between the contents of genuine brands and bogus bottles by measuring the alcohol level inside and whether methanol had been added to dilute the product.

The SORS device detected the chemical composition of cheaper methanol and five other adulterants, which are commonly used by counterfeiters to add to genuine spirits in order to 'stretch' the product.

Currently, methods to identify bogus booze would have to be carried out in a laboratory but the handheld device would be able to give an immediate reading on the spot for the first time.

"Food and beverage counterfeiting comes with the very real potential for serious health, economic and social consequences, especially when it comes to alcohol products. An essential part of ensuring consumer confidence is to provide assurance that these products are authentic and have not been either contaminated or counterfeited," said Professor Roy Goodacre, who led the research.

The safety ramifications the SORS device could have for the consumer could be significant in its ability to spot dangerous levels of methanol, a chemical used in antifreeze, which can cause dizziness, blindness and even death if unknowingly consumed.