Fake whisky ‘infiltrating all routes to market’

20th December, 2018 by Amy Hopkins

Experts have lifted the lid on a haul of fake Scotch worth £635,000 (US$800,000), and estimate that there is around £41 million (US$52m) worth of high-end counterfeits on the global market today.

RW101 and SUERC have run a series a scientific tests to reveal the extent of the fake Scotch whisky market

Rare whisky valuation and consultancy Rare Whisky 101 (RW101) partnered with the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) to run laboratory tests on a random sample of rare whiskies.

Of the 55 selected bottles, which had been acquired by RW101 from different sources, 21 were confirmed to be either “outright fakes” or not distilled in the year stated, with all malt whisky samples declaring to date back to around 1900 outed as counterfeit.

Over the course of nine months, RW101 and SUERC carbon-dated the selection of whiskies to ascertain when the liquid was distilled.

Scientists are able to establish whether the barley used to make the whisky was grown in the pre- or post-nuclear era by testing the liquid’s radiocarbon levels.

The team at SUERC is able to ascertain the year of distillation within a period of two to three years if production took place after the 1950s, but there is a “wider vintage band” for samples predating the 1950s.

Following the forensic tests, RW101 said the problem of fake whisky is “much more prevalent than originally thought” and “infiltrates” all major routes to market for rare and vintage expressions, including private sales, auction houses and retail.

The tests included a bottle of Ardbeg 1885 acquired from a private owner, a bottle of rare Thorne’s Heritage early 20th century blended whisky acquired from an auctioneer, and a bottle of Ardbeg from the 1960 purchased from a retailer – and all three were found to be fake.

If the tested bottles were proven to be genuine, they would be collectively worth around £635,000 (US$800,000), according to RW101, and the oldest bottle could fetch a price of £150,000 (US$190,000).

RW101 estimates that the UK auction market for rare whisky could exceed sales of £36m (US$46m) by the end of 2018, but this is eclipsed by the predicted value of the global counterfeit market: £41m (US$52m).

“We are clearly disappointed to discover that, without exception, every single ‘antique’ pre-1900 distilled whisky RW101 have had analysed over the last two years has proven to be fake,” said David Robertson, co-founder of RW101.

“It is our genuine belief that every purported pre-1900 – and in many cases much later – bottle should be assumed fake until proven genuine, certainly if the bottle claims to be a single malt Scotch whisky. This problem will only grow as prices for rare bottles continue to increase”.

Fellow RW101 co-founder Andy Simpson said all buyers should refrain from purchasing any Scotch whisky distilled before 1900 without proof that the vintage has been verified through carbon-dating.

Last year, one of the world’s most expensive Scotch whisky drams, a Macallan 1878 costing £7,700 (US$10,000), was exposed by RW101 as a fake. In 2016, the firm unearthed a haul of rare Scotch worth £1m.

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