Fake collectible alcohols – how can we protect ourselves?

Anna Kowalska| 2021-08-02 00:00:00
Since the very beginnings of human activity connected with creating exquisite liquor, its inferior quality fakes have also started to crop up. The process was accelerated, the key components were replaced, or other ingredients were added to ensure the genuine-looking color or consistency. With the advent of deluxe, high-priced collectibles, the process of falsification of the most precious of them began to gain strength. Currently, the most popular fakes are Scotch whiskies, also distillates from Japan, prestigious cognacs and aged rums.

Cognac was one of the first from the brown spirits category to fall victim of counterfeiters. Its sublime taste and intricate production process resulted in many illegal producers wanting to take the shortcuts and earn fortune taking advantage of recognized distillers. When in the 19th century the vineyards of the Cognac region were plagued by phylloxera, the market was inundated with cheap fakes and ersatz alcohol made from potatoes. The decline in the quality of cognacs available on the market caused English and French Middle Classes reach for whisky, whose popularity, as well as prices began to rise dramatically. With the development of the collector’s market and the advent of the first several-dozen-year-old specimens of Scottish malts in mid 20th century, the prices of the most sought-after liquors soared dramatically. Today, the most expensive ones are sold at exorbitant prices, unaffordable for most collectors. A prime example can be Macallan, whose 60-year-old whisky from 1926 (bottled in 86 ‘), with a hand-painted label by an Italian artist, was sold in 2018 for 1 million pounds.

The prices of the most sought after brown spirits have become a tasty morsel for counterfeiters who try to fake branded alcohol in assorted ways. It is advisable to check which methods are used by dishonest vendors and what to look for in order to avoid a fake.

Filling the original bottle with another liquid

Some of the collectible bottles can be easily opened and closed again, and filled with the alcohol of inferior quality has not matured for as long. The bottle, the label and even the cork are therefore 100% original, but the contents- not anymore. The leading spirits manufacturers are increasingly protecting themselves against such counterfeits by using NFC technology and putting in a chip in the bottle cork verifying that the bottle has been opened. That technology was applied e.g. by a Cognac producer Remy Martin and the ancient Dictador rum in its 2Masters series.

The authenticity of the liquid can also be verified by examining the percentage of alcohol content – it should be equal to that on the label. A laboratory test may also be conducted to verify the content of plant phenols or to check the liquor date using C14 charcoal – This method is extensively applied e.g. in archeology. It is not one of the cheapest ways but it clearly answers the question whether the grapes or barley used to produce the alcohol are as old as claimed by the seller.


In this case, the forger does not only counterfeit the liquid, but also strives to fabricate the bottle and the label. You can usually verify this by at least comparing the pictures of the product label available on the Internet. Shortcomings are usually evident in the range of printing inks and label elements with metallic text or embrowning – forgers cannot afford the original printing equipment from a given epoch. A typical frequently forged brand is the aforementioned Macallan.

Relics and old bottles

From time to time, in auctions entire collections of old bottles may appear at surprisingly attractive prices – they are often found in the attic, or inherited from an uncle or grandfather. Dishonest vendors in such cases usually prey on the buyer’s emotions and create the impression of an extraordinary bargain, which will surely be sought after by collectors, so it is better to hurry up. The lack of knowledge or willingness to expand the liquor collection makes even the most-seasoned collectors give in to the temptation of purchasing the product, unaware of its origin.

How large is the scale of counterfeits?

What is the percentage of fake products on the market – nobody knows. It is certain, however, that with the growing market, we need to be more vigilant and closely examine each bottle, as the counterfeiters are well aware of the growing demand for such goods and the extortionate prices of the most-coveted items. The problem of fake premium spirits is not only about the markets that we usually associate it with, e.g. Russia or China, but also the United Kingdom, recognized for the brown spirits market. (It is estimated that respectively 1/3 cognacs in Russia and 70% of brandy in China are counterfeited famous brands!).

In 2018, a study carried out by the SUERC (Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre) on samples provided by a recognized intermediary, Rare Whisky 101, has proven that out of 55 bottles of rare single-painted malts tested as many as 21 appeared to be forged. In 2017, the same company proved that the most expensive Scotch whisky – allegedly Macallan from 1878 – purchased for £7.600 by a Chinese writer Zhang Wei in a Swiss hotel, also appeared to be a fake. In fact, it was a blended Scotch from the years 1970 – 1972….

It all proves that the counterfeiters are not in vain and are aware of the benefits they can derive from passionate collectors who are willing to pay exorbitant amounts to expand their collections. With the increasing number of enthusiasts and the growing demand for these types of products, we can expect that illegal procedure to thrive also on the Polish market. It is important to raise awareness of this phenomenon among consumers, publicize illegal sales attempts, acquire alcohols only from trusted sources and stick to proven principles that can protect us from the acquisition of a counterfeit product. Only in this way will we evade the unnecessary stress, disappointments and save money. And above all, we will ensure that our passion can be a wise future investment.


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