Experts are warning whisky collectors to be wary of fakes after a Chinese writer paid £7,600 for a dram of a vintage Scotch that turned out to be bogus.
Martial arts fantasy author Zhang Wei purchased the single shot of whisky labelled as an 1878 Macallan single malt, for just under 10,000 Swiss francs (US $10,050, £7,600) during his stay at the Waldhaus Am See hotel in St Moritz, Switzerland, in July.
It is believed to be the most anyone has paid for a dram of whisky, the BBC reported.
The hotel, which stocks 2,500 different whiskies, believed the unopened bottle of 1878 Macallan was legitimate, and had been bought by the former hotel manager 25 years ago, the BBC was told.
The bottle’s label claimed that the whisky was distilled in 1878, was matured for 27 years and was “guaranteed absolutely pure by Roderick Kemp, proprietor, Macallan and Talisker Distilleries Ltd”.
The fakery was revealed after news spread of the large sum paid and photos were posted. Industry experts who saw the photos questioned the provenance based on discrepancies in the bottle’s cork and label, which prompted the hotel to have the whisky analysed by Scotland-based specialists Rare Whisky 101 (RW101).
The tests, which were carried out by the University of Oxford and alcohol analysts Tatlock and Thomson, found that there was a 95 per cent probability the whisky was produced between 1970 and 1972, not 1878 as purported on the label, and that instead of being a single malt, the whisky was a blend, comprising 60 per cent malt and 40 per cent grain.
RW101 said the tests revealed the bottle was “almost worthless as a collector’ item”, according to the BBC. Zhang was reimbursed by the hotel.
According to ScotchWhisky.com, the bottle could have been one of a run of fake Macallans produced in Italy in the early 2000s.
“What’s dodgy with these bottles is that apparently, [Roderick] Kemp never owned Macallan and Talisker at the same time, and that nobody ever found traces of a company called Macallan and Talisker Distilleries Ltd,” Serge Valentin, collector and founder of the Whiskyfun website, told ScotchWhisky.com when the suspicions first surfaced. He also said the paper of the label was too new for the year dated on the bottle.
Emmanuel Dron, owner of The Auld Alliance bar in Singapore, who is writing a book on whisky collecting, agreed with Valentin’s assessment adding: “All the fakes have those corks that are artificially aged to make them look old, but they don’t have what all the real ones have, a natural ‘maturation’ of the cork that makes then shrink after decades.”
David Robertson from RW101, told The Herald Scotland there had been a noticeable uptick in vintage spirits being auctioned. “Over the past year, we have been invited by numerous bottle owners and auction houses to assess suspicious bottles. Indeed, we’ve noticed an increasing number of old, rare archive or antique bottles coming to market at auction, and it’s difficult to know how prevalent this problem is.”
He urged collectors to assess bottles to determine the spirit’s authenticity. “The more intelligence we can provide, the greater the chance we have to defeat the fakes and fraudsters who seek to dupe the unsuspecting rare whisky consumer.”
In a statement, Ken Grier from Edrington, the brand owner of Macallan, said: “As the leading brand in the fast-growing secondary market for rare whiskies, with an estimated 30 per cent share by value, we take this very seriously. We praise the work that our partners, RW101, are doing to bring awareness of any fraud to light. We would urge consumers to buy from reputable sources at all times.”