Fakes haunt spirit industry as UK police uncover large-scale fraud

It's not just fine wines that can be forged and faked and sold for millions – whisky too has in recent years become increasingly the target of counterfeiters, and the Met has now arrested a 41-year old man who was attempting to sell faked spirits an auction that could have made hundreds of thousands of pounds.\

London's Metropolitan Police raided the address of the now remanded man and said what they unearthed was on scale they had never seen before.

The path to creating counterfeit whiskies has a few noted methods, and include mixing it with ethanol originated from a raw spirit, or even synthetic ethanol, adding certain ingredients with flavouring properties.

Then there's the older, more simple trick of finding cheaper brand and re-bottling it as a more expensive form of the spirit.

In this case, the news site said the policed found a: "Sophisticated bottling operation that allegedly involved the refilling of hundreds of old bottles of whisky, rum and other spirits with cheaper liquids."

The raid at a residential address in north London came amidst a tip-off from Whisky.Auction director Isabel Graham-Yooll, who noticed a growing number of fake whiskies going up for auction among the genuine article.

She said: "What we saw at the property was a significant collection, hundreds of bottles, of supposedly valuable liquids that if genuine were unlikely to be available on such a scale.

"It was only when we really examined the bottles that we noticed things, like the labels didn't look quite right, the colour of the liquid didn't look quite the same as others, or the level of the liquid was just a bit higher than you'd expect for a bottle of that age or producer."

The Scotch Whisky Research (SWR) Institute notes that creating fake whisky "is relatively easy to perform," but warns that detection "is a great challenge for chemical laboratories."

In this case, the forgeries were detected by experienced in-house experts, although the auction house said that it could not rule out that some fakes may have been sold online. If anyone is suspicious, they should contact the site.

The Metropolitan Police said in statement: "Detectives from Organised Crime Command are investigating an allegation of fraud involving counterfeit whisky.

"The offence involves purported vintage whisky being sold at auctions in forged bottles and containing non-vintage spirit."

The SWR estimates that in 2011, the European spirit drinks industry produced 37.5m hectolitres of spirit drinks valued at over €23bn, around two‐thirds of which was exported. Having fakes in the midst of this, even on a small scale, can be damaging to brand reputation.

There are also potentially fatal consequences from faking spirits, and just last year around 50 people were killed by drinking fake Vodka in Ukraine.

The whisky industry has seen a growing number of fakes since the 1990s, but the problem is still much larger for the fine wine industry. Maureen Downey, who runs Chai Consulting, a business that specialises in wine authentication and valuation, said last year that as much as 20 per cent of the fine wine worldwide is fake, which would make fraudulent wine worth as much as $3bn at current market prices.

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