Probe reveals extent of fake whisky problem

More than a third of rare and collectible Scotch whiskies in private collections and for sale on the secondary market could be fake, according to a new study.

The investigation on behalf of valuation service Rare Whisky 101 – reported by the BBC – found that 21 out of 55 randomly selected bottles of rare Scotch were either outright counterfeits, or whiskies not distilled in the year claimed on the label. And the older the whisky, the greater the likelihood of fraud – 100 per cent of whiskies claimed to be from 1900 or before were fake.

The bottles were tested using radiocarbon dating techniques at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), which allowed an accurate date of the contents to be established within a 2-3 year timeframe.

The study reveals the extent of fraud in the whisky trade, where the average bottle value has been climbing steadily in the last couple of years to reach almost £330 ($417) this year, according to Rare Whisky 101 data, although some bottles are sold for many times that amount. Last year, a Chinese man paid £7,600 for a single dram of 1878 Macallan single malt that turned out to be bogus.

Rare Whisky 101 reckons more than 100,000 rare and collectible bottles will be sold this year, which would put the market value at around £33m (almost $42m).

Among the batch of 21 fakes were an Ardbeg 1885, an early 12th century Thorne’s Heritage blended whisky, and another Ardbeg claimed to have been bottled in the 1960s. If tests had proven all 21 bottles to be genuine, collectively they could have been valued at about £635,000 ($800,000).

Based on these results, Rare Whisky 101 estimates that around $52m-worth of counterfeit rare whisky is currently circulating in the secondary market.

“We are clearly disappointed to discover that, without exception, every single ‘antique’ pre-1900 distilled whisky RW101 have had analysed over the last 2 years has proven to be fake,” said Rare Whisky 101 co-founder David Robertson in a statement.

“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.”

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