Refills, Replicas and Relics
With values at record highs for many desirable bottles of rare whisky, we continue to witness increased numbers of fake scotch whisky bottles hitting the market.
The vast majority of the UK’s dedicated and knowledgeable whisky auctioneers are consistently policing the market where they have ‘eyes-on’ and can identify rogue sellers and/or bottles.
It is impossible to place an estimate on the value of fake bottles/liquid in the broader market. However, what we can say with 100% certainty is we are observing an increasing number of fakes across all value segments.
During 2016, we acquired a bottle of “1903 Laphroaig” and undertook a series of forensic and analytical investigations to prove its authenticity. We assessed the glass, the label, the capsule, the cork and ultimately the liquid and have proven, beyond any reasonable doubt it is not the genuine article.
Bottles which are easily refilled, re-sealed and re-sold. These can be exceptionally hard to spot without opening, as everything about the bottle is genuine - other than the liquid! Refills are bottles that have been opened and refilled with an alternative liquid, then the original capsule has been carefully re-applied.
The bottle, label, cork stopper and even the closure are 100% authentic with only the liquid in one bottle being fake (colour-matched cold tea). Impossible to spot without opening. We have recently noticed in a 40
year old Dalmore that the capsule had been carefully sliced open at the back, bottle contents refilled (with lighter liquid) and the capsule re-sealed and bottle placed at auction.
Genuine capsule, closure, label and glass… fake liquid in all three bottles as some refills are impossible to spot visually
One bottle is genuine, one is refilled with cold tea. Impossible to distinguish between the two?
A cunning crook snipped off the RoPP ring on this previously opened bottle and refilled it.
These tend to be the many classic fakes we have seen over the years, where the labels are reproductions of the genuine article. These can be easier to spot as labels often look ‘wrong’, especially where metallic text/bronzing/ detailing is hard to apply without using expensive printing equipment. Replicas are bottles where the fakers have tried to reproduce the labels – neck, shoulder, front and back – and often they get very close to perfection and the unsuspecting auctioneer and their buyers may not spot these issues. The Macallan is the classic replicated brand, but with prices where they are, why would it not be?
One of the most faked bottles, the Macallan Gran Reserva series. ALL vintages and variants have been faked.
The first image above shows a classic fake 30-year-old. There is no way the brand would allow a label of this quality to be released. A genuine bottle is currently worth around £3,500 at auction, so the rewards for this criminal activity can be substantial.
Antique/ancient, very old looking bottles. We recently had sight of a list of exceptionally old/rare bottles in the ‘Relics’ category where, out of 499 bottles, we suspected 486 to be fake. The few, which could be genuine, were more recent releases, so stood a chance of being real. If these old bottles were authentic, we estimate they would carry a minimum approximate value of around £10,000 per bottle (some would certainly be far more individually), so around £5million in total. If an inexperienced buyer thought these were the real deal and took them through a private sale, someone could easily be duped out of a significant amount of money. Given that the whole auction market in the UK is worth some £14m, to find a collection of fakes worth £5m is clearly concerning.
Our investigations in to this class of fakes led us to acquire a Laphroaig purported to be from 1903. We assessed the glass and labels and were satisfied the "packaging" was of its era. But what of the liquid - we decided to open and assess the liquid and were disappointed to find (both organoleptically and via technical analysis) that it was a young blended scotch, no phenols (weird if its was Laphroaig) and had it carbon dated to confirm it was distilled in very recent times.
We have recently seen fake Japanese whisky and we have seen fake bottles of the now legendary (and exceptionally expensive) Hanyu Cards series. With recent increases in values being so rapid, we have absolutely no doubt we’ll see more fake high-end Japanese bottles appear on the market. As other Scotch distilleries become increasingly popular and the liquid more valuable, we’re starting to see suspected fakes from the likes of GlenDronach and others. It is not just top end, high value bottles we’re seeing, but lower value, easily re-filled bottles also pose a threat.
In the current market where rarities are appreciating in value, the incidence of fakes will increase – anyone (auctioneer, brand owner or collector) who says otherwise is fooling themselves. The key thing for buyers is to not be averse to simply walking away. No matter how much a bottle is needed to complete a collection or is reported to be the best liquid in the world, if anything looks even slightly wrong about it then leave well alone. One of our customers recently said of the subject of fakes, and his words sum it up perfectly:
“If it smells fishy to me… it’s usually fish – not Scotch!”.
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