When you order a vodka soda in a nightclub or a gin and tonic at a bar, you generally feel like you know what you're getting. Maybe some bottom-shelf, not-particularly smooth booze is used to mix your drink, should you go for the well, but the end result is the same, right?
Moonshine and other questionable home-brewed booze are found in the cuts of any part of the world (looking at you, Hamossy and Johnnie Worker Red Labial). But when you're on a barstool a few yards from a disco ball in a British nightclub, you generally feel like you know what you're sipping on.
But here's the thing: maybe you don't.
Late last year, more than 400 liquor shops in Leicestershire, England, were warned that door-to-door counterfeit booze salesmen were supplying stores with "vodka" cut with paint thinner and other solvents. And that was just one of dozens of similar scams that have riddled the UK in the past few years.
And the most recent near-victim to grossly dangerous fake booze is The Loft, a nightclub in in Weston-super-Mare, a seaside resort town in Somerset that is currently best known as the home of Banksy's dystopian theme park Dismaland. According to The Cheddar Valley Gazette (remember, Cheddar is a place and not just a cheese), it was there that a grifter named Andy Kebab offered four cases of what he claimed was Smirnoff Red Label vodka to Darren Mcguire last year.
At first, Mcguire consented and completed the transaction, as he and Kebab—real name Andreas Antounas—"had known each other for some years," according to prosecutor Robert Morgan-Jones. But something seemed fishy.
For one thing, the booze probably didn't taste right … which is because it was mostly made of windshield-cleaning fluid and antifreeze (and decidedly not the kind that's safe to drink). The faux vodka was found to contain isopropanol, a main component in these products that can cause organ failure if consumed in significant quantities (and even just the equivalent of one or two shots can cause illness). Essentially, it's rubbing alcohol.
The other problem: the "Smirnoff" was suspiciously impotent. Tests performed on the booze after Antounas was arrested revealed that it contained about 4.5 percent less alcohol than the minimum legal requirement for vodka.
Needless to say, Mcguire became pretty quickly convinced that the stuff was bogus, and opted to remove all bottles of it from service. He also contact the police, a representative from Smirnoff, and trade officials. During questioning, Antounas claimed that he "found the bottles by the side of the road." Sounds totally legit!
Bristol Crown Court recorder Jim Tindal was sympathetic that Antounas attempted the old switcheroo out of financial desperation rather than malicious intent, but nonetheless sentenced him to 20 weeks in prison and a two-year suspension, with 100 hours of unpaid labor and a £100 victim surcharge. The crimes: failure to adhere to food hygiene and labelling regulations and offenses under the Trade Marks Act. After all, Smirnoff was probably not pleased with having its name slapped on bottles of glorified window cleaner.
"I don't doubt for a moment that when you committed this offence, just before Christmas, you were in difficult financial circumstances and you were thinking about your family," Tindal said in court. "But you were not thinking about other people's family who would be [affected] by the tainted material you sold … I sentence you on the basis that you got this material from some source. You didn't really care or think about whether this material was dangerous, and it was dangerous and it was sold."
Customers of the Loft may have dodged a bullet, but beware of antifreeze martinis, even if you're in a booth with bottle service. Maybe poisonous, mislabeled vodka could be a great addition to the cocktail program at Banksy's creepy playland.