Collecting rare whisky is a the kind of avocation of the ultra-rich that I will never be able to understand or participate in, much like selecting cabinetry for a custom-built yacht, breeding racehorses, or having my own health insurance. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t cackle my uninsured face off about the results of a lab test suggesting that a full ⅓ of particularly sought-after Scotch could be completely fake.
According to the BBC, a whisky broker called Rare Whisky 101 (RW101) sent 55 bottles of supposedly vintage Scotch to a lab at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC). The broker had “growing concern” about the amount of fake booze that had been circulating on the secondary market, and wanted to have some of these collector’s items age-verified.
SUERC’s researchers used “advanced radiocarbon dating techniques” to determine the age of the Scotch in each bottle and, boy howdy, they had to be surprised by the results. (Professor Gordon Cook, the head of SUERC’s radiocarbon lab, called it “disappointing.”0 Of the 55 bottles that were tested, 21 of them were either completely fake or, based on the carbon dating, were determined to have not been distilled in the year on their labels. If these now-debunked bottles had been authentic, their combined value would’ve been an estimated £635,000 ($805,624).
RW101 suggested that there could be as much as £41M ($52M) worth of fake Scotch being sold on the secondary market. “This problem will only grow as prices for rare bottles continue to increase,” its co-founder David Robertson said. “The exploding demand for rare whisky is inevitably attracting rogue elements to the sector."
This isn’t the first time Robertson’s organization has had to break it to the wealthy that they’re being ripped off. In November 2017, RW101 and researchers at the University of Oxford determined that a dram of vintage single-malt that sold for £7,600 ($9,630) in a Swiss hotel bar was a total fake.
Instead of the 1878 Macallan single malt that he thought he bought, millionaire Zhang Wei actually got a blended Scotch that, according to carbon tests, couldn’t have been distilled before 1970. The hotel’s manager had no idea they’d been duped—he told the BBC that his dad had bought the bottle of Macallan 25 years ago, and it hadn’t been opened until Zhang asked if he could buy a pour. (He later flew to China to give Zhang a refund in person.)
Now RW101 is issuing a blanket warning about all vintage whiskeys. “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," Robertson said.
Man, being crazy rich must be hard.