We are often asked how to spot a fake bottle of whisky or other fake spirits. The short answer is that we use the best and most experienced spirits experts in the business. Our team inspects each and every bottle we receive and we don’t auction anything we are unable to authenticate. It sounds obvious doesn’t it? But retailers and auction houses that don’t share our anti-forgery measures have become a soft target and regularly fall for fakes.
Fortunately fake spirits remain a rarity, but here are some of the tips we can share with you on how to spot a fake for yourself even before you’ve opened the bottle. Here are our top seven signs to look for:
It is extremely unusual (but not unheard of) for typos to make it on to the labels of authentic bottles. We’ve seen all sorts of spelling mistakes on labels, from the comical ‘Botled’ and ‘Highlend’ to the downright ridiculous ‘Clenlivet’.
However, we’ve also spotted genuine spelling errors in English words on the Italian independent bottled labels, and even Glenfiddich has ‘Distillled’ with three ‘L’s on its Millennium Vintage expression.
Odd Fonts and Typefaces
Many typefaces used on labels are proprietary and brand specific so they are not easily reproduced. Examine the label carefully when inspecting a bottle.
Look closely at the finer details, such as word spacing, look at where one line of text sits in relation to another, and how the numbers and punctuation are printed on the label.
Look at the placing of the royal warrant as well as the print quality.
Is it a Refill?
Some fake bottles of whisky may look perfect and that’s because they are perfect. Almost.
The design and the type of glass might be correct, the label is an original and the closure looks good too, but something doesn’t add up.
Look closely for signs that the tamper-evident closure has been, well, tampered with.
Perhaps there are unexpected tool marks on the screwcap or the capsule appears to be too loose or it looks almost like it’s been gnawed at. It may be that the wax closure looks clumsily applied. Or the stopper is the wrong size.
Pictured is a clumsily applied capsule on a refilled wine bottle.
Any of these clues may indicate that an empty bottle has simply been filled with a cheaper liquid and resealed.
Colour of the Liquid
You can expect whiskies from the same cask or the same batch to have the same colour, so compare the bottles side by side in the same light.
Clear glass bottles are easier to examine but it is still possible to spot different coloured liquid in green or brown glass.
You might find it easier to use a camera and photograph them, but be careful to use identical lighting for each bottle.
Old bottles can have lower fill levels due to evaporation over the years.
Has your bottle got a suspiciously high or low fill level when compared to others of the same age?
When you look at fill levels remember that some closures, such as spring caps and good screw caps, have a tighter seal and are better at preventing moisture and volume loss so the fill levels can remain stable for decades.
The best test is to find an identical bottle to compare it to as they would have been filled at around the same time and using the same processes.
Use all the gizmos and gadgets available to you but make sure you understand what the results mean.
For example China’s favourite spirit, Kweichow Moutai Baijiu, is a known target of counterfeiters. The Kweichow Moutai company has long been aware of this problem and so the label and capsule design have become increasingly difficult to reproduce. The label includes holograms, deliberate inconsistencies in the text, missing lines and unusual curves thrown in to fool the counterfeiter. Since around 2000, an RFID chip has been included in the cap to help Baijiu fans authenticate their purchase via an app.
The picture shows a genuine Kweichow Moutai 2014 Baijiu.
Similarly, Prooftag’s Bubble Seal system, adopted by French winemakers such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild, adds a sophisticated level of complexity, with a unique bubble pattern being linked to a 13 digit alphanumeric code.
Vintage statements on labels can add desirability because they indicate that a particular batch was selected for a reason. Some limited edition spirits display the vintage or distillation date on a neck label.
Something we’ve spotted a number times is fake vintage neck labels and it is another cheap trick to look out for. An old bottle might be completely genuine in every way, the seal is intact and the liquid is genuine. Everything is as it should be and the bottle is not fake in any way except for one thing, there’s an additional sticker, often on the neck of the bottle.
This trick is easy to fall for because it plays on a collector’s desire to discover something a little special, a previously unseen edition.
Additional stickers applied to genuine non-vintage or no-age-statement bottles to make them appear rare and more valuable is a simple trick and can be difficult to verify without specialist expertise.
The bottle pictured is a traditional Basquaise bottle from Gelas (a superb Armagnac). It is an excellent Hors d’Age 25 year old. However Gelas never used a vintage neck label with this presentation and the misleading ‘1900’ neck sticker has been added by someone later.
This is just a basic guide and any reliable auction house or retailer should be inspecting bottles on your behalf before sale. Each lot should include clear images as well as a brief condition report to demonstrate that the bottle has been checked.
For more tips on how to avoid whisky fraud read our Buyer Beware feature.