Did you hear the one about the man who paid over $10,000 for a single shot of an 1878 Macallan? This was reportedly the most money ever paid for a dram and turns out, the Scotch was a fake! The Chinese millionaire bought the drink from a Swiss luxury hotel, which has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for their whisky collection. But after reports and pictures of this momentous occasion began circulating in 2017, discrepancies were noted about the bottle and experts were brought in. Rare Whisky 101, a company that serves as consultants at whisky auctions, was able to discern the whisky was, indeed, fraudulent, and most likely created in the 1970s. The bottle was purchased by the hotel proprietor’s father nearly 30 years ago, and there had never been any question as to its authenticity. The owner personally flew to China to reimburse the gentleman who’d purchased the drink and explain the situation.
It came out alright in the end for the tourist, thanks to the investigative powers of RW101 and the hotel’s honesty; but according to a study carried out by Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in 2018, one in every three bottles of rare whisky could be fake! A luxury pursuit by the incredibly wealthy, bottles of whisky have been sold at auction for millions of dollars. With such an exorbitant amount of money on the line, it begs the question: how can one tell when a high end or rare whisky is the real deal?
While there are older methods such as cork and bottle analysis and carbon dating available, those can be a rather invasive way to test the spirit within. An interesting use of technology called Blockchain is one way consumers can verify what they’ve purchased is legitimate. Blockchain has made the distilling process transparent; from grain suppliers through to aging conditions and bottling, it’s all traceable, so you know the product is authentic. Blockchain tracing processes are used in many industries, from food and beverages to pharmaceuticals and finance; however, not all whisky brands utilize this service.
But there’s another recent addition in the world of whisky anti-fraud. The physicists at St. Andrews College in Scotland have come up with a way to test whisky without the need for opening and potentially destroying the value of rare bottles. Thanks to technology and human ingenuity, the team uses laser lights to test the chemical compounds of the liquid inside the bottle (this isn’t limited to just whisky, and I’m sure it would be most welcome in the wine world where fraudulent wines are a massive problem, as well). As the chemical compounds in each whisky are unique, like a fingerprint, that’s how they’re able to analyze the contents and see what’s really going on, without harming the precious liquid inside.
As for this humble writer, I’ll probably never have to worry about my whisky being an imposter and will enjoy it immensely, regardless of not paying millions. Sláinte!