The problem of fake whisky is very real—and it can cost honest whisky lovers a lot of money, time, and agony. But there are ways to protect yourself from being duped, especially if you can examine the bottle yourself. Here’s how to spot a counterfeit whisky.
Conduct a Strip Search
Counterfeiters often transfer a genuine tax strip from an old wine bottle to cover up a refill. If a tax strip is in place, carefully feel around the neck for sticky patches, which could indicate where the original strip was removed.
Be Level Minded
Fill level is a good indication of the condition of a whisky. On release, most bottles are filled to the mid-neck, although some, like Karuizawa, are filled only to the shoulder. Ullage (the airspace in the bottle) can increase over time. Be suspicious of bottles from the 1960s or earlier with high neck fills.
Magnify the Problem
Using a magnifying glass, jeweler’s loupe, or a handheld digital microscope, check the printing for vertical ridges or pixilation, indications of a home-printed facsimile.
Read the Fine Print
Look closely for mistakes, misspellings, or anachronisms in the text. Criminals don’t make great proofreaders.
Start at the Bottom
Whiskies bottled in the 1970s or earlier often have sediment at the bottom, especially those matured in sherry casks. The absence of sediment could indicate a refill with modern whisky.
Give it a Spin
Try to spin the capsule to check for a snug fit. If it feels loose or spins freely around the neck, it may have been replaced. Branded capsules, holograms, ribbons, tamper-proof seals, and branded adhesive strips offer more assurance than clear plastic.
Find Some Closure
Ensure the ridges, color, and material of the cap match known examples online. Check that the breakaway base ring of a screw cap has not been broken and reattached.
Do the Fake Shake
Give the bottle a shake and look closely at the ‘beading,’ the ring of frothy bubbles that form. The bubbles will disappear rapidly in a whisky bottled at 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), but persist for 20-30 seconds in a whisky bottled with an ABV higher than 50%. The beading should reflect the alcohol volume stated on the label.
Go Over the Edge
Older labels are easily removed and glued to another bottle. Feel along the edges of the label for recently applied adhesives. Pay special attention to chips in the label. On a vintage bottle, a chip won’t leave any glue residue.
Fakes are often housed in lighter bottles, so pay attention to your first impression of the bottle weight. The silhouette should match comparative bottles online, including the depth and shape of the dimple on the bottom of the bottle, called the punt. There is a lucrative trade in refilling genuine bottles, so even a correct bottle is no guarantee of authenticity.