When your £635,000 collection of vintage Scotch is fake

June 12, 2019
 / 4 mins

Before you reallocate the kids’ inheritance to rare whisky, be sure it’s the real deal. That’s the upshot of a recent investigation into the authenticity of vintage Scotch, anyway.

The research was carried out by the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) in partnership with Rare Whisky 101 (RW101). They scrutinised fifty-five rare Scotch whiskies – randomly selected from secondary market sources – and used radiocarbon dating to place the bottles precisely in time.

Carbon dating 101

SUERC was able to date each bottle of whisky to within a two or three year period by measuring minute levels of radiocarbon (or C-14), absorbed by the barley used to make the mash.

When A-Bombs had their moment, global radiocarbon levels rose – offering modern researchers a measurable and accurate distillation date as either pre or post-1950s. Neat.

Shocking numbers of mock Scotch

Researchers found that one third (or twenty-one bottles) of the fifty-one-strong study weren’t from the year declared, or were flat-out phonies, sending £635,000 of combined value down the porcelain. “It is disappointing to see the large percentage of vintage whiskies that turn out to be fake,” said Professor Gordon Cook of SUERC.

Based on the findings, RW101 estimated that £41m worth of rare whisky – both in the market and private collections – is fake.

Among the shamed was a bottle of Ardbeg 1885 and a Thorne’s Heritage early-20th century blended whisky; from a private collection and auction house respectively.

Using the same methods, RW101 and Oxford University revealed a £7,600 dram of vintage Scotch purchased in a Swiss hotel to be fake, too.

Market unease

Old, dusty wines have always been exxy, but collectors and investors are increasingly thirsty for rare spirits – shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a vintage drop.

Parallel to the boom has emerged a fear of sham specimens, with Rare Whisky 101 co-founder Andy Simpson warning, “The exploding demand for rare whisky is inevitably attracting rogue elements to the sector”.

Avoid a faux pas

Out of the exposé comes priceless wisdom for the interested investor, with century-old whiskies proving particularly suspect.

100% of pre-1900 whiskies sampled were fake, which means if that bottle you’re coveting is more than one-hundred-years old, consider it guilty until proven innocent.

David Robertson, RW101’s (other) co-founder, said that vintage whiskies should be “assumed fake until proven genuine, certainly if the bottle claims to be a single malt Scotch whisky”.

What’s a collector to do?

Simpson from RW101 suggests that all buyers – from individuals to auction houses to brands – shouldn’t commit to a rare bottle of whisky “unless it has a professional certificate of distillation year/vintage by a carbon dating laboratory”.

Of course, to build a collection of whisky that you won’t be too afraid to actually drink, you can join the Club. We deal directly with distilleries and are proudly obsessive about this kind of thing. You could even grab one bottle to drink, and one to keep. While it may not be vintage yet, but it will be eventually.

There you go, we just saved you £635,000.

Ready to receive world exclusive whisky?