A single bottle of rare whiskey can auction for $1 million or more, but the market is ripe with fraud. Scotland researchers are racing to build groundbreaking technology to identify fakes.

Alasdair Clark artificial whisky tongue

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It was about 15 years ago when Sukhinder Singh, a collector and the cofounder of London-based premium spirits retailer The Whisky Exchange, first became suspicious. He’d been actively seeking old whiskey bottles since the early 1990s — rarely, though, had he ever encountered anything from a hundred years ago or earlier. 

Suddenly, a trove of rare finds appeared, almost out of nowhere, on the market, mostly offered for private sale, as is commonplace for rare liquors and wines. Rumors suggested that an unnamed dealer had acquired them from a single cellar. As the cascade continued, Singh’s suspicions grew stronger.

He and fellow aficionados, who had all bought bottles from this supposed stash, started examining these new treasures closely. From the outside, at least, they seemed legitimate — the labels, the closures, and the patina of the bottle passed muster; the real test would be the taste.

They decided to open a few of their purchases, and were alarmed as soon as they did: The corks looked too new. The flavor was confirmation. 

“We’d tried plenty of old whiskey, and we knew what flavors develop in the bottle, a slightly metallic, mushroomy, earthy taste — it mellows out,” he told Business Insider. “These had none of that.”

Clearly, he recalled, the dealer had instead bought some old empty bottles, filled them with cheap whiskey, and artfully aged the fakes. He said the seller has yet to be charged with a crime. “It was swept under the carpet, frankly, so some of those bottles are still floating around, and unassuming buyers end up with them,” he said.

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If only that were the only instance of risky whiskey; since then, Singh warned, it has snowballed. Some, though, are fighting back, notably two rival teams of researchers at Scotland’s best universities, who have devised different techniques to help short-circuit such counterfeiting.

Rare whiskey auctions have taken center stage in recent years

This rise in forgery, of course, has occurred over the last decade as a result of the soaring sums that rare Scottish drams can now fetch at auction. A 1926 Macallan sold for £1.5 million ($1.9 million) at Sothebys in October 2019, besting the record of £1.2 million ($1.5 million) for a single bottle from the same year a few months earlier.

It’s a staggering stat given the dearth of interest when Singh started collecting and just a few thousands bottles came up under the gavel each year. By 2017, 84,000 bottles of whiskey were deemed worthy of selling this way, with several operations dedicated solely to their sale, like the Whisky Auctioneer. 

The US, of course, is a prime market for these premium products: Sales for Scottish single malts stateside surged to 1.96 million cases in 2018, up 5.2% year over year. Americans are among the foremost collectors of vintage drams, the very market counterfeiters aim to fleece. 

Consider the late Pepsi Cola Bottling Co’s Richard Gooding, whose Denver, CO-based home had its own custom built pub, designed to showcase his 3,900-bottle collection; key …read more

Source:: Businessinsider – Life

      

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