Whats The Most Expensive Bourbon Youve Ever Had – This refilled bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s 15-year-old Family Reserve Bourbon is part of a replica collection held by whiskey expert Adam Herz in Los Angeles. Credit … Rosette Rago for The New York Times
To the casual eye, there’s nothing wrong with a bottle of whiskey sitting on a shelf at Acres, a wine shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But for anyone who knows what to look for, the warning signs are clear.
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Whiskey, a bourbon called Col. E.H. Taylor for grain that sells for about $1,000 per acre, usually packed in special cardboard tubes; This one is sitting there tubeless. His striped cap, set on top of the cork, was on his back.
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However, when a producer of the television news program “Inside Edition” questioned the authenticity of the bottle in April, the store assured him that it was legitimate.
Producers bought whiskey, then brought it to Buffalo Trace, a Kentucky distillery owned by Colonel E.H. Taylor line bourbon for chemical analysis. The bottle turned out to be fake: it had been refilled with cheap whiskey and resealed, then sold to Acres as part of a private collection.
The store said it pulled some bottles from the collection off the shelves, and offered refunds on bottles that had already been sold. But that didn’t stop “Inside Edition” from covering the incident in a flashy news report a few weeks later.
It’s just the latest high-profile example of what distillers, retailers and consumers describe as a growing problem for the bourbon industry and its millions of fans. American whiskey has become a chronic problem for buyers of fakes, fine wines and single malt Scotch in recent years.
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“We’ve had fans from all over the United States contact us to say they’ve been misled,” Mary Tortoris, general counsel for Sazerac, the company that owns Buffalo Trace, said in a statement in September.
Scams looking for fertile ground. “Luxury bourbon” was once an oxymoron; Now, it’s the hottest thing in whiskey. According to the United States Distilled Spirits Council, domestic sales of premium American whiskeys — bottles priced at more than $50 — nearly doubled to four million cases from 2016 to 2020, an average increase of 30 percent for all American whiskeys.
At the very high end, where bottles sell for $500 or more, demand has outstripped supply, leading to long lines at liquor stores and a robust secondary market, mostly on private social media. Trading or selling in such groups is illegal, although some places, including Kentucky and New York state, have begun to relax their laws to allow private collectors to sell through auction or licensed retailers such as Acker.
The disruption caused by the pandemic has also created a new breed of fraudsters, some out of financial desperation, others out of boredom. And that’s creating a new victim group, as bourbon drinkers at home with disposable income join the fray, eager to show off their latest trophy.
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“Part of the problem is the culture I see around bourbon, where it’s all about showing off and being able to Instagram the bottle you buy,” says Adam Herz, a whiskey collector and fake bottle expert in Los Angeles. “Most of the people I see who end up with fakes are partly to blame. Anyone who is good knows how to take advantage of other people’s greed.”
Mr Herz said he had seen an increasing number of fake American whiskeys being sold, and had not received enough of a response from distilleries and retailers. Credit … Rosette Rago for The New York Times
Bourbon in 2022, in other words, is a counterfeiter’s dream, shaped by high demand, limited supply, and a steady stream of new and naive enthusiasts, all willing to part with money—and authority—when they find it. possibility to approach. Fraud has been committed in transactions that are by definition illegal.
To make it easy to cheat, most refiners only have one step. Few are willing to publicly acknowledge the problem, for fear of encouraging counterfeiting and diminishing interest in legitimate products themselves. Despite the ease with which such closures can be forged, many still pack their bottles with the usual wrap seal.
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Many luxury whiskeys, like this bottle of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon, come with shrink-wrapped seals that are easy for counterfeiters. Credit … Eamonn Hassan for The New York Times
Even talking about fake bottles in public creates confusion. Because both the likelihood of counterfeiting and the fines for getting caught are so low, any discussion of fake whiskey can encourage more people to try it – or, if they’re already involved, give them tips to up their game.
Mr Herz said he is regularly contacted by people posing as whiskey buyers asking if he can tell them if a particular bottle is fake – when, in fact, he suspects they are unaware of how scammed they are. Improve their technique.
Mr. Herz, who works by day as a Hollywood producer and is best known for creating the “American Pie” franchise, first became suspicious of fake bourbon around 2016 when he noticed that empty bottles of the high-end whiskey were selling quickly online. . .
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“What bothers me is the empty bottles of Pappy Van Winkle for sale on eBay,” he said. “I said, ‘What makes you think all these people are buying bottles?’
Each bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, a famous brand that often fetches more than $5,000 on the secondary market, comes with a unique identification code. Mr. Herz was able to read the numbers from the blank photos he found on eBay.
He then went to one of the many private bourbon fan groups on Facebook where people buy and sell brands like Pappy. After a few minutes, he said, he found a once-empty bottle, refilled and resealed, sold for thousands of dollars.
At that time, few brands beyond Pappy Van Winkle commanded the kind of price that could justify the effort to counterfeit them. But in the past five years, as wealthy collectors began snapping up rare and prestigious bottles, more than a dozen other brands began to rise in price, attracting the interest of scammers, especially on the secondary market.
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For years, counterfeiters have focused on creating fake bottles in the Pappy Van Winkle line, but recently A.H. Hirsch Reserve, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, Blanton’s, Four Roses and George T. Others, including Stag, have passed. Credit … Eamonn Hassan for The New York Times
Many whiskey people, such as Pappy Van Winkle and Colonel E.H. Taylor, created by Buffalo Trace, and George T. Stagg, W.L. Weller 12 years and a double eagle is very rare. Five years ago a single barrel bottle of Blanton’s, another Buffalo Trace brand, cost about $65 at retail in New York; It now sells for up to $1,000 on the secondary market.
Bourbons made by other distilleries, including Miktor’s, Willett and Brown-Forman, are also in demand. And there is a small but vibrant business in so-called dusty whiskey, which may have sat on liquor store shelves for decades when bourbons were declassified, but suddenly became unicorns. Polva, as it is commonly known, is particularly easy to fake because it usually comes with a screw top, and because most consumers are unaware of the packaging.
The American fake business is still years behind the market for fake single malt Scotch, where counterfeiters have a longer and more sophisticated steering wheel.
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Isabelle Graham-Yule, a whiskey expert in London, said counterfeit bottles of single malt scotch had been a problem for years, so she trained a team to stop counterfeiters. Credit … Bitter Yen for The New York Times
Ms Graham-Yule pointed to the fake tax stamp, one of the many bottles of fake whiskey she keeps in her office for reference. Credit … Bitter Yen for The New York Times
Isabelle Graham-Yule, director of Whisky.Auction, an online auction site, said fake scotch has long been a thriving business around the world, largely driven by organized crime and focused on volume, which fraudulently sells thousands of fakes and knockoffs. Familiar names – James Walker, for example, or Cutty Stark.
Much of the high-volume, low-value business takes place in emerging markets, where demand for Western luxury goods is strong and regulatory oversight is weak.
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A different problem faces producers of luxury single malt scotches and bourbons. Most copies are made by small groups or individuals, and bottles can pass through many suspicious hands before reaching the eyes of an expert at an auction house. (To complicate matters for auctioneers like Ms Graham-Yule, private trade in bottles is generally legal in the UK.)
“I saw a collection that was completely fake, and everything was collected 20 to 30 years ago,” he said. “There are some known fakes that keep popping up.”
Reliable numbers on the size of the problem are hard to come by. Ms Graham-Yule dismissed the 2018 study as hyperbolic, saying it was up to a third of all.