Tips to avoiding buying FAKE Whisky

Whisky has, in some cases become incredibly expensive, and in many cases, the most valuable Lots are older bottlings from back in a time where faking the bottles would sound preposterous. Distilleries knocked out these bottles for their original purpose – to drink, consume and enjoy.

Fast forward a few decades and Whisky can still be drunk and enjoyed, but increasingly – at least for expensive bottles – they are more likely to become trophy pieces and investment-grade ornaments. Prices have skyrocketed, and along with the increasing price tag, they have inevitably become targets for counterfeiters.

Whilst there’s nothing wrong with investing in these appreciating assets, buyers must be aware and take care when buying expensive whisky to ensure the product they’re parting their cash for is the genuine article. This short piece will arm you with the information you need to avoid give forgeries and make intelligent investment decisions.

First of all, it’s worth discussing what exactly is a fake?  Good question! There are a few ways that we’d consider a bottle to be counterfeit. Here are some of them:

  1. Label Swap
    Do you have an old bottle of 10-year-old whisky and want to make lots of money? Why not consider removing the label from a more expensive (empty) bottle and transferring it to your bottle? Well, this is exactly what we’re talking about. By disguising a genuine bottle of something as something else, we’d consider this a fake.

  2. Refill Bottles
    This is when an empty bottle has been refilled with another liquid and re-sealed. The label and glass may well be real, but the liquid inside is definitely not!

  3. DIY Labels
    This is where counterfeiters find a similar glass bottle with productions codes to match and simply create their own labels and apply them. Typical signs of this might be poor quality printing/gilding on the labels. The box may be missing or wrong. There may be glue residue or the glue is applied to the entire label where it maybe shouldn’t be.


It may sound obvious, but spending a little time familiarizing yourself with the bottle you’re interested in will go a long way to make sure you don’t end up with a dud. Here are some tips which will guide you:


  1. Capsule Colour & Type
    Spotted a Macallan Private Eye but it has a gold capsule and not a black one ‘like it's supposed to’? Surely it must be a fake? Wrong – they produced them in both capsules. Due diligence is key here. It’s not uncommon to find the same bottle produced with different style capsules, so just because you’ve found it in one style from a reputable source doesn’t always mean the one you’re looking at with a different sealing mechanism is fake.

    Look around – has anyone else sold them with seals like this? Call a reputable auction house, who will likely be familiar with the bottle you’re looking at. If possible contact the distillery – did they ever make them with the type of seal you’re looking at?

    If you’re unable to verify that any other bottles were produced with the type of seal, it may well be a reason to give that bottle a wide berth.

  2. Bottle Codes
    Bottle codes can a useful tool to check a few things. First of all, let's discuss the different types of codes we’re referring to. On more modern bottles you’ll sometimes find the glass is imprinted with a unique code. Usually, it’s a code printed directly to the glass which the distillery will do as part of the bottling process. It’ll likely record information like where it was bottled, what time and sometimes even tell you the whisky inside. Cadenhead’s bottles sometimes have this information (Glenfarclas printed on ‘Probably the best Speyside Malt’). Ardbeg uses this on all their bottles, which you can use to identify the exact whisky inside.

    Other codes may well be present on the bottom of the glass. While not unique to a particular brand of whisky, the codes can often be used to establish the approximate production date of the bottle. Does it match with the Whisky you’re looking at?

  3. Shoulder Label
    Some Whisky labels are identical and the difference between a £500 bottle and £3000 one will be a vintage identifier shoulder label. It may well say ‘1937’ or similar. Are there signs of this label having being removed and glued back on? Does the print quality look correct?

  4. Liquid Colour
    Does the colour of the liquid look like it’s supposed to? 50 Years in a sherry cask and it looks like pale gold? It may be a sign that the liquid inside isn’t what it’s purporting to be. When in doubt check other examples online. The Internet is an incredible tool for this. A good start is Google Images, where you can find images from shops and auction houses of similar bottles.

  5. Choose your source carefully!
    Where are you buying the bottle from? Is it from a reputable source or dodgy Dave from the pub? Is the bottle you’re looking at complete? Does it come with the box & certificate as it should do? If not complete, is there a good reason for it? Or has it been snuck out of the bottling hall by a disgruntled employee?

    If in doubt always buy from a reputable source where you have some sort of comeback. Most auction houses will stand behind the bottles they sell and deal with any discrepancies swiftly and effectively. It’s not in their interest to sell fake bottles, and certainly not worth risking their reputation over.


This article doesn’t cover the whole scope of fakes or checks we perform but will give you a good starting guide to make sure you’re not stung. If you’d like guidance or more information when buying, drop us a line and we’ll be sure to help.