August 21, 2018
As demand for rare whisky expressions rises, more fake expressions are appearing on the market, some almost identical to the originals. Now the movement of whisky forgeries has reached as far as Japan, a country with some of the lowest crime rates in the world, with the recent sale of some rare Hibiki whisky expressions by Suntory. Japanese whisky is in danger.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, two men were arrested today, on August 21st, for selling fake bottles of the world-renowned Hibiki 30-Year-Old by Suntory, owning company of the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries and Japan’s largest and most famed whisky maker. The two culprits were selling the Hibiki bottles for a much lower price that what the expression is currently going for on the secondary market. Usually found online for around $3,000-$4,000, the forgers well pushing the bottles for almost half that, making the deal irresistible to whisky fans. While the boxes and bottles were real, the contents were fake. The sellers were only discovered when a customer returned a bottle after realizing the liquid within wasn’t the three-decade-old Hibiki. The men, who were both antique shop clerks, were arrested in Tokyo, and denied the charges.
The fake Hibiki bottles follow a growing trend in the whisky industry, where drinkers are continuously fooled by almost identical representations of rare whisky bottlings. Most of the time, the empty bottles are refilled, resealed, and sold to collectors. With the price point of these bottles reaching five to six digits few will open and sample them. Instead, the fakes will remain on the shelf, perhaps even be sold on when the price rises. Last year, a Macallan 1878 whisky was discovered to be a fake in the bar of the Hotel Waldhaus in Switzerland, after a dram was poured (one of the most expensive in whisky history) for a Chinese customer. ‘I called the Chinese guest to tell him that it could be a fake and said we would give the money back if it is,’ the bar manager said in an interview. ‘It’s very important to us to find out if it’s a real bottle or if it’s a fake.’
Following this case and many others, The Times reported that the Scotch Whisky Association, the body which maintains the Scotch whisky industry with strict regulations and careful observation, is fighting over 60 cases of counterfeit whisky across the world. Apparently, SWA often hires private investigators to look into different whisky sales and bottles, to identify fakes. SWA has also sued companies for labelling whisky as Scotch, when the bottles merely mimic the famed liquid from Scotland.
While Scotch has rules protecting it, whisky made in Japan has almost no laws protecting the liquid labelled as Japanese whisky. The Hibiki forgery may be a more obvious case, but yet another rising issue exists in Japan. Many expressions are being released and labelled as Japanese whisky, when in fact, they contain whisky imported from other countries. While this isn’t illegal, due to the lack of laws surrounding Japanese whisky, it is a very misleading method used to confuse consumers, who believe they are purchasing stellar whisky from Japan when in fact they are buying cheap whisky imported and bottled in Japan. Sadly, this issue can only be solved if strict rules are imposed on Japanese whisky to protect provenance, transparency, and production.
As aged Japanese expressions continue to rise in value, let’s hope forgeries don’t spread further. The famed Yamazaki 50-Year-Old by Suntory broke another world record when it sold for $343,000 at a Bonham’s auction in Hong Kong last week. Needless to say, there is serious money to be made from forgeries. Moving forward, make sure to do your research before any purchase, buy from a reliable source, and if the price is too good to be true, well, then it isn’t.