Mon 17 May 2004
COLLECTOR'S MARKET ROCKED BY FAKE MACALLAN DISCOVERY
After months of speculation, The Macallan has announced that some of it’s antique whisky is fake. Dominic Roskrow looks at the implications
News that some bottles of antique whisky held by The Macallan have proved to be forgeries is sending shockwaves through the whisky industry.
After extensive and lengthy tests the Macallan has reported that so far 11 bottles in its antique whisky collection have been identified as fakes. In all about 100 bottles could be affected but tests on the others are still to be carried out.
The announcement that some of the company’s oldest whisky is a forgery ends more than 18 months of speculation which was prompted originally by an article in Whisky Magazine written by Dave Broom.
In the original article he raised the issue of forgeries across the whole industry and argued that the large number of very old whisky bottles in perfect condition raised suspicions. Tests were carried out by the Macallan to ascertain that the bottles used and the paper on them were genuine. But many continued to question whether it followed that the liquid inside them was genuine.
Now it has been proved categorically that at least in the case of some bottles the whisky is far younger – in some cases just 10 years old.
Reacting to the discovery, the director of fine and rare whiskies for The Macallan, David Cox, said that he was very disappointed and pointed out that the discovery was symptomatic of a general industry problem.
“These fakes show what a difficult issue this is for the whole industry,” he says. “the bottles in question were bought after 2000, some from auction and some from private collectors. The people involved with buying them had no reason to think that they were forgeries or to suspect any wrongdoing.
“I decided to do tests to make sure that the bottles and paper used for the labels was genuine but it was only when the issue of fakes was raised by Dave Broom that there was any suggestion that something was amiss.
“When the tests on the bottles and paper proved that they were genuine we assumed that they were genuine because the bottles were sealed. That has now proved not to be the case.”
There was no suggestion of any wrongdoing at the Macallan, he said, and it was unlikely that there would be any internal repercussions.
“When this whisky was bought it was bought in good faith and at the time there was no reason to be suspicious about them.”
Research by Dave Broom and others suggests that the fake bottles originated in Italy and were created some 10 years ago. Their route to the Macallan via reputable dealers and through auction will raise question marks – not least of which is how it is possible for so many experts to be so completely duped.
More seriously for the future of the collecting industry within whisky, how can anyone trust the bottles they have already purchased and how can they act to prevent it happening again?
“This has to be seen as a wake up call to the whole industry,” says Dave Broom. “I am deeply sorry that this has happened, particularly to a company like Macallan for whom I have a lot of respect.
“But some serious questions have to be asked. I hate to say ‘we told you so’ but it’s not as if we didn’t warn about this. There seem to be some people in the whisky industry who believe that things don’t happen like this because whisky’s too nice. Well it does happen and we all have to beware of it.
“As far as this particular case is concerned it should have been dealt with much sooner. I am absolutely amazed that Macallan went ahead with their replica range knowing that this might happen.
The Macallan stresses that the fake issue is confined to the 100 antique bottles it purchased in a period between 2000 and 2002, and has nothing what to do with its core bottlings or its Fine and Rare bottlings, which are all derived from maturing cask at the distillery, or from stock ‘of known and proven provenance.’
“As a result of these tests from now on no antique bottles from the antique collection held at the distillery will be made available for sale,” says David Cox.
“For anyone who has bought such antique bottles in the belief, like us, that the whisky inside was genuine and are concerned about their purchases, we would be more than happy to supply the contact name and address of the laboratory which has completed the analytical work for ourselves. We are all concerned, for the good name of the industry, that such matters are cleared up for everyone’s sake.”
Now that the issue is finally out in the open there remain many unanswered questions and over the coming weeks there is likely to be a great deal of soul-searching over the forgery issue and the way it has been handled. It will be raised as a matter of urgency with the Scotch Whisky Association.
The one slice of good news about all of this so far is that the number of similar bottles has reduced significantly in recent months, suggesting that now the scam is in the open the perpetrators have retreated in to the background again.
But the advice would seem that collectors should be very careful when buying whisky.
“This proves absolutely that it is a matter of caveas emptor – let the buyer beware says Dave Broom. “Potential purchases need to find out everything they can before they part with their money. Unless you’re sure of the history and provenance of the bottle, don’t buy it.”
DAVE BROOM: “I am very sorry that this has happened but it is a wake up call. There have been some people that have at best been incredibly naïve here. You have to ask how this has happened. It’s not as if the Macallan weren’t warned and over the last year the company has been in a culture of denial to the point that it has given a hard time to anyone who has questioned it. Nobody should feel any joy that the cynics have been vindicated but steps have to be taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
DAVID COX: “We are of course bitterly disappointed that it has come to this though I am not totally surprised. It has repercussions across the whole industry. If we can sufficient evidence against the perpetrators then we would consider coming down hard with criminal proceedings. But to do that and get enough evidence both for Scottish and Italian law I suspect will be very difficult indeed.”
MICHAEL JACKSON: “Dave Broom in particular should be congratulated for his work in this area. I suppose the best that can be said is that it is a compliment to the world of quality whisky that people have faked it. After all you don’t fake pictures of galloping elephants on the wall of Boots do you?”