“I saw a collection that was completely fake, and it was all collected 20 to 30 years ago,” she said. “There are some really well-known fakes that keep popping up.”
Reliable statistics on the extent of the problem are difficult to obtain. Ms Graham-Yooll dismissed a 2018 study as hyperbolic, claiming that up to a third of all rare single malt bottles were fake. But she admitted that fakery is a big problem and it’s only going to get worse.
There is no shortage of anecdotes such as the meeting at Acker. In 2017, a Swiss hotel received a warning for selling the world’s most expensive dram to a Chinese tourist. Subsequent analysis of the liquid, which was claimed to be a single-malt Scotch made by the Macallan Distillery in 1878, showed that it was a blended Scotch made sometime after 1970.
Like the Acker bottle, the fake Macallan had flaws that were obvious to an expert eye: the wrong cork, modern glass. Partly because the counterfeiting field is so new, Mr Herz said, it’s not difficult to spot counterfeits — drip marks on a paper label, for example, are a good indication that the bottle has been used before.
“Most people are lazy and impatient,” he said.
The whiskey trade has yet to see its version of Rudy Kurniawan, the prolific, highly skilled counterfeiter whose 2013 conviction for making and selling millions of dollars of meticulously detailed fake Burgundy and California Cabernet rocked the wine world.
But maybe it’s only a matter of time. Experts say they have seen an increase in the quality of counterfeits; Mr. Herz suspects that at least a few counterfeiters have internal connections at the Kentucky distilleries, allowing them to build fake bottles from scratch, with impeccable labels and expertly crafted closures.
In response, a cottage industry has sprung up, especially in Britain, that promises high-tech countermeasures, such as through-the-glass chemical analysis, that allow sellers and collectors to assess the authenticity of a bottle without having to open it. But those are still under development and years away from widespread use.