If you’re as old as this writer, you’d probably remember this classic episode of The Simpsons:
Comedy aside, this episode saw TV’s most celebrated animated family gave the world perhaps its first glimpse of a dangerous trade – the counterfeit alcohol or fake booze industry.
Today this illicit trade hasn’t slowed down. Instead, it has grown and reached new heights thanks to the advent of modern technology and ever-increasing demands. Not only are these deadly fakes bad for business, they’re also lethal to the unsuspecting consumer.
So before you even consider saving a few bucks buying a questionable bottle or can from a seller you’re unsure of, here’s what you ought to know and consider beforehand.
Underground factory producing fake cans of Budweiser gets busted in Dongguan.? http://shst.me/f4a
Posted by Shanghaiist on Monday, 29 May 2017
What are fake booze or counterfeit alcohol?
Fake or illegally produced (counterfeit) alcohol is defined as alcohol products (spirits or liquors) that are produced in unlicensed distilleries or homes that are being passed off as the real deal.
Organised crime syndicates run much of these operations worldwide. The most common modus operandi sees these syndicates ‘recycling’ genuine bottles or packaging that have been discarded, refilling and repackaging them back with questionable alternatives.
Some sophisticated operations have even gone to the extent of producing their own copies of trademarked bottles and packaging, as well as the alcoholic substances too.
Is this problem serious here in Malaysia?
The short answer to this is yes, and very. In fact, enforcers from the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry (KPDNKK) raided one such syndicate recently in Petaling Jaya. The syndicate had reportedly used genuine bottles and packaging that were recycled for their ‘re-packaging’ operation.
Now here’s the scary question left unanswered: What were they filling these bottles and cans with? The Ministry’s enforcers did not elaborate on this pending laboratory tests, but we’re certain it’s something no sane person would want to consume nonetheless.
However, the scariest realisation here is the fact this recently busted syndicate is just one of many such operations that operate underground illegally throughout the country!
What’s in these fakes?
As the old saying goes, the truth will either make you or break you. With the genuine article, you’ll have yourselves a great time and wake up in the morning to live another day, though sometimes with a migraine. With the fake stuff, you might not wake up at all.
While there have been recorded cases of syndicates refilling half of the bottle or can with the real deal and the rest with cheaper, lower-grade spirit from alternative brands. There are also cases where these fakers fill the entire bottle with deadly poisons – these methods are escalating rapidly.
A prime example of this is the wave of fake American Whisky that plagued parts of Russia in recent years, killing and hospitalising dozens in its wake. Investigations by local Russian authorities revealed that these fakes contained a deadly mixture of methanol with ethanol and water with added colouring and aroma concentrates
While ethanol is safe to consume in moderation, methanol isn’t. Given that Methanol is the same stuff used in making cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and anti-freeze, it’s easy to see why it can literally kill you.
How does fake alcohol damage the industry?
According to the International Federation of Spirits Producers, the global fake booze trade has led to an estimated $1bn in annual losses in revenues towards a multitude of businesses and brands.
The organisation adds that this deadly trade will destabilise the global drinks industry if left unchecked. The revenue losses could lead to lost business opportunities, not forgetting the likelihood of cutting thousands of jobs for people worldwide as well.
Crucially though, beyond the dollars and cents, there’s also the human toll to consider. Given the dangerous poisons that the bulk of these fakes contain, it could cause more deaths and perhaps a health pandemic on a large scale too.
How do I spot fake booze?
Now that you completely fathom the dangers and risks of it, here are some simple ways to spot fake booze that’s widely sold in the open market. These basic steps will help curb you from consuming something that might kill you.
The first golden rule in buying your booze is to always buy it from reputable retailers such as major supermarkets or authorised and licensed retailers. If you’re buying online, ensure it is from a legitimate online retailer like Boozeat.com.
You’ve probably heard this one before, but it can’t be any more truthful than it is. “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” For instance, if a bottle of your favourite premium spirit usually retails over the counter for RM500, then it shouldn’t cost less than half of that at any time – even in duty-free retail.
3. Inspect the label
Regardless of where you buy your supply from, make it a habit of inspecting the label and stamps on the bottle for irregularities. Usual telltale signs of fakes include poorly placed labels, be it misaligned, have a trace of glue or adhesive around it, or have creases – it should be perfect. Another telling sign is typos and misspelt texts.
4. Inspect the caps/corks
Another key area to spot for irregularities are the sealed caps or corks. If the manufacturer’s seal is broken or mismatched in quality and position, chances are it’s tampered. The genuine article should have properly sealed caps or corks plus a government-issued duty-paid hologram stamp.
5. Fake barcodes
Even if you’re not buying in bulk, it’s always good to check the barcodes on the labels and packaging. Fakes usually have the same number combination repeating on several bottles – it shouldn’t with the real thing. Additionally, if you have a barcode scanner app on your phone, scan it and see if it’s listed as the correct product.
6. Smell and taste
If you sense a strong odd odour akin to chemicals or even petrol, then you don’t need a college degree to tell you that whatever it is you have there shouldn’t be ingested. If it’s a spirit that you regularly drink, do take note of any off tastes too. If you do encounter this, immediately return the bottle back to where you purchased it or have it checked with the relevant authorities.