If you're as old as this writer, youд'd probably remember this classic episode of The Simpsons:
Comedy aside, this episode saw TV's most celebrated animated family give the world perhaps its first glimpse of a dangerous trade - the counterfeit alcohol or fake booze industry.
Fast forward to the present day and, unfortunately, this illicit trade shows no signs of slowing down, even here in our own backyard. If anything, the advent of modern technology and growing demands has propelled it to insane new heights.
In all seriousness, counterfeit alcohol or fake booze are not only bad for business, they're deadly to you as a consumer. Today, we'll explore some of the dangers this trade holds for you, and we'll give you several damn good reasons to avoid them at all costs.
What are fake booze or counterfeit alcohol?
Fake or illegally produced (counterfeit) alcohol is defined as alcohol products that are produced in unlicensed distilleries or homes that are being passed off as the genuine article (sounds familiar?). Usually, organised crime syndicates mastermind these operations.
Syndicates usually make fake booze by recycling genuine bottles and packaging and refilling them with questionable alternative substances instead. Some syndicates even produce their own copies of renown brand's bottles, packages and even substances too.
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image source: KPDNKK via theSun Daily[/caption]
How serious is the problem here?
Very. Enforcers from the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry (KPDNKK) have in fact raided one such syndicate here in Petaling Jaya just recently. The syndicate had reportedly used genuine bottles and packaging that were recycled for their 're-packaging' operation.
[caption id="attachment_16779" align="aligncenter" width="874"] images sourced from: KPDNKK via theSun Daily[/caption]
Now here's the scary bit: The Ministry's enforcers did not elaborate on what the syndicate were filling these 'recycled' bottles with pending laboratory tests. The even scarier bit is the fact this is just one of many such operations that operate underground illegally throughout the country!
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image source: shameonyou.buzz[/caption]
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. With the fake stuff, you might not.
While there have been recoded cases where syndicates filled half the bottles with the real spirit and filled the rest with lower grade spirit from cheaper alternative brands, there have been rising cases where these fakers fill the entire bottle with deadly poisons.
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image source: scotchwhisky.com[/caption]
A clear example of this is the wave of fake American Whiskey that plagued parts of Russia in recent years, killing and hospitalised dozens in its wake. Further investigation by Russian authorities revealed that these fakes contained a deadly mixture of methanol with ethanol and water, plus added colouring and aroma concentrates.
While ethanol is safe to consume in moderation, methanol isn't - it's the same stuff used to make cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and anti-freeze!
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image source: shameonyou.buzz[/caption]
How does it affect the industry?
According to the International Federation of Spirits Producers, the counterfeit alcohol trade has led to an estimated $1bn in annual losses on revenues. Should it continue unchecked, this deadly trade will destabilise the global drinks industry as a whole, costing both jobs and business opportunities.
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 also cause more deaths and perhaps a health pandemic on a large scale.
How do I spot fake booze?
Now that you completely fathom the dangers and risks of it, it's time we helped you spot these fake booze that out in the open market as part of our mission to ensure you Drink Better. These basic steps should help steer you away from drinking something that will likely kill you.
The first golden rule to buying your drinks 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 such as ourselves @ Boozeat.com - our supplies are sourced directly from the distilleries and breweries!
The golden rule to any con is simple: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If a bottle of your favourite premium single malt whisky in particular usually retails over the counter for RM500, then it shouldn't cost less than half that - even in duty-free retail.
3. Check the label
No matter where you buy your booze from, always inspect the label and stamps on the bottle for irregularities. The usual telltale signs of fake booze as shown in the video above include poorly placed labels, be it misaligned, have trace of glue or adhesive around it, or have creases - it should be perfect. Another telling sign are typos and misspelled texts.
4. Properly sealed caps/corks
Another key area to inspect for irregularities is the bottle's sealed caps or corks. If the manufacturer's seal is broken or mismatched in quality, chances are it's been tampered. The genuine article should have properly sealed caps or corks plus a Malaysian 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 box packaging. Fake booze usually use the same number combination repeating on several bottles. If you have a barcode scanner app on your phone, you scan it and see if it's listed as the correct product.
6. Smell and taste
If the booze gives off 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 so, immediately bring the bottle back and have it checked with the relevant authorities.