9 tips for spotting fake booze

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trading standards Counterfeit alcohol Alcoholic beverage

Fake booze: What's inside is not always what it says on the outside
Fake booze: What's inside is not always what it says on the outside
As pub owners or operators, you might not consider your premises to be on the radar of the regulatory authorities in same way as the off-trade. But trading standards, the police, and HMRC regularly carry out spot-checks of bars, pubs and restaurants on authenticity and provenance of alcoholic products sold. Poppleston Allen provides some top tips on spotting counterfeit alcohol.

Licensed premises across the country are regularly taken to review because they have been caught selling counterfeit alcohol.

There was recently the review of a convenience store in London, brought because of the seizure of counterfeit alcohol. Nothing surprising there, you might say. However in that case, the authorities seized 4,838 litres of wine, 508 litres of spirits and 5,535 litres of beers and cider. The quantity of alcohol seized amounted to 16 pallet-loads, and a lorry was required to facilitate the removal of the stock.

Premises licence holders’ or their employees’ involvement in the possession or sale of counterfeit alcohol is a criminal offence, resulting in unlimited financial penalties and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years if dealt with in the crown court. The police and trading standards are also able to apply for a review of the premises licence, in addition to the prosecution.

With customers demanding increasingly unusual products from across the world, pubs might be tempted to use suppliers different from the ones they ordinarily use.

Here are our tips to avoid falling foul of the regulatory authorities:

  1. Make sure you buy from a reputable supplier. If you have not used them before, carry out checks and take up references on them.
  2. Make sure you always retain an itemised VAT receipt.
  3. If a deal looks too good to be true, it most probably is. Be on your guard when offered products at prices that seem very low.
  4. Look for poor-quality labelling, including spelling mistakes.
  5. Look for a UK duty stamp — spirits in bottles 35cl or larger and 30% ABV or higher must have a duty stamp, which indicates that tax has either been paid or is due to be paid on the contents of the bottle. They’re usually incorporated into the label or stuck on the glass. If it’s not there, it’s illegal. 
  6. Make sure the products have properly sealed caps. If the seal is broken, don’t buy it. Even if it’s not illegal, it may have been tampered with. 
  7. Check for fake bar-codes. If you have an app on your mobile that scans bar codes, scan it and see if it’s listed as the correct product.
  8. Look for manufacturer contact information on the pack.
  9. Beware of fake versions and unusual brand names that you haven’t seen before. Vodka, the most commonly counterfeited spirit, shouldn’t have any white particles or sediment in the bottle. If you see this, the vodka could have been diluted with tap water. If any alcohol tastes or smells bad, don't drink it.

Finally, if you have any suspicions do not sell the product and contact your local trading standards team.

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