Wee dram was a sham de­spite hefty price tag

Saturday Star - - NEWS -

LON­DON: For a whisky fan, it ap­peared to be more than just a pre­cious wee dram – it was a holy grail. Sit­ting on the bar of an ex­clu­sive Swiss ho­tel, the bot­tle pur­ported to be a sin­gle malt The Ma­callan dat­ing back to 1878.

The temp­ta­tion to try it proved too much for Chi­nese tourist Zhang Wei. He paid £7 900 (R146 717) for a taste of what he be­lieved to be one of the world’s rarest Scotches. The bot­tle, which had sat un­opened in the bar for 25 years, was un­corked and the most ex­pen­sive mea­sure ever was poured.

Zhang, 36, who has made a for­tune writ­ing mar­tial arts fan­tasy nov­els, sipped lov­ingly at the am­ber fluid.

“The al­co­hol was 139 years old – same age as my grandma’s grandma... it had a good taste,” he said later. “It’s not just the taste, but also his­tory.”

But his de­light has been shat­tered af­ter ex­perts spot­ted news­pa­per ar­ti­cles about it. They in­ves­ti­gated and dis­cov­ered the bot­tle was a fake. Rather than be­ing bot­tled in 1878, tests showed the whisky dated only to the early 1970s. And in­stead of be­ing a prized sin­gle malt, it was a blend of malt and grain whiskies.

San­dro Ber­nasconi, man­ager of the Wald­haus Am See ho­tel in St Moritz, flew to China to break the bad news and give Zhang a re­fund. Zhang had been on hol­i­day in Europe with his grand­mother when he vis­ited the ho­tel’s whisky bar last July and posted a glow­ing tribute on the Chi­nese mi­croblog­ging site Weibo. But when ex­perts spot­ted dis­crep­an­cies be­tween the bot­tle’s cork and la­bel, the ho­tel sent a sam­ple to Rare Whisky 101 (RW101) in Dun­fermline for anal­y­sis.

Car­bon dat­ing tests by Ox­ford Univer­sity re­searchers showed the spirit was al­most cer­tainly cre­ated be­tween 1970 and 1972. Fur­ther tests in­di­cated the whisky was 60% malt and 40% grain – al­most worth­less as a col­lec­tor’s item, RW101 said. Had the bot­tle been gen­uine, it would have been worth around £227 000.

Ber­nasconi told BBC Scot- land: “My fa­ther bought the bot­tle of Ma­callan 25 years ago, when he was man­ager. When Zhang asked if he could try some, we told him it wasn’t for sale.

“When he said he re­ally wanted to try it, I called my fa­ther who told me... we should sell it. Mr Zhang and I then opened the bot­tle to­gether and drank some of it. When I showed him the test re­sults, he was not an­gry, he thanked me very much for the ho­tel’s hon­esty.”

RW101 co-founder David Robert­son said: “The Wald­haus team did ex­actly the right thing by try­ing to au­then­ti­cate this whisky. We would im­plore that oth­ers in the mar­ket do what they can to iden­tify any rogue bot­tles.

“If you do have a pre-1900s bot­tle, it’s worth ex­tract­ing a sam­ple to prove if it is gen­uine. Even if the bot­tle has been opened, if (it) was dis­tilled pre1900, then you have some very valu­able whisky.”

Ken Grier of Edring­ton, which owns The Ma­callan brand, said it took whisky fraud “very se­ri­ously”. – Daily Mail

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A lux­ury Swiss ho­tel said last Au­gust it would carry out tests on one of its rare bot­tles of whisky amid claims it was a fake af­ter Zhang Wei paid £7 900 (R146 717) for just one shot.

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