Wee dram was a sham despite hefty price tag
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
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.