I recently cracked open a bottle of Eagle Rare 17, a bottle which has been on my “list” for years. It was one of those bottles that one would never find out and about, and one I was not ever going to pay nearly two thousand dollars for on the secondary market – ludicrous right? Through luck and a bit of happenstance however, a good friend came through and was able to get me one for retail. As we opened it up that night and poured a round for those sitting in my garage bar speakeasy, I could not help but notice that the foil cap looked like a microchip of some sort. I set it aside however and engrossed myself in a pour that I had been waiting some time to have…(which was great btw).
Having piqued my curiosity, I set to finding out a bit more about this foil cap microchip thingy, which as it turns out is not the formal name and is actually a very innovative piece of technology whose purpose is to protect consumers from scammers.
New NFC Tag Readers to Prevent Whiskey Scammers
It was just in the last year that Buffalo Trace issued a warning to customers not to fall victim to “an increasing number” of scams online. As the price and prestige associated with owning a unicorn bottle of bourbon has gone bonkers, so has the counterfeiting of said unicorn bottles as unsavory characters look to cash in on the Whiskey Revolution. The current atmosphere around bourbon is all about boasting on what you were able to land…I mean, I even do it...when I get a bottle that is special to me, I am texting my bourbon peeps showing it off and telling the story of how it came into my possession (there’s always a story). As folks clamber for that elusive bottle and the associated bragging rights, there is more and more scammers looking to cash in on naivety and greed.
Insane demand, sparse supply and lots of new people finding their way into bourbon - the current market is a scammers wonderland…what’s more, when folks drop their hard-earned cash on a fake bottle online (which is in most cases not technically legal) it’s not like these individuals have a recourse like going to the authorities.
This is not just a problem that only regular folks encounter either, some businesses are even seeing this. A notable story from 2017 included a hotel selling what was thought to be a Macallan single malt scotch from 1878 (one of the most expensive pours out there) which after analysis ended up being a blended scotch with origins around a hundred years later than advertised --- circa 1978, whoops.
Technology to the Rescue?
With so many coveted bottles finding their way into the mix of those being counterfeited and thus to be wary of on the market, a variety of approaches are being taken to help sort chaff from seed as it relates to authentic bottles. There is work currently underway to analyze the juice through the glass via chemical analysis allowing authenticity to be proven before having to open the bottle – but last I heard anything on this it was still in development and way out on the horizon of futuristic technologies that could be employed, so don’t hold your breath...not exactly something I would probably be willing to drop the coin on either!
Various distilleries have begun placing specialized labeling on their bottles such as holographic images on seals or QR codes on packaging that with a quick scan of your smartphone allows you to check to see if you have an authentic bottle. Great, but still not bulletproof necessarily.
In the case of my Eagle Rare 17 that I opened the other night, this past year Buffalo Trace started using a special security tag called an NFC or Near Fields Communications tag associated with their Antique Collection. Fancy. It is the “foil cap microchip thingy” that I mentioned earlier. To use this new-fangled technology, you need to download an app called “NFC Tools.” Once downloaded, you can click “read” and as you move your phone toward the bottle, BOOM, it registers the tag and sure enough, it showed that my bottle had been opened and all the associated detail for the bottle. Granted, I knew I had opened my bottle, but a neat security feature, nonetheless.
I imagine the future will continue to see distilleries step up their security measures to combat the counterfeiting game. Given the NFC tag feature is a fairly cheap item to add to the mix (costing pennies per unit) my guess is we see these tags become more widespread and distilleries coming out with their own apps to further limit scammers from writing their own NFC code. For now, do your homework when buying a rare bottle, if you’re buying online you’re spinning the wheel of destiny and hoping you don’t land on “go back three spaces,” and always stick to the old adage, that if a deal seems too good to be true, it’s probably not one you want to be making.