What’s the Deal with Fake Liquor?


Knockoffs, or shanzhai products, exist at almost every level in China, leading to a lack of surprise to hear that RMB 1,000 bottle of Hennessy VSOP sold at night clubs is fake. In fact, the fake alcohol industry has developed into a mature industrial chain with material supply and sales outlets. And it’s no secret that many bars, KTVs and night clubs sell fake alcohol to their customers, sometimes upselling them as “smuggled goods.”

Last year, tens of thousands of fake Chivas and Black Label bottle labels and caps were found in a residential Dalingshan home, leading to the arrest of Chen Jingxing for making and selling over a half million labels duplicating expensive whiskey brands. These fake labels and caps would go to 14 cities nationwide, supplying the manufactures of counterfeit liquor.

But this is not the whole case, sometimes real bottles can be refilled with fake alcohol. There are bottle dealers collecting used bottles from bars, night clubs and restaurants at different prices depending on the brands and completeness of the labels—for common brands like Chivas, about RMB 5 per bottle. Some rare red wines from Lafite can fetch over RMB 1,000. Most of these bottles are recycled by fake alcohol makers, and the bar owners are likely to know this truth better than anyone.

The content they put in the bottle varies from cheap alcohol mixed with coloring and perfume, to real alcohol diluted with tea. Under the dim lights at bars and night clubs, it’s hard to verify authenticity.

Ms Ding, an official in the Dongguan Wine Monopoly Administration Bureau, addressed a few tricks. “Examine it with cell phone lights before the server opens it,” she said. “There is a serial number printed both on the cap seal and the back label on the bottle, they should be the same. Also examine the package to see if it’s intact, and look carefully at the liquid inside to see if there’s any impurity. Have the servers open it in front of you just in case they change the bottle.”