Case adjourned

Case adjourned

Whisky enthusiast and scientist Alex Kraaijeveld responds to The Macallan's defence of the authenticity of its antique whiskies in the last issue

News | 25 Sep 2003 | Issue 33 | By Alex Kraaijeveld

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With great interest, I have been following the debate about potentially fake Macallan bottles, both in Whisky Magazine and on their website forum, www.whiskyworld. com. My interest comes from being a scientist and having a passion for whisky and its history. Therefore, I was very
curious for the evidence that Macallan would present to show that the old bottles that had raised serious concern were genuinely Victorian and not recent fakes.Having read the official statement from Macallan, I must say that I am very disappointed in it.First of all, despite announcements that further chemical analyses would be performed, the results of these analyses are not given; chemical analyses are not even mentioned in the statement.The evidence provided by Macallan to prove the authenticity of its old bottles consists of conclusions from a glass and a paper expert, who were given access to the bottles in the summer of 2002 (i.e. before the whole debate began).These two experts basically concluded that there was no reason to think that the glass bottles themselves or the paper used for the label was anything but genuine. What is not clear is what kind of analyses were done on, for instance, the paper.Was the paper expert allowed to take a sample of the label away for detailed laboratory analysis, or was he only allowed to examine it by hand and eye?If detailed analysis was allowed, which tests did he perform? Was paper from all the bottles analysed, or only from a subset? Did he also analyse the suspicious shoulder flashes or only the main label? Besides the paper itself, could he test whether the printing process used for the label was OK for the period?None of this information is revealed, and therefore we have no way of knowing how rigourous an analysis the paper expert could perform to reach his conclusion.Let’s accept the conclusions from the paper and glass expert for now and see where that gets us. It shows that the glass bottle itself is genuine and that the paper used for the label is genuine.That does not say anything about whether we’re dealing with a genuine bottle of 19th century Macallan or with the product of a clever forger who took an empty old bottle, some old paper, and contemporary whisky and produced a fake 19th century bottle of Macallan. Just because elements of the packaging are authentic, it does not necessarily follow that the Macallan bottle as a whole is authentic.Concerns were raised about these Macallan bottles mostly because of inconsistencies between details of the labelling and recorded history, specifically the use of company names (‘Macallan- Glenlivet and Talisker Distilleries Ltd’ as the owner of Macallan, and a Craigellachie wine merchant by the name of ‘John McWilliam’) for which there appear to be no records.This can mean two things: either the bottle is fake, or recorded history is incomplete. Macallan does not deal with this issue at all. It could have taken away one major source of concern by providing evidence that these companies did indeed exist.Of course, lack of evidence for the existence of a company is not the same as evidence that this company did not exist. The one thing that Macallan could have done to wipe all concerns off the table in one go would be to subject the whisky itself to a detailed chemical analysis.After all, if the whisky itself is proven to be from the 19th century, any inconsistency between the label and recorded history automatically points to the latter being incomplete and at fault.Unfortunately, such analyses were either not done, or if they were done (as was announced in Whisky Magazine), the results of these analyses are not presented.I am sad to have to say that the evidence provided by Macallan does not prove anything regarding the provenance of these old bottles and does not address the real issues. As to whether these bottles are genuine or fake (and I sincerely hope they are genuine), the jury is still out, leaving the matter wide open.
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