Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Fake fury

The BBC reports that there is a growing problem of “fake alcohol” being sold in off-licences. Apparently up to a quarter of licensed premises in some parts of the UK have been found to have counterfeit alcohol for sale. It rather jars, though, to hear this described as “fake alcohol”, when in reality it is mostly fake vodka, with some fake whisky and wine. Nobody ever goes into a shop and asks for “alcohol” – is this an example of a subtle campaign to paint alcohol as a generic drug rather than a vast spectrum of different beverages?

The report also ignores a rather large elephant in the room – why, do you think, is it so lucrative to sell fake alcoholic drinks in the UK? Here’s a clue: “Alcohol fraud costs the UK around £1bn a year in lost revenue, according to government estimates.” High taxes inevitably create an incentive for fraud.

And I heard someone saying on the radio this morning that one of the main problems with fake vodka was that it had a higher ethanol level than normal vodka. Given that ethanol=alcohol, it’s not really a problem for the purchaser. Anyway, if you want to avoid being hoodwinked, maybe the best way is to stick to beer. Or just don’t buy any wine or spirits from dodgy corner shops.


  1. Bath tub gin is what it is called.

    If they try pushing for anymore prohibition then that's what they'll end up with, that plus plenty of criminal organizations who will profit from the prohibition while the state loses revenue and costs a fortune in "crime" prevention, when in fact the prohibitionist state will have been at fault for starting the process to begin with.

    Pre WWII mindset, it's starting up all over again, history repeating itself, same mistakes as before.

  2. So, it's supposed to cause the loss of £1000 million of revenue. If that's so, the Government will lose nothing by knocking that amount off tax & duty, which will undermine the profitability of counterfeit drinks. Boozers would then buy the real thing as it'd be cheaper, but still subject to tax. Perhaps they'll end up taking even more tax in.

    But they won't do that. They'd rather have people buying counterfeit drinks than be accused of being "soft on binge drinking".

    Government policy determined by shrieking headlines yet again.

  3. The main issue with such products is that they can contain methanol alcohol which has more serious health effects in lower doses than ethanol. Methanol has the same intoxicating effects and flavour as ethanol.

  4. The trouble is that "fake vodka" is often produced by watering down industrial grade ethanol(alcohol). This may contain harmful additives, specifically added for the purpose of discouraging people from drinking it.

  5. @Cookie and Paul - yes, I recognise that counterfeit spirits can contain harmful ingredients, but the guy on the radio this morning was specifically saying that a major problem was that they might be much stronger than people expected.

    Simply cracking down harder on the problem is unlikely to solve it.

    And it also suggests that legalising and taxing currently illegal drugs wouldn't necessarily be a magic solution to problems associated with their illegality. Alcohol is legal and regulated, but a dangerous illegal trade still exists in parallel.

  6. Don’t wish to get technical and remove the veneer of ignorant lager lout but even Smirnoff is industrial grade ethanol. To make grain spirit you apply enzymes to grain to convert the starches to sugar, ferment it and distil it to the proof required. At a lower proof it retains more of it residual flavours and is grain whisky. It is then watered down to the abv of selling. If you malt the grain instead of applying an enzyme process you get malt whisky. At higher proofs it is near pure ethanol, you can water to the abv of selling and get vodka or you apply a Juniper infusion and get Gin. The source of the ethanol is usually grain for vodka but it can be anything and not matter. Industrial grade ethanol, medical grade ethanol, it’s all just ethanol. Medical students water down medical grade ethanol for parties without ill effect. Retailed Industrial grade ethanol, like methanol, can have additives added to it post distillation to make it poison in an attempt to prevent misuse. Before this it wasn’t dangerous.

    If you ferment tree bark you get methanol. Methanol sends you blind and kills your liver, Ethanol does this also but only at near pure doses. If illicit vodka contains an unsafe ABV of ethanol this is poor quality control. If illicit vodka contains methanol then it is a direct act of selling poison, just as if it contains additives to prevent the misuse of the original grade of ethanol. When CAMRA get their way and poor people on council estates can no longer get safe cheap ethanol you can expect A&E to be full of people awaiting a liver transplant after a near fatal dose of methanol.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments are liable to be deleted unless I recognise the author. If you intend to make more than the occasional comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.