America's Oldest Wine Shop Allegedly Sold a Counterfeit Bottle of Bourbon for $1,000
The bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain was even sent to distiller Buffalo Trace to verify its authenticity. It failed the test.
On its website, Acker Wines, the New York shop that claims the title of the oldest wine merchant in the United States, has a 100-page book that chronicles the store's 200-year history. It opens with its then-owner Thomas Hope trying to sell his entire inventory of wines and whiskies in the spring of 1855. Although a couple of bottles of 1805 Madeira went for as much as $18 (roughly $550 in today's dollars) the prices for the remaining stock dropped to about $3 ($91 today) and even then, the buyers didn't seem to be interested. After Hope oversaw an unenthusiastic reception for his gin, rum, and whiskies, the auction ended.
Just reading about the event is enough to summon feelings of secondhand embarrassment for Hope, who eventually sold the store to his clerks, including current namesake David Acker. But that sad little street auction might've been eclipsed by what happened earlier this week, when an Inside Edition producer allegedly bought a $1,000 bottle of bourbon at the store that turned out to be a fake.
According to the outlet, an Acker Wines salesperson showed the producer a bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain that the store was selling for almost a grand. The producer reportedly asked if the bourbon was the real deal, and the employee assured him that it was. After buying the bottle, the show sent it to Buffalo Trace Distillery, in Frankfort, Kentucky (where it was produced) to see if it could be authenticated.
E.H. Taylor Four Grain is a limited-edition 100-proof bourbon that was aged for 12 years before being released in 2017 (at a less eye watering price of $70 per bottle). The four grains used in the recipe—corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley—reflect what former distillery owner E. H. Taylor, Jr. would've been able to use in the mid-1800s. "We wanted to extract everything we like from both the rye and the wheat mashbills we currently use and combine them to see how they react," Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley said upon the whiskey's release. "Not surprisingly, it added complexity to the finished product."
The bourbon received almost immediate accolades, being named the 2018 Bourbon of the Year and the 2018 World Whisky of the Year by controversial Whisky Bible author Jim Murray. Its price on the secondary market has soared since: a single bottle is currently listed at $2,999.99 on Wooden Cork and $3,332.99 on Caskers.
When Buffalo Trace technical director John Medley examined the bottle purchased by Inside Edition, he immediately found a couple of red flags with its packaging. Medley said that there was no lot code on the bottle, its "strip stamp" had been put on backwards, and it did not have the special packaging tube that all of their bottles come with. After chemical analysis, Medley said that the whiskey's proof wasn't what it should've been either. "Based on all of the testing and observations we completed, I do not believe this bottle is authentic," he told the outlet.
"A few months before we were contacted by Inside Edition, we became aware of a possible authentication issue with a select bottling of Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon that we obtained from a private collector," a spokesperson for Acker Wines explained to Food & Wine via email. "After an immediate investigation into the authenticity of the bottles, including contacting the parent company of E.H. Taylor, Sazerac, our concerns were not alleviated, and we removed all of the bottles from our shelves and ceased all business with the providing collector. We immediately contacted and refunded all of the customers who had purchased bottles before our recall, save for one buyer who declined to provide his contact information. We now believe this was the bottle behind the Inside Edition story."
Acker Wines also attempted to reassure buyers, saying "We are committed to delivering the very best in fine and rare wine and spirits to our clients, and the authenticity of our products is paramount. We recently announced the launch of our global spirits division which included hiring US and Asia heads, and have also invested in authentication practices through the retention of multiple, well-respected, independent spirits authenticators."
Update May 7, 2021: This story has been edited to include a statement from Acker Wines.