The demand for counterfeit alcohol in Bangkok is an emerging market. In Thailand, over 76% of the drinks consumed are spirits. With over 580,000 litres of fake product already confiscated this year, the Ministry of Public Health has a daunting task. Lets do the math, WHO (World Health Organization) states that Thailand is being flooded with counterfeit Whiskey at 1 million litres per month. So that would be 12 million litres a year, and they are only catching roughly a half a million bottles so far. That leaves a monstrous amount of products flooding into the economy. These products are inexpensive to make and easy for gangs and criminals to produce. Some bottles are done so well it takes an expert to tell it is fake.
Business is Business in Bangkok
There are costs of doing business here and graft and corruption is commonplace. In order to stay ahead of the competition, retailers and bars must get creative. Sometimes that means that you have to cut corners to make money. Suppliers know this and focus their customer base accordingly. This is not to say that every place does this. Most don’t even know they are serving a fake, and when they do it’s too late.
Alcoholic drinks contain pure alcohol, or ethanol, not methanol. But the high cost of imported alcohol in Asian countries has led to rogue manufacturers producing illegal “fake” alcohol using methanol. Methanol is highly toxic and used in the manufacture of products including anti-freeze, formaldehyde, plastics and paints or as an anti-freeze or solvent. In recent years cheap homemade local alcohol and even apparent international brand name spirits are being contaminated with methanol – a poison you can’t taste or smell. Poisoning from the chemical can cause blindness, coma, kidney failure and death.
Remember the 4 P’s
While there are no obvious signs when drinking in a bar, there are some red flags to be aware of. Pay attention to these tips when purchasing alcohol in Bangkok.
Try to remember ‘the 4 Ps’: Place, Price, Packaging and Product.
1. Place: Make sure you buy from a reputable supermarket, off license or shop.
2. Price: If a deal looks too good to be true, it most probably is.
3. Packaging: Look for poor quality labeling, which includes things like spelling mistakes. Spirits in bottles 35cl or larger and 30% ABV or higher have to have a duty stamp, which indicates that tax has either been paid or is due to be paid on the contents of the bottle. They’re usually incorporated into the label or stuck on the glass. If it’s not there, it’s illegal. If the seal is broken, don’t drink it.
Fake bar codes. If you have an app on your mobile that scans bar codes, scan it and see if it’s listed as the correct product.
4. Product: Look out for fake versions of well-known brands and be wary of unusual brand names you haven’t seen before. Vodka, the most commonly counterfeited spirit, shouldn’t have any white particles or sediment in the bottle. If you see this, the vodka could have been diluted with tap water. If any alcohol tastes or smells bad, don’t drink it. Particularly look out for the smell of nail varnish.
While the Government tries to combat this problem, we as consumers must stay more vigilant. You never know what might be in the next cocktail you consume.