Liquor Laboratory

How To Spot Fake Bourbon: Real vs Counterfeit (2024 Updated)

How To Spot Fake Bourbon

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Lydia Martin

The world of bourbon is full of scammers and con artists looking to take advantage of unsuspecting drinkers. 

Here are a few tips on how to spot fake bourbon, so you don’t become a victim!

10 Ways To Spot A Fake Bourbon 

10 Ways To Spot A Fake Bourbon 

1. Check the Spelling on the Label

When it comes to spotting fake bourbon, checking the spelling on the label is essential. A correct spelling indicates that the distillery takes pride in its product and is willing to invest in quality control. In contrast, a distillery that doesn’t bother to check the spelling will cut corners in other areas. Of course, there are other factors to consider, but spelling is a good place to start. 

2. Dull Label & Different Font Style 

E.H Taylor Jr. Bourbon

As anyone who’s ever spotted fake bourbon knows, its labeling is a big part of the drink’s appeal. The distinctive fonts and intricate designs are part of what makes bourbon so special. However, some unscrupulous manufacturers try to pass off fake bourbons by using dull labels and different font styles. 

This can be hard to spot, but there are a few things to look for. First, check to see if the label is printed on cheap paper. Second, see if the fonts are mismatched or look out of place. Finally, examine the overall design of the label. If it looks amateurish or sloppy, it’s probably a fake. 

3. Unique Duty Stamp & Barcode

As any bourbon lover knows, a bottle of the good stuff is only as good as its unique duty stamp and barcode. These two things help to spot a fake bourbon from a mile away. The duty stamp is a special mark applied to every bottle of bourbon before it is shipped, and the barcode is a unique identifier assigned to each batch of bourbon. 

Together, these two things help ensure that you are getting the real deal when you purchase a bottle of bourbon. So next time you are in the market for some authentic Kentucky bourbon, check for the unique duty stamp and barcode.

Read: How Do You Make Bourbon?

4. Authentic But Recycled Bottle

Bourbon Empty Bottle

Fake distillers will most likely buy original bourbon bottles and fill them with fake liquor. Hence, it won’t be easy to spot which is fake, considering the original label and bottle. However, there’s one thing you can do to verify – check the expiry and manufacturing date. If the date seems long, then the bottle is probably recycled.

5. Different Texture & Color 

Have you ever been out to a nice restaurant and ordered a glass of bourbon, only to take a sip and realize that it’s not real? Chances are, you were served a cheaper knock-off that was made with lower-quality ingredients. 

But how can you spot the difference? The easiest way is to look at the color. Authentic bourbon should be a deep amber color, while fake bourbon is often more of a light brown. Fake bourbon also tends to have a thinner texture, almost like water.

6. Smells Unauthentic

A Glass of Bourbon

One of the most important things to know about spotting fake bourbon is that it has a different smell. This is because alcohol is a volatile molecule, and it evaporates quickly. When you put your nose near bourbon, you should be able to smell the alcohol. If you can’t, then it’s probably fake. 

Fake bourbon also often smells sweeter than real bourbon. This is because the makers of fake bourbon add sugar to their products to make them taste more like the real thing. So, if you’re trying to spot fake bourbon, be sure to give it a good sniff before you buy it.

7. Burns Like Chili When Drank

It’s no secret that some bourbons can pack a bit of a punch. But did you know that drinking fake bourbon can set your mouth on fire? In recent years, there have been several reports of so-called “bourbon” containing high methanol [1] levels. Drinking fake bourbon is basically like setting your mouth on fire with cancer-causing chemicals. Here’s how to drink bourbon as a beginner

8. Gives The Worst Hangover


If you’ve ever woken up with a pounding headache after a night of drinking, you know that not all alcohol is created equal. Some types of booze are just plain easier on the head than others. And according to a new study, fake bourbon is the absolute worst when it comes to giving you a hangover.

So if you’re looking to avoid a headache the next morning, it’s important to spot the fake bourbon before you start drinking. But even if you don’t, there’s no need to worry too much. Just be sure to drink plenty of water before bed, and you should be good to go.

9. Shake & Check the “Beading”

When it comes to spotting fake bourbon, the experts say to shake and check the “beading.” If the liquid forms tiny droplets, or beads, on the side of the glass, it’s likely a fake. The beading is caused by sugar and other impurities that are not found in real bourbon. 

Read: Cask Strength Bourbon Explained 

10. Unbelievably Cheap

Whiskey Decanter with Evan Williams Bourbon

You may have seen the ads: “unbelievably cheap bourbon.” It seems too good to be true, and unfortunately, it usually is. Most of these “unbelievably cheap” bourbons are fake, made with inferior ingredients, and contain very little bourbon.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is there a fake bourbon?

Yes. A few brands out there use misleading marketing to try and trick drinkers into thinking their whiskey is real bourbon when in reality it’s not. Sometimes these brands will use terms like “sourced from Kentucky” or “blended in Kentucky,” which technically means the whiskey contains at least some Kentucky-made spirit.

But other times, these brands will simply use Kentucky imagery on their bottles or labels without mentioning where the whiskey is actually from.

How do you prevent buying a fake bourbon?

There are a few ways that you can prevent buying a fake bourbon. First, only buy from a reputable source. If you’re not sure about the source, do some research to ensure they’re credible. Second, check the bottle closely for any signs of tampering.

Don’t buy if the seal is broken or the label looks like it’s been tampered with. Third, know what you’re looking for. 

How can you tell if bourbon is good?

Determining if bourbon is good involves assessing various factors:

Appearance: Good bourbon typically has a clear and vibrant appearance without any sediment or cloudiness.

Aroma: A quality bourbon will have a rich and complex aroma, featuring notes such as caramel, vanilla, oak, and sometimes hints of fruit or spice.

Flavor: Taste for a well-balanced and harmonious combination of sweet, savory, and spicy notes. Quality bourbon should have a smooth and pleasant finish without any off-flavors.

Mouthfeel: Good bourbon often exhibits a full-bodied and smooth mouthfeel. It should not have any harsh or overly astringent qualities.

Aftertaste: A lingering and enjoyable aftertaste is a positive sign of a good bourbon. Look for a finish that complements the overall flavor profile.

What are the 5 rules of bourbon?

The five rules of bourbon, also known as the Bourbon Standards, are:

Produced in the United States: Bourbon must be made in the United States.

Made from Mash: The mash bill, or grain mixture, must be at least 51% corn.

Aged in New Charred Barrels: Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels.

Distilled to Specific Proof: It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof.

Bottled at Specific Proof: Bourbon must be bottled at 80 proof or more.

Adhering to these standards ensures that a whiskey can legally be classified as bourbon.

What makes a true bourbon?

A true bourbon must adhere to the Bourbon Standards outlined by the U.S. Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits. These standards include the production location in the United States, a mash bill of at least 51% corn, aging in new charred oak barrels, specific distillation and entry proof limits, and bottling at a minimum of 80 proof.

Can you check a bottle of bourbon?

To assess the authenticity and quality of a bottle of bourbon, consider the following steps:

Label Verification: Check the label for accurate information regarding the distillery, production location, and the presence of any additives.

Bottle Integrity: Ensure the bottle is properly sealed and the label is intact.

Age Statement: Verify if the bottle carries an age statement, as bourbon must be aged for a specific period to meet regulations.

Brand Reputation: Research the brand’s reputation and reviews to gauge its quality and authenticity.

What is bourbon supposed to smell like?

Bourbon is known for its distinctive aroma, which typically includes notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and sometimes hints of fruit, spice, or nuttiness. The exact scent can vary based on the specific bourbon, its age, and the production process.

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon?

No, Jack Daniel’s is not a bourbon; it is a Tennessee whiskey. While bourbon and Tennessee whiskey share similarities, such as the use of at least 51% corn in the mash bill, Tennessee whiskey undergoes an additional step called the Lincoln County Process.

This process involves filtering the whiskey through sugar maple charcoal before aging, giving it a distinct flavor profile and differentiating it from bourbons.

Why is Jack Daniels not a bourbon?

Jack Daniel’s is not classified as a bourbon due to its production process.

While both bourbon and Jack Daniel’s are types of whiskey made from a mash bill containing at least 51% corn, the key distinction lies in the additional step used in producing Jack Daniel’s, known as the Lincoln County Process. This process involves filtering the whiskey through sugar maple charcoal before aging it in new charred oak barrels.

The Lincoln County Process imparts a unique flavor profile to Jack Daniel’s, differentiating it from the traditional bourbon production methods.

What is the difference between whiskey and bourbon?

While all bourbons are whiskey, not all whiskeys are bourbon. The main differences between whiskey and bourbon include:

Production Location: Bourbon must be produced in the United States.

Mash Bill: Bourbon must have a mash bill containing at least 51% corn, while other whiskeys may have different grain compositions.

Barrel Aging: Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels.

Distillation Proof: Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof.

Bottling Proof: Bourbon must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.

What is official bourbon?

Official bourbon, as recognized by the U.S. Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, must adhere to specific regulations.

These regulations include being produced in the United States, having a mash bill with at least 51% corn, aging in new charred oak barrels, being distilled to specific proof limits, and bottling at a minimum of 80 proof. Adhering to these standards ensures that a whiskey can legally be classified as bourbon.

Is bourbon 100% alcohol?

No, bourbon is not 100% alcohol. The term “100% alcohol” typically refers to pure ethanol, which is not the case for bourbon or any other distilled spirit. Bourbon is a distilled spirit with an alcohol by volume (ABV) content that can vary but must be at least 40% (80 proof).

The remaining percentage of bourbon consists of water and the flavor compounds derived from the grains used in the mash bill and the aging process.

Does bourbon have artificial color?

Bourbon is not allowed to have artificial colorings added. The color of bourbon comes from the aging process in charred oak barrels. As the bourbon interacts with the wood, it extracts compounds that contribute to its color, flavor, and aroma.

Bourbon’s natural color can range from pale gold to deep amber based on factors such as the age of the whiskey and the characteristics of the barrels used for aging.

What are the different proofs of bourbon?

Bourbon is available in various proofs, indicating its alcohol by volume (ABV) content. Common bourbon proofs include:

80 Proof (40% ABV): The minimum proof for bourbon.

90 Proof (45% ABV): A common and standard proof for many bourbon expressions.

100 Proof (50% ABV): Considered a higher proof and often associated with bolder flavors.

Barrel Proof/ Cask Strength: Bourbon that is bottled directly from the barrel without dilution, resulting in a higher proof that can vary significantly.

The specific proof can impact the intensity of flavors and the overall drinking experience.

Top of Form

Final Verdict: How To Spot Fake Bourbon

So how can you spot a fake bourbon? First, look for the telltale signs of lower-quality liquor: impurities, inconsistencies, and a generally cheap appearance. 

Second, check the label for flavoring or coloring agents; real bourbon is made with nothing but water, yeast, grain, and time. Finally, ask yourself whether the price seems too good to be true; if it does, it probably is. 

With these tips in mind, you should be able to spot a fake bourbon from a mile away.


  1. Methanol: Systemic Agent

Lumint ad Side Bar
Flex Ad Side Bar