Government Raid Discovers Your Prized Bottle Of Blanton's May Be Counterfeit

In 2021, Buffalo Trace, which produces Blanton's bourbon, took the unusual step of publicly addressing counterfeit bottles of its bourbon, sharing recommendations for consumers who suspected they may have been scammed, according to The Drinks Business

Mary Tortorice, general counsel for Sazerac (which owns Buffalo Trace) cited multiple complaints from across the U.S., adding that the majority of scams originate outside the country. Blanton's bourbon is exceedingly collectible, typically selling for about $160 per bottle, and it's a highly visible part of a much larger worldwide problem of counterfeit wine, spirits, and beer.

The Spirits Business explained that counterfeit beer, wine, and spirits cost the EU about $3.2 billion every year, with effects that reach well beyond the economic impacts. The outlet reports that Alan Bryce, interim head of the Fraud Advisory Panel said, "Not only do losses from alcohol fraud affect business and lose governments money from taxation, but they can also cause a real risk to consumers, as some counterfeit spirits are laced with dangerous chemicals and drinking them can be fatal."

On February 8, 2023, the Lexington Herald Leader reported a huge development in an ongoing Kentucky case against Justins' House of Bourbon, which sells rare bourbon to avid collectors. Some of those bottles of high-end bourbon — the kind that collectors shell out big bucks for — may have been counterfeit.

Multiple bourbon raids

When the Lexington Herald Leader reported that the Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control raided two retail locations of Justins' House of Bourbon, the outlet noted that it was "seemingly the first major enforcement action under Kentucky's vintage whiskey law," the law that permits retailers in the state to purchase a specified number of bottles from unlicensed individuals for resale at a retail store.

As it turns out, the investigation is much, much bigger than bourbon fans initially realized. The Lexington Herald Leader obtained the case report for the raid and discovered that the very same day, a raid was carried out on a Washington, D.C. warehouse as well, which revealed hundreds of expensive bottles that may not have been acquired legally. That warehouse is owned by Justins' House of Bourbon, which has a D.C. license to ship online orders to consumers from its website, Bourbon Outfitters.

The Herald Leader reports that investigators discovered empty Blanton's packaging, cases and bottles of Blanton's labeled for sale in France and Europe, bottles in sizes sold only internationally, 50-milliliter bottles labeled for sale in China, and bottles of Blanton's missing the Surgeon General's Warning Label that's required for sale in the U.S.

Investigations continue and expand

It's important to point out that Justins' House of Bourbon has not been accused of counterfeiting bourbon, though an employee of the store (according to the case file obtained by the Herald Leader) told investigators that in November 2022, the company was planning on sending 500 cases of Blanton's that had been obtained from the Netherlands. A Sazerac representative told the Herald Leader the Netherlands is the source of "widespread counterfeit of their product" and the company has hired a retired FBI agent to investigate the matter.

The raid led to Sazerac testing the contents of recovered bottles to determine if they were, in fact, counterfeit (via Herald Leader). Sazerac, which legally sells Blanton's and other bourbons to Republic National Distributing Company in D.C., hasn't shipped product to the nation's capital in the quantities described in the case against Justins' House of Bourbon, and Sazerac compliance officer Mary Tortorice told the investigator that it could have been sourced from an illegal bottling operation based in Kentucky.

As for Justins' House of Bourbon, which is accused of illegally transporting hundreds of cases of bourbon from Kentucky to D.C. for resale, the investigation has expanded to Texas and Pennsylvania as well.