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Laws lacking to protect Kentucky's bourbon heritage

“I myself have never heard of anyone getting arrested for counterfeiting.”– Brian Booth with Justin’s House of Bourbon

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It’s Americana barreled, bottled and born in Kentucky.

Bourbon is also the official spirit of the United States. However, little, if anything, is being done in the Commonwealth to protect this huge part of its heritage.

There are currently no laws specific to protecting bourbon from getting counterfeited.

“I myself have never heard of anyone getting arrested for counterfeiting, counterfeiting bourbon,” David Booth, regional manager for Justin’s House of Bourbon, said.

In fact, when FOCUS asked the state for data from the last ten years on the number of arrests, citations and referrals to law enforcement regarding counterfeiting bourbon, Alcoholic Beverage Control stated, “we were unable to find any records responsive to your request.”

That’s troubling to Booth because his stores deal and specialize in vintage spirits, buying and selling previously owned rare bourbon.

“We do procure from private collections,” Booth said.

Although he and his colleagues are experts in spotting a fake, Booth says he hopes to see more done with law enforcement and with distilleries to protect against counterfeits.

“I’m all for it, absolutely, it makes my job easier.”

For now, the bourbon community basically polices itself.

“We have our own sort of whiskey investigative unit,” Adam Herz, a whiskey collector, said.

Herz, a Hollywood screenwriter and producer who created the American Pie movie franchise, has made it his hobby to track bogus bourbon and expose those doing it.

“The most common fakes you’ll see in the U.S. are refills,” Herz said.

Refills start with top shelf empty bottles, usually sold and bought online, then filled with cheaper bourbon, and then resold as an original.

“If you go on eBay, you’ll see empty bottles of Pappy Van Winkle selling for $200, $300 apiece,” Herz pointed out. “Why is somebody paying like $200, $300 for a piece of garbage?  It’s because you can take that $300 empty and fill it back up and sell it for $3000 plus.”

Herz figures there are probably thousands of Pappy Van Winkle fakes being sold on the black market.

“For the really good counterfeiters, yeah, Kentucky’s the capital.”

As the taste for bourbon continues to explode worldwide, so does the temptation to counterfeit for a piece of the action.

“We have seen more counterfeits come up in recent years,” Booth said.

If there’s a chance one of them slips through, it’s bad for business because happy clients are returning clients.

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