Thousands of bottles of potentially deadly fake vodka have been found on sale across Britain ahead of New Year celebrations this week.
Illegal vodka is sometimes made with chemicals found in anti-freeze and car windscreen wash and partygoers are being warned that criminal gangs are looking to exploit increased demand for alcohol over the festive period.
A number of seizures have taken place across the country in recent weeks.
In Derbyshire 20,000 empty bottles, filling equipment, and empty cans of anti-freeze were discovered by Trading Standards officers at an illegal factory.
Fake bottles vodka found to contain a chemical used in anti-freeze were seized in raids in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.
In Luton 166 bottles of counterfeit vodka were sized from three shops across town.
The counterfeit bottles were disguised as popular brands including Glens, Smirnoff and Kommissar.
The accuracy of fake labels varied: Some had fake ‘duty paid’ stickers to disguise their illicit nature, while others had labels that included spelling mistakes.
“Commonly used substitutes for ethanol include chemicals used in cleaning fluids, nail polish remover and automobile screen wash, as well as methanol and isopropanol which are used in antifreeze and some fuels,” Drinkaware’s Chief Medical Advisor Professor Paul Wallace explained in a statement on the group’s website.
“These other types of alcohol can produce similar effects to ethanol in terms of making you feel tipsy. But they are also potentially very dangerous.”
In 2011 a man was convicted of using methylated spirits and bleach to manufacture 165,000 bottles of fake Glen’s vodka believes to be unfit for human consumption.
10 best vodkas
10 best vodkas
1/10 Konik’s Tail
Launched in 2010, Konik’s Tail is named after the wild ponies of Poland’s primeval forest and is crafted from three distinct grains – spelt, rye and early winter wheat, represented by the three koniks on the label. It’s as smooth as silk and regularly rated by aficionados to be the best sipping vodka. £38.99, selfridges.com
2/10 Russian Standard
There’s no hint of sharpness with this good value spirit, a market leader in Russia; it’s smooth and creamy upfront and finishes on a touch of spice. One to buy to celebrate the next Sochi medal. £15.65, thewhiskyexchange.com
This Polish rye vodka is blended with subtle but tasty bison grass, which gives the spirit its distinctive colour – and it’s good. Distilled from rye, the flavour has notes of vanilla, coconut and almond. Poles drink it with cranberry juice or apple juice though it’s good neat on ice. £20, ocado.com
4/10 Chase Original
Made using potatoes grown on a family farm in Herefordshire, Chase is the only single-estate distillery in the country, meaning that they do absolutely everything, from growing the potatoes to distilling to hand-bottling on-site. In 2010 their vodka was crowned “The World’s Best” at the San Francisco World Spirit Awards. £22.50, chasedistillery.co.uk
5/10 Royal Dragon Imperial Gold Leaf
Royal Dragon Vodka doesn’t come cheap, but it’s superb. Winter rye is distilled through charcoal five times to create a silky smooth award-winning vodka that comes in a hand-blown bottle with 23 karat gold flakes inside. £64.99, selfridges.com
This artisan vodka is named after the region it comes from in Eastern Poland. The local spuds add real character to the flavour, thanks to the local sandy soils and the result is a vodka with good body and a lovely creaminess, as well as being wonderfully aromatic. £26.50, harveynichols.com
This barley vodka is distilled from English barley spirit and is a handmade spirit that’s deliciously smooth and buttery, as well as being unusually elegant in texture. It starts off sweet, then the mellow barley notes and light nuttiness and spiciness emerge, all of which is perfectly balanced with an underlying dryness. £27.55, waitrose.com
8/10 Crystal Head
This is worth buying for the bottle alone. This company which makes it (owned by actor Dan Aykroyd) has produced a pure, smooth vodka. Crafted from virtually pollution-free water of Newfoundland, Canada, and high-quality grain, it has no additives and is quadruple distilled and filtered seven times. £44.99, amazon.co.uk
9/10 Stolichnaya Premium
This is a gentle sipper and particularly good cocktail base that’s affordable and available in most retailers. You might also like to try their elite version, an ultra-luxurious, triple-distilled, quadrupled filtered vodka. £17.12, thedrinkshop.com
10/10 Beluga Noble
Famed for its smooth and subtle taste, it’s the number one super premium vodka in Russia. Made using a natural fermentation process, which makes it environmentally friendly too. £40.70, waitrose.com
The gang which manufactured the vodka used bleach to remove the purple colouring of the methylated spirits and then diluted the product to required strength.
The vodka was shipped around the country to independent shops in 2008 and 2009.
This summer the Intellectual Property Office warned that people buying fake spirits and wine were at risk of blindness, and that independent shops were inundated with counterfeit goods.
“Drinking illegally produced alcohol should be avoided at all costs,” Dr Wallace said.
“You don’t know what’s in it in terms of the actual chemicals – and you don’t know the strength of what you're drinking because it’s not been produced to the standards of commercial alcohol.”