Passing Off Single Malt Whisky – A War Time Tale

Here’s a true story about passing off single malt whisky during the second world war.

Back in those days, whisky was fairly scarce and single malt whisky was even scarcer.

One Glaswegian publican always seemed to manage to lay his hands on an unending supply of a particular brand of single malt whisky. The brand of single malt whisky’s name, like the publican’s and the pub’s, will remain anonymous throughout this story because this devious chap was passing off single malt whisky in his bar.

Imagine if you will, a “boozer” in the east end of Glasgow selling a single malt whisky for only 1d (that’s “a penny” in old money) a nip more than a standard blended whisky. The pub was always mobbed.

Here’s what the publican did…. At the outset he procured one case of the single malt whisky via legitimate means and did a bit of “home blending” in the cellar by adding a not insignificant amount of blended whisky to each bottle of malt after decanting some of the malt from the bottle into a separate vessel; he was passing off single malt whisky.

The newly blended “malt” then had it’s screw cap soldered very delicately back onto the retaining ring on the neck of the bottle. Having a son who was a welder in the Clydeside shipyards aided this process.

Each bottle was then wrapped back up in the individual branded tissue wrapper that they came in. The distillers knew how to package and present premium whiskies even in those wartime days.

And so to the theatre of dispense; this single malt whisky was not on optic, but sitting on the back-fitting and poured “free flow” using a government measure which dispensed 1/4 of a gill. When a customer ordered a nip of the “malt”, the publican would, with a flourish, remove the tissue paper from the new bottle, scrunch it up into a ball and throw it overarm , into a bin behind the bar. He’d then pass the un-broached bottle over the bar for the customer ordering the nip to “crack” open, which he did to a rewarding “click” as the solder was broken.

The whisky would then be dispensed into the government stamped measure and  decanted into a glass and handed to the customer. The measure had a 2d piece glued  in the bottom of it meaning that the customer was being short measured by about  5%.

When that bottle became empty, the publican would open the cellar hatch behind      the  bar and announce to the cellar man that an “empty” was on its way. The bottle was  lobbed down the hatch and a smash of glass was heard. The bottle, of course, had  been caught by the cellar man who then dropped an innocuous bottle on the floor  which was the smash that the customers heard.

passing off single malt whiskypassing off single malt whisky.


Next, that empty bottle would be filled in the cellar with the “home blend”, the cap would be soldered back on and this is another clever twist, the scrunched up tissue paper that had been retrieved from the bin, was ironed out using a domestic iron and ironing board and then wrapped around the refilled bottle and placed on the back-fitting of the bar.

This scenario was repeated many times and through process, the customers ended up drinking solely a blended whisky whilst paying for a single malt whisky as the original malt liquid had by this time, been all used up.

Given that they saw the un-broached bottle get unwrapped from the tissue paper before their very eyes, they cracked open the bottle themselves and saw it poured (short measure) into a glass before their very eyes; this was the real deal!

Customers really do drink with their eyes.

The author of this blog in no way endorses this highly illegal practice, but rather would like to share a tale of war time ingenuity resulting in a busy boozer offering customers perceived value for money with a bit of theatre thrown in.