Buying whisky or spirits from some retail outlets now requires extra caution as counterfeit products have flooded the market.

Government has already raised concern over the sale of illicit brews in formal retail outlets, which is putting the health of consumers at risk.

Supplying illicit alcohol to formal outlets such as bottle stores, night clubs and supermarkets is in contravention of food standards regulations and the Consumer Protection Act.

The law is designed to protect consumers from hazardous products, including drugs and alcoholic beverages that are illegally manufactured.

Some of the beverages are smuggled into the country.

Investigations conducted by The Sunday Mail Society have revealed that the production and supply of illicit brews are a seemingly lucrative “business” that involves a number of players.

It is an intricate web that begins with ethanol and methanol suppliers and extends to those who “manufacture” and package illicit brews before they find their way to various outlets.

The ethanol or methanol is mixed with some colouring and then diluted with water to reduce the alcohol content.

The mixture, whose contents are often not calibrated, is then packaged as legitimate spirits, with imitation labels being stuck on the bottle.

Brands such as Two Keys, Cane Star and Bols Brandy are the most imitated products.

Counterfeit products of Jameson Irish whisky and 8PM are also being sold to unsuspecting consumers.

But some of the labels are often misspelt, with the popular Two Keys often adulterated and reading Two Kiys.

It is, however, very difficult to differentiate genuine whisky bottles from the fake ones when counterfeit stickers are printed using original samples.

“The ministry urges all supermarkets and grocery shops to desist from stocking and trading in illicit alcoholic beverages, as well as those smuggled into the country.

“Government shall be engaging responsible authorities, including the Standards Association of Zimbabwe, to investigate the contents of these illicit alcoholic beverages in order to fully inform the consumers,” said Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sithembiso Nyoni.

Ethanol and methanol — the primary ingredients used in the production of fake alcoholic beverages — are readily available in Mbare.

A 20-litre container of ethanol is being sold for as low as US$25.

Lameck — one of the many people who openly sell ethanol in Majubheki, Mbare — confirmed the availability of the product.

“My brother, you can come any time . . . I have been selling this product for a living for some time,” he said.

He claimed he gets the ethanol from his “colleagues” in the petroleum industry.

While some use new packaging for the illicit brews, others try to cut costs by recycling old bottles that are collected from dumpsites or popular drinking spots.

Designers and printers of fake beer and whisky labels, including Petros Moyo (name changed), are also making a killing.

Moyo said the number of people seeking his services has increased in recent years.

“Business is brisk these days. Most people whom I offer my services are now supplying big retail outlets, hence they need the labelling to look as original as possible,” said Moyo after this undercover writer enquired if he could supply quality labels.

He showed us a huge consignment of stickers labelled Two Keys — including others marked Two Kiys — that was neatly tucked in a corner, awaiting collection.

Both labels are priced differently, with those that seem authentic costing a bit more

For instance, he charges US$10 for 100 Two Keys labels. At the same time, he charges US$5 for 100 Two Kiys labels.

The fake labels were printed with what appeared to be a genuine logo, batch number, best-before date and other marketing information.

“We have original labels, so we copy and create the actual thing,” his colleague added.

Tuckshop, supermarket, bottle store and nightclub owners are immensely benefitting from the illegal trade.