The bootleg hooch contains potentially-lethal methanol, which is used in anti-freeze and industrial cleaning products.
And a Sun investigation has discovered that a growing amount of the fake alcohol is finding its way on to the shelves of bars and off-licences.
Trading Standards officials are now warning drinkers to be on the look-out after the number of fake booze seizures rocketed by FIVE TIMES in just three years.
The number of UK busts rose from 31 in 2009, to 148 in 2011.
Last Thursday an off-licence owner in York admitted selling three different brands of fake vodka, some way over the legal limit of strength.
Mehmet Altin, of the ELO Off Licence, had counterfeit Smirnoff, Five Lakes and Arctic Ice vodka on his shelves.
The Five Lakes vodka was found to contain 51.5 per cent alcohol — made by diluting pure industrial alcohol with tap water.
Another brand found on sale across the country called Drop Vodka contains CHLOROFORM.
In January, 21-year-old student Lauren Platts was left with damaged eyesight after being sold a £5.99 bottle of vodka that was really industrial alcohol in Sheffield.
Produced in illegal stills, the high-potency alcohol is made under conditions that ignore health and safety concerns, and with little way of knowing how strong each batch is.
Spirits sold by legitimate brands contain ethanol, while the illegal versions are full of methanol — the most basic form of alcohol, which is not legal for human consumption.
Even a small amount attacks the optic nerve at the back of the eye, causing blindness. In large quantities it can kill. But those who make the hooch run the risk of more than just the law catching up with them.
Last July, five people were killed when an illegal vodka-making factory went up in a fireball on an industrial estate in Boston, Lincs. Another man was seriously hurt.
More than 88 litres of counterfeit vodka were found in the same town in March 2011, much linked to Eastern European and Russian gangs.
In an unusual case last September, sharp-eyed Trading Standards officers seized 36 bottles of fake wine, labelled as popular brand Jacob’s Creek, being sold for £4.99 each in Worksop, Notts.
They had spotted a spelling error on the label — where in small print it was described as “Wine of Austrlia” instead of “Wine of Australia”.
Last month in Birmingham, cops confiscated 443 bottles of counterfeit spirits, 1,620 bottles of wine and 15,480 cans of beer worth more than £100,000 in a series of raids on pubs, clubs and off-licences.
A Trading Standards spokesman admitted: “We are very concerned about the availability of fake alcohol. It is not just about false bargains — these counterfeit spirits and wine could be lethal.
“Our officers are working hard to stop unscrupulous criminals cashing in on the rising price of alcohol.
“Many are reporting an increase in the quantities of illicit and counterfeit alcohol seized.
“We urge consumers to take care. They should read labels carefully for spelling mistakes, check that bottles look the same and are filled up to the same level. And they should always remember the mantra, ‘If the deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is.’ ”
The high costs of legitimate alcohol are not just driving criminals into production. More and more ordinary people are cashing in on an increasing trend for home-brew parties.
The Sun was shown around a factory in a South London flat producing potent “prison hooch” — made from sugar, water, fruit and Marmite — which is sold in illegal speakeasies across the capital. The same heat-producing hydroponic lights used for growing cannabis are used to speed up the fermentation process.
It is not illegal to make — but is against the law to sell it. And it is impossible to tell how strong it is.
Brewer Tom, who did not want to be identified or pictured, said: “You’re looking at about £2,500-worth of hooch. If that was sold at a party it would go for £2.60 a pint.
“Shots are £3 a go. They are a lot stronger, the batch is left to ferment.
“The popularity of parties went through the roof when the smoking ban came in. You can smoke all you want at a party, unlike pubs where you have to go outside in the cold and the rain and leave your drink behind.”
The brightly-coloured liquid tastes like a very strong vodka and orange.
Fumes are removed from the room by high-powered extractors, to avoid a build-up of flammable gas.
Tom said: “I once came back and found a jar had exploded. If there had been a build-up of fumes this flat wouldn’t exist any more.”
A MOUNTAIN of seized counterfeit booze includes Jacob’s Creek wine, Kirov vodka and Bollinger champagne.
The haul was confiscated in less than six months by Wandsworth Trading Standards in South West London.
At first it is difficult to spot the giveaway mistakes, but they are obvious when compared with the genuine article.
The label on the dodgy Bollinger is cheap and not embossed, the ink is faded and the logos are not precise.
On the Jacob’s Creek label it reads “www.drinkoware” instead of “www.drinkaware” — and Australia is mis-spelt.
Dodgy bottles of spirits can be spotting by looking at the back of the label through the glass.
If you can see lines where it has been glued on, be suspicious. Major brands add the labels with a machine, and don’t glue them by hand.
WHEN cash is tight, it’s not surprising that people might look for the cheapest alcohol around — but drinking fake brands is a huge health risk.
There are no controls on the production of fake booze so you don’t know what you’re getting.
It might contain ethanol (drinking alcohol) in the amount suggested on the label. But it might contain much less — or much more.
That means small amounts could make people far more drunk than they imagined, with consequences for their safety.
If people drink large amounts they may not be aware they are rapidly heading for serious health problems like liver disease, heart trouble or painful pancreas inflammation.
But the alcohol content could be cheap but poisonous methanol which can cause toxic effects including permanent blindness.
Methanol — also known as wood alcohol — is a common industrial ingredient and not meant to be drunk.
But it smells similar to drinking alcohol so it’s easy for dodgy distillers to add in, especially in sweet or fruit-flavoured drinks.
Other chemicals used include chloroform and acetone — nail varnish remover. There could also be any number of impurities.
You’re most likely to buy fake booze on the internet or through unlicensed traders. But now some off-licenses have been found to sell fake alcohol.
Customers sometimes just think they’re getting a cheaper, genuine brand.
Unfortunately if you buy counterfeit booze, that drink could be your last.