|Distillery:||Medley, Cream of Kentucky|
|Proof:||98 (49% ABV)|
Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye is age stated as 13 years old, but is in fact between 13 and 19 years old depending on the date of the bottle. It's the Pappy of ryes, or so the story goes. In fact, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye was not actually distilled at Stitzel-Weller or even by the Van Winkle family. No matter the origin, it's one good rye.
As I said before, this rye, depending on the year of bottling, is 13-19 years old. When first bottled in 1999, it was 13 years old. The age increased with each successive bottling until 2004 when the rye was taken out of the barrel and put in a steel tank to arrest the aging process. From 2004 onward, all of the bottlings were 19 years old.
The distillery from which the rye comes also depends on the year of bottling. From 1998-2003 this rye was 100% from the Medley distillery in Owensboro. In 2004, when the rye was moved to stainless steel tanks, it was blended with rye distilled at Cream of Kentucky (Old Bernheim). There is some rumor that Buffalo Trace distilled rye was added to the blend in 2012, but this rumor is unsubstantiated.
Determining Bottling Year
As you can tell, determining the specific year of bottling is essential to figuring out exactly what's in the bottle. The year of bottling can be determined with the following information: (i) bottle number, (ii) place of bottling.
At the top of each label is a handwritten bottle number that is normally preceded by a letter (A-I). For the very first bottling, however, the bottle number was not preceded by a letter. This bottling was only available in the Japanese market.
The next bottling (the first US bottling) was in 1999. In this release the bottle number was preceded by the letter "A." For subsequent yearly US releases, the letter code continued through the alphabet, ending with "I" in 2007.
In late 2008, the letter code again changed. For this bottling, the letter code started back at "A" and, unlike in the previous system, the lettering did not increase each year. Instead, the lettering was increased approximately every two years (i.e., "B" labeled bottles began in 2010).
Place of Bottling
Because the numbering started over with "A" in 2008, it is also necessary to check the place of bottling in order to determine the age of the bottle. From 1998 - 2002, this rye was bottled in Lawrenceburg. Sometime in 2002, the bottling was moved to Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. The front of the bottle will state the place of bottling. Therefore, the newer "A," "B" and "C" bottlings will state that they are from Lawrenceburg. For "D" bottlings that were bottled in Frankfort, the best way to disambiguate is to check whether a date code is printed on the bottle. Only the second "D" bottling had a date code.
For a collection of posts by Julian Van Winkle confirming most of this information click here.
The table below summarizes the above information.
|1998||None||13||Japan Only; 100% Medley|
|1999||A||14||First US Release|
|2002||D||17||Bottling moved from Lawrenceburg to Frankfort|
|2004||F||19||Moved into stainless steel tanks; Cream of Kentucky blended with Medley|
|2008||A||19||Letter code starts over with "A"|
|2012||C||19||Rumored that Buffalo Trace distilled rye was added to the blend|