Friday, May 29, 2015

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye

Distillery:Medley, Cream of Kentucky
Age:13-19 Years
Proof:98 (49% ABV)

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye is age stated as 13 years old, but is in fact between 13 and 18 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 13-18 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, mixed with Cream of Kentucky Rye from Old Bernheim and put in a steel tank to arrest the aging process. From 2004-2016, the the rye was 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.

In 2016, the last of the blend of Medley and Cream of Kentucky were bottled. In 2018, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye returned to the market, but is now a 100% Buffalo Trace product. This blog post only covers the historical Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye.


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. For later bottlings, the printed date code can be used.

Bottle Number

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.

Original Bottling for Japanese Market (un-Lettered)

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).

For the 2016 bottling, the letter code changed to "Z." This was to designate the end of the blend of Cream of Kentucky and Medley that had been tanked in 2004.

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.

YearLetter CodeAgeNotes
1998None13Japan Only; 100% Medley
1999A14First US Release
2002D17Bottling moved from Lawrenceburg to Frankfort
2004F19Moved into stainless steel tanks; Cream of Kentucky blended with Medley
2008A19Letter code starts over with "A"
2012C13Rumored that Buffalo Trace distilled rye was added to the blend
2016Z13End of tanked Medely/Bernheim blend


  1. I have a bottle of Rye A173, but with Frankfort on it. What year is this? 2008

  2. A1310 1999 Bottled quotation?

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