Monday, July 6, 2015

Dating Old Bourbon

Recently, I've started "dusty hunting" (looking for old or "dusty" bottles of bourbon) in Tokyo. The reasons for looking for dusty bottles is two fold. First, bourbon distillation and customer preferences have changed over the years and tasting bourbon from an old bottle can give you an idea of bourbon history. Second, sometimes old bourbon is just better than current production. This is especially true for: (i) Wild Turkey, (ii) Old Granddad, and (iii) Old Fitzgerald.

With Wild Turkey, the barrel entry proof has been raised a couple of times over the years meaning that older Wild Turkey will have a fuller, richer flavor. Old Granddad used to be produced by National Distillers before the brand was acquired by Beam in 1987, and older bottles will have a thicker mouth feel and more of a butterscotch flavor. Old Fitzgerald was previously produced by the legendary Stitzel-Weller before being sold to Heaven Hill in 1992, making it very desirable.

While identifying desirable dusty bottles is often brand specific (e.g., Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye), dusty bottles of all brands can be dated by the markings on the bottle, the label and the tax stamp (if any). The table below summarizes the key dates and markings.

1945The phrase "Series 111" is added to the left and right of the eagle's feet, respectively, on the Federal Tax Strip
1945Bottles made by Owens-Illinois Glass begin to use date codes and a simple "I" inside of an "O" mark
January, 1961The phrase "Series 111" is replaced with the phrase "Series 112" 
1964The phrase "Federal Law Forbids the Sale or Re-use of this Bottle" is no longer inscribed into bottles
September 1, 1977The phrase "Less than 1/2 Pint," the phrase "Series 112" are removed from Federal Tax Strips.
September 1, 1977The words "Bureau of ATF," "Tax Paid" and "Distilled Spirits" are added to Federal Tax Strips
1978UPC Codes began to appear on labels
1979Labels begin to display metric measurements
December 1, 1982Green and blue Bottled-in-Bond Federal Tax Strips are discontinued
July 1, 1985All Federal Tax Strips are discontinued
October 10, 1988Labels are required to show "% Alcohol"
November 18, 1989Labels are required to show government health warnings

For dusty bottles in Japan, one additional item of information can be helpful. From the mid-1970s until 1990 all whisky in Japan had to display its "class" on the label. Prior to the mid-1970s and after 1990, no class designation was required. These classes were based on ABV as follows:

Class NameDescription
Class S>40% ABV
Class 140% ABV
Class 2<40% ABV

Importantly, the class designation will be in Japanese and not in English. The following table provides the Japanese class designation and an English translation.

Class S Whiskyウイスキー特級
Class 1 Whiskyウイスキー1級 or ウイスキー一級
Class 2 Whiskyウイスキー2級 or ウイスキー二級

As noted above, bottles from before or after this period are not required to display a class designation. These bottles will only state that they are  "ウイスキー" (whisky), without any mention of a specific class.

No comments:

Post a Comment