How old is old...in the bottle, that is.
OK, folks. There was a recent string of threads on hunting for old bourbons in out of the way places--little stores in far reached places that may have bottles of bourbon that have literally been sitting on their shelves for years if not decades. Now, my knowledge in this area is limited. I know that if I buy a bottle of 10 year old, that chances are it's at least another year or two older than that (and I'm sure that we could expand this topic even further about bourbon qualities derived from further aging in the glass bottle vs. life in the barrel--and feel free to give that one a life of its own as I'm intrigued with your thoughts on the aging process as a whole, both in and out of the barrel), and a possible mention of a bottling date on the label helps me even further, but what should I be looking for on the bottle for indicators of bottling date (e.g., what is the significance of the numbers etched on the bottle bottom). I recently picked up a bottle of 10 YO Old Rip Van WInkle at a little liquor store in Manhattan. The only indicators are on the bottle bottom, where there's a small embossed seal of sorts (looks like a square with a swirl inside), then some numbers embossed going clockwise from the seal as follows: 3337, then 94, then 8, then 22 with a circle around it. Since I don't have the Little Orphan Annie secret decoder any more, I'm at a loss. Help me understand the distiller's code.
CT Shoreline, USA
Re: How old is old...in the bottle, that is.
Not a lot to discuss about aging in the bottle. Unlike wine and beer, there isn't any aging in the bottle with bourbon. I have had 100 year old (in the bottle) bourbon and it tastes like it was bottled yesterday. The only thing that can change bourbon in the bottle is oxidation, which is a change for the worse. The only thing that matters is the number of years in wood.
However, you are right about the symbols on the bottom telling you when the bottle was made, which is a good indication of when the whiskey was bottled. Just look for the number that looks like a year, e.g., the bottle you spotted probably was made in 1994. The other numbers may indicate month and day, but probably don't.
The reason this information is sometimes useful is that it can help you determine where the whiskey was actually made. If you know a given distillery stopped producing in 1990 and the whiskey is 4 years old and the bottle says 1996 then it probably was made at the successor distillery. Some brands, Ezra Brooks, for example, have moved around a lot and the bottle date is a good way to tell which distillery probably made a given bottle.
I say "probably" because this system is by no means foolproof, because of the way distilleries also buy and sell bulk whiskey. The location on the label merely tells you where it was bottled, not where it was distilled.
Up until the mid-1980s (it varied by manufacturer), bottles still had tax stamps, some of which told when the whiskey was distilled and when it was bottled.
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