Monday, November 21, 2011

Pappy Van Winkle: Know Your Bottle Codes

It's Pappy time! That crazy time every fall when the Pappy Van Winkle's get released. Pappy Van Winkle, of course, is one of the most prized regular releases for bourbon lovers. The Van Winkle family, of the late Stitzel-Weller distillery, are known to have a diminishing number of barrels of that prized Stitzel-Weller bourbon. Along with those barrels, they also bottle whiskey made at Buffalo Trace (and their rye comes from a variety of sources).

Of late, there has been much controversy about which bottles of Pappy are Stitzel-Weller and which are Buffalo Trace. There doesn't seem to be much doubt that the 20 and 23 year old Pappys are still made from Stitzel-Weller bourbon, but there has been a lot of back and forth about the 15.

Pappy 15 is the most affordable and some think the best of the Pappy line (which also makes it the hardest to get). Based on statements made by the Van Winkles a few years ago, it sounds as if they made a big (and possibly final) run of Pappy 15 bottles from Stitzel Weller in 2009 that held them through the spring 2011 release. This fall, according to this K&L interview with Preston Van Winkle, the Pappy 15 is bourbon made at Buffalo Trace.

But suppose you happen to find a bottle of Pappy on a dusty shelf somewhere. How will you know whether it is the old Stitzel Weller or the new Buffalo Trace version? The answer is in the bottle code. If you have ever visited Tim Puett's Ardbeg Project site, you know about bottle codes. They are codes placed on each bottle that show the time and date of the bottling and they can help you distinguish between different releases of the same whiskey. Tim has demonstrated huge differences in, for instance, the Ardbeg 10 over the years, but you can't tell when the whiskey is from without knowing the bottle code.

Buffalo Trace uses a similar code which can tell you the year your Van Winkle (or your Stagg, Weller, etc.) was bottled. The code is a very small digital stamp that appears on the bottle, usually below the back label. Here's how to read it using two examples:

Example 1: K0780907:21

Example 2: N3001114:13

The first letter is the bottling line at Buffalo Trace; example 1 was the K line, and example 2 was the N line. I don't know enough about the bottling there to know if there is any real significance that can be gleaned from the bottling line.

The second three digits indicate the day of the year that it was bottled. So example 1 was bottled on the 78th day of the year and example 2 was bottled on the 300th day of the year.

The third two digits indicate the year - this is really the most significant piece of information. The "09" on example 1 indicates it was bottled in 2009, so if it's Pappy 15, it would likely be from the old Stitzel-Weller stocks. Example 2 has an "11" which indicates 2011 when they started using Buffalo Trace bourbon.

The final four digits are the bottling time on a 24 hour clock, so example 1 was bottled at 7:21 am and example 2 was bottled at 2:13 pm (14:13).

If you love your Pappy and your BTAC and especially if you go dusty hunting for older versions, it pays to know your bottle codes.


UPDATE (March 2012)

For the Spring 2012 release, it appears that the order of numbers has switched. In the comments below, a reader gave this example of a bottle code: b1204011:11k.

I would interpret it this way.

The first letter indicates it was bottled at Buffalo Trace. The first two digits are the year, so "12" means bottled in 2012. The second three digits are the day of the year, so "025" means the whiskey was bottled on the 25th day of the year, which would be January 25th. This would be consistent for the spring 2012 release. The last four digits are the time of bottling, in this case, 11:11.  The last letter is the bottling line.

66 comments:

Eamonn said...

Thanks for the great info. Looks like the two bottles I bought in the spring were bottled in 2009. Hopefully I'll be able to get a 15 this fall to compare.

Anonymous said...

In Lexington, Kentucky, at least, the Van Winkle line is not so much a brand as it is an aspiration. Near as I can tell, bottles here never made it to store shelves this fall, not even the entry level 10 year old. Since 10 year old bourbon cannot be terribly scarce, the apparent Van Winkle business plan to severely restrict availability seems a bit counterproductive. How will the firm win new customers if folks can only rarely get the product? A better plan, I suspect, would be to keep the 10 year old Van Winkle in common circulation and reserve the older bourbons for strict allocation. Of course, it's their company not mine. They have spent several decades successfully building up the brand, so they obviously know something about marketing (and bourbon).

Tom Troland

Greg said...

Steve - good post. There's been discussion of this very thing; e.g. SW or not SW. To me, if it's good, who cares but I understand some do. I have PVW15 from 2006 in my bunker but for the life of me can't find the bottling code. It might be under the label. As for finding a "dusty" PVW15.....when monkeys fly.

sku said...

Greg, did you look hard. As you may know, the code can sometimes be very hard to see (it's very small black lettering). You should try holding it up to a light at an angle and rotating.

I suppose it could also be covered by the label, I'm not sure what goes on first, code or label.

And lastly, I know that recent vintage codes are generally under the back label, but maybe earlier ones are in other areas.

JSJ said...

This is great info, Sku! Who filled you in?

Ryan Murphy said...

I just checked mine and it's from 08...SW juice for sure. Great info Sku!

anorak1977 said...

I just got a bottle of 15 and 20 year old today from the fall 2011 allocation. Both were bottled about 3 weeks apart from eachother this year.

With all this talk of S/W vs. BT juice, I'm sure that the 15 is new BT spirit... but how sure can I be that they haven't used BT 1991 juice in the Fall 2011 release? I got it because I was sure it was still S/W :)

anorak1977 said...

Sorry for the over-post, I meant to ask how reasonably sure we can all be that the 20 year old from the fall '11 release isn't BT juice. Thanks! :)

sku said...

I'd say you can be pretty sure. Preston Van Winkle says in the interview I link above (at around 14:00) that the 20 and 23 are still from stocks that were made at Stitzel-Weller.

SteveBM said...

Thanks for this post. It's fun for us bourbon dorks (to use Greg's blog name haha). I just got up to Boston where my Dad proudly announced that he'd scored an "old" bottle of 15. This I highly doubted and in the spirit my pops and I have of loving to challenge each other's bold claims, I hit your blog to help prove him wrong. I found the digital stamp (located just under the bottom right corner of the back label - needed to tilt the bottle and hit it with a flashlight to make it out) and found that his bottle was bottled this year in October (298th day). The odd thing was that it was bottled at 8:28pm. I guess during Pappy season they burn the midnight oil at BT.

Thanks for aiding me in victory. Next up I will just have to shame the old man into letting me crack the bottle and have at it!

Anonymous said...

I finally opened up the fall 2011 release today... am I alone in being very unimpressed with this? It's rather one-dimensional and lacks something in the mid-palate. It tastes like an above average cognac.

I am hoping the 20 is a whole lot better! I may just put it on ebay since I only paid $90 for it though :)

The 2011 Saz. 18 I opened today as well was SOOO much a sexier dram!

Anonymous said...

Anon, if you'd tasted the 2011 Pappy 15 in a blind vertical with Pappy 15 from 2007-2010 releases; then yes, you are alone. And as your glowing praise for Saz 18 indicates your taste buds prefer spicier rye whiskies to silkier wheated bourbons, you could have saved a bundle discovering your preference for rye-based flavors by trying entry-level whiskies before purchasing two of the finest and rarest on Earth.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, I meant 2007-2011 releases.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Anonymous, but I find the Jefferson Presidential 17 to be much more flavorful than the 15 PVW, and the label actually tells you it's S/W juice.

The 20 is far better than the 15 as well. IMHO. My palate is far from inexperienced.

For true "rarity" go find a 70s Brora or an old Springbank 21. Those, my friend are sexy whiskies.

sku said...

Hey now folks, let's be civil and respect each other's opinions. There is no right answer when it comes to which is the better whiskey.

Anonymous said...

Agreed Sku. My apologies.

bkarmstrong said...

I just bought 2 bottles of PPW 15 and on inspection of the bottle codes realized I have one 2009 and one 2011. I am very excited to have an older one, but I am not yet convinced that the 2009 is truly Stitzel-Weller product. The math just doesn't work out for me.
Here's my blog post anyways:
http://bkarmstrong.blogspot.com/2011/11/pappy-van-winkle-bourbon.html

Anonymous said...

I just picked up 2 PVW 23 and was surpised to find that - according to the code information above - they are years 06 and 08 respectively. I am confused as to these older dates as this is my local shop and these just arrived in the shop within the last week. It seemed unusual that they would receive these older bottling from their distributer.. rather than the 2011 versions. Is this unusual in your experience?

Anonymous said...

I found a bottle at a small store in Bastrop Texas on Feb. 2nd. 2012. Had to dust the bottle off but I cannot find a on the entire bottle. At least not one that resembles the codes you have listed.

sku said...

Anon, they can be very, very hard to see since they are small black lettering. If you haven't alreaady done this, try holding the bottle upside down and using a flashlight.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of the old bottles and can find no such code on them. These were from a hand picked barrel that the vendor bought and had bottled. Great Bourbon.

Anonymous said...

The bottle of 15yr that i just bought has this bottle code b1204011:11k the third two digit is 40 I'm not sure what to make of it

sku said...

Anon, I've heard this from a few people. I don't have any confirmation on this, but it looks like they have changed the code. Here is how I would decipher it:

b: Bottle line b
12: 2012
040: 40th day of the year - Feb. 9
11:11 Bottled at 11:11 a.m.

This would be consistent with being from the spring release from this year.

Anonymous said...

Talk about lightning striking - I went into my local liquor store tonight to get a bottle of Elijah Craig and what do see on the bourbon shelf (at eye level, no less) than ONE beautiful bottle of Pappy 15!! (I triple-checked, there was only the one)...I live in a rural "control" state that gets NO good bourbon, or much of anything else for that matter, and this store is literally the only one within an hour's drive. They also normally have a very limited bourbon selection. Needless to say, I almost s*** my pants!!

-According to your info on the new bottling codes, SKU, mine was bottled on August 28, 2012 at 8:04 p.m., therefore it's BT juice, but hey, given where I live it's about a once-in-every-five+-years find and definitely has made my Saturday night!

kik36 said...

Very interesting article. I just snagged a bottle of 23, which arrived at my local store yesterday. Unfortunately the codes don't match what you have here....unless the 2 and 1 are transposed? The 308th day would make sense though. Here it is: K2130811:28

sku said...

kik36, that would have been an older bottling.

K bottle line

213th day

2008

11:28 bottling time.

Anonymous said...

Ahh!--kik36, you very fortunate person! A 2008 bottling of the 23 y.o. is a Stitzel-Weller for sure, unless you're made of $$$ you should save it for your special occasion(s)!

Anonymous said...

Hi, sku -this is edo in Japan. I just bought (ordered Dec. 21, 2012) a bottle of PVW 15 y.o. from Kawachiya online. One per customer and they couldn't have had it up much more than a day. It's in a 70 cl bottle and the number on the back label is:

06.6071 (that's it- no letters or anything else.)Now, oddly, on the front label, very bottom left is the number:

04.6071 Only the second digit is different. Got any ideas about that?

... and I was able to get two bottles of Lot B. Again, 70 cl.(export?) size. There is no back label except a Japanese sticker, but on both bottles the front label bottom right has this number: 04.6081.01

Any ideas?

sku said...

Sorry Edo, I have no clue what that would be. Did you look closely for other codes? Usually the code is in a small black computer printed numbers below the back label. It can be very difficult to see when the bottle is full. I'm wondering if the code you found is an additional code used for exports.

Of course, given that they have to use a completely different bottling size, it's possible that there is a different code for export bottlings.

cjlevi2012 said...

I have a bottle I picked up somewhere between 2002 and 2006. I cannot locate the bottling code for the life of me (I even tried the flashlight trick) but it has the same label codes that Edo mentioned. How big is the bottling code?

Thanks!

Chris

cjlevi2012 said...

Also, I purchased the bottle I the Midwest and the glass has a neat logo with an S inside a rectangle with 2 "L"s inside the curves of the S, not sure if this is significant or not.

Thanks again!

Chris

sku said...

The bottle code is usually somewhere under the back label. It is quite small, maybe 8 point or so and in black type which makes it very hard to see in a full bottle. I'm not sure when they started using it, so if it's an early bottling, it's possible it was before they were using it.

Anonymous said...

Just picked up a bottle of PVW 23 with the code K2110810:16. Time to store it away for a rainy day. Thanks for article, it was a great help.

Hey Edo, don't read the code on the label, mine says 06.6104, you need to look for black numbers on the glass bottle, they are hard to see unless you are looking for them.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

SKU,
Did the 20, and 23 start coming from BT the same time as the 15? I have a 2011 20 year PVW. The code is similar to the first example you gave.

Thanks,

Josh

sku said...

Josh, no. Understandably, they ran out of the 15 first. Sometime last year, the 20 year old became a blend of Stitzel-Weller and BT (and probably Bernheim too). The 23 is still all Stitzel-Weller but all of it is bottled and they will keep releasing it. When those bottles dry up, they will move to a mixture as well, but no one knows when that will be.

Wade said...

I think BT started this sometime in 2007. I checked my Saz 18 collection and 2007 bottle has laser code and 2006 bottle does not.

Anonymous said...

I got a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23. I cannot find a laser code on the bottle. The bottle # is 1595 can someone tell me what I have? Thank You.

Macked said...

Hi,

I bought a bottle of the 20YO today (in Australia believe it or not).

B1227

So I am right in assuming that this is no longer pure Stitzel-Weller?

Rgds

sku said...

Macked, that looks like a label code (the code hand written on the label). The codes referred to here are the electronic codes printed directly on the bottle, usually near the bottom.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a 20 yr Pappy from a local liquor store and have been trying to find the laser codes to get information on when it bottled. I can't find it anywhere. I've used the flashlight method and also looked under the labels with no luck. I've checked other bottles and haven't had a problem find these codes before. Is there a chances they don't code all bottles or it could've been skipped? Thanks.

sku said...

Anon, maybe you got your hands on an older bottle. They didn't start using the code until around 8 or 9 years ago.

Christopher Ancona said...

I just found a bottle of 20yr PVW with the code L07300445 in a little liquor shop off the beaten path. Of course I bought it immediately. Can anyone confirm that the label states it is from year 2000? I just want to make sure I am not crazy..I have not seen anyone with a "L" as the first letter, I have only heard of B and N..

sku said...

Hmm, I don't think they were using the bottle codes that far back. Is there a colon in there somewhere?

Anonymous said...

I just traded for a bottle of the 12 year lot B. I was a bit hesitant at first. To put my mind at ease I was hoping someone would be able to tell me how I can figure out if the bottle I got is a real or fake. Great appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Help me out here, please: So, is my bottle of 20-year-old with the year "11" in the digital code a BT or old line. Thanks!

sku said...

Assuming you're reading the code correctly, if it indicates 2011 and is a 20 year old, it should be Stitzel-Weller.

Anonymous said...

Here is the cipher code straight from the bottling folks at PVW.
B1219014:48M


First letter indicates it was bottled at Buffalo Trace
First two numbers indicate year bottled
Next three are Julian date.
Time in 24 hr format
Last letter is the bottling line on which it was bottled.

So, Buffalo Trace, 2012, 190th day of the year at 2:48 on line M


Bottling Date on Bottle pre 2011

M1901014:48

Line on which bottled
3 digit Julian date
year bottled
time in 24hr format

Anonymous said...

B1312113:24M

Just would like to confirm what year this bottle is. I am under the impression that it is a 2013 but a friend is claiming it to be a 2011. Please clarify. Thank you.

sku said...


You are correct. This is the new code configuration with letters at both sides.

B = Buffalo Trace
13 = 2013
121 = 121st day of the year
13:24=time of bottling (24 hr clock)
m = bottling line m

Anonymous said...

Curious about Lot b bottled in 2007. Trying to find out if it is possible this is S/W? Thanks

sku said...

Anonymous. Yes, it's possible there is SW in it, though if there is, it's probably blended with Bernheim. It's also possible that it's 100% Bernheim. Sorry for the lack of clarity, but I doubt you're going to get a better answer than that from anyone.

jsm said...

Is there a way to find out the age of a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 that does not have a bottle code? Have had the bottle for approx. 8-10 years.

sku said...

Is there a way to find out the age of a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 that does not have a bottle code?

Yes, it's 15 years old.

Just kidding. I know what you mean.

I believe the bottle codes started in 2007, so you know it was bottled between late 2004 (when they started Pappy 15) and 2006, but I think that's the closest you can get.

jsm said...

Haha your funny.
Thank you for the info. Any idea what the value might be?

sku said...

Sorry, value isn't my area.

Anonymous said...

So my family has had several bottles of PVW 23yr from the first or second releases and I left some some with my mom and dad 5 years back. Last week I had only two left and and found out my parents never drank them ! So now I literally have 5 dusty bottles of PVW 23yr with gold wax.

My questions is: how do you read the bar codes on the older labels?
and did subsequent releases continue the bottle numbering or did they start over each time?
Because I have some that are numbered between 1-100

sku said...

If you mean the hand written code on the label, I don't think there is a reliable way to decipher that. However, if the bottle's glass is green, it's from the first release of Pappy 23. If the glass is clear, it's from the second release (or later).

Anonymous said...

There is probably a duplicate comment coming because there is a lag time in posting so please disregard the repeated post.

Anyway, yes the bottle is clear so I guess it it the second release. THe hand written bottle numbers are Im curious about though. did they start over at bottle number 1 for each release?

sku said...

I've never heard a solid explanation. I don't think even they know the rhyme or reason of those numbers at this point.

ds said...

hello - thanks for this older, but still very useful post :)

question, i'm looking at a (dumpy) bottle of old rip van winkle 10 (107) and found the serial on the bottom:
http://i.imgur.com/Y6iHMV8.png

so the code is:
42 24 111 12 21:00

unsure of what the "42 24" means, but i gather that the rest translates to being bottled on the 11th day (april 21) in 2012 @ 9:00pm

any help on the "42 24"?
thanks,
ds.

sku said...

That's odd ds. I've never seen the code on the bottom of the bottle like that, and sorry, but I have no idea what the 42 or 24 are, but I certainly would agree with the rest of your interpretation.

ds said...

thanks for the quick reply! i guess the search will continue on. :P

sku said...

There's not really much other useful information you can get from a bottle code. Usually, extraneous numbers are for internal tracking - bottling lines and such.

C said...

Hello Sku, Great thread! On 2/26/12, I bought two bottles of 20 yr Pappy Van Winkle from the same store. The first one had bottle code (K0210809:23). It was very difficult to find but was behind the front label and I had to read it backwards from the back of the bottle. The code on the second bottle was under the back label (J1470911:54). Since I bought them in winter 2012, they must have been from the store's fall 2011 distribution.

My question is, does it make sense that they were bottled in 2008 and 2009 when I bought them in 2012?

Thanks

sku said...

C, sometimes the Van Winkles do a big bottling that they use for several years so it is possible. For instance, the 2009 bottling of Pappy 15, as noted above, was around for at least three releases. The other option is that the distributor held some back or somehow got some from another distribution.

C said...

Thanks for the info!