Thursday, February 2, 2012
Dusty Thursday: Dating your Dusty
Since Dusty Thursday is a regular feature now, I thought I'd share some standard tips about how to identify dusties. I'm not a dusty expert myself, but I've read a lot of research that real experts have done. One of the best resources for dusty knowledge is Greg, over at Bourbon Dork, and I would urge you to read his series on Dusty Hunting. Another great resource is the Jack Daniel's Collectors Page which goes into much more detail than I do here.
So you found a dusty bottle of bourbon on the shelf of the corner store. It looks old, but you have no idea how old it is? How do you find out? Well, here are some initial things to ask yourself.
Does the bottle have a tax stamp?
If you're old like me, you'll remember those colored strips of paper that used to go over the cap of all alcohol bottles. That's the tax stamp. Use of the tax stamps was discontinued in 1985, but after they were discontinued, some brands kept using them. In fact, some still do for aesthetic purposes, but the key is that they don't have any numbers stamped on them. We call those faux tax stamps.
Is the volume listed in metric measurements?
Prior to 1980, bottles were listed in standard measurements: pint, quart, gallon, or fraction thereof. For some reason, the US, which didn't convert to the metric system on anything else, converted on alcohol volume such that now volume is listed in liters or milliliters. Beginning in 1980, all bottles were required to use metric measurements.
Is the alcohol content listed in proof or abv?
As of 1990, alcohol content had to be listed by percentage of abv (alcohol by volume). However, prior to that, many spritis had already switched to abv. or were using abv as well as proof (which is still permissible). However, if only proof is listed, you know the bottle is definitely older than 1990.
Is there a UPC code?
The presence of the UPC code alone doesn't provide a precise date, but they came into use around the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Is there a government warning?
The ubiquitous government warning that appears on all spirits was mandated as of 1989.
Is there a two digit number on the bottom of the bottle?
Many bottles include a two-digit date code on the bottom indicating when the bottle was made. Not all bottles have this and it's not always easy to tell what it is because some use multiple numbers. Many bottles go directly into circulation after being made so this is a good indicator of the approximate bottling date for the spirit, but it is not always the case. I have seen examples of older bottle codes on newer whiskeys. So while not full proof, bottle codes are a fairly reliable indicator of the general period.
Distillery/Brand specific information.
It pays to know some history of the distilleries and brands you like. Changes to the label design, proof, name of the brand or address can give you clues as to the age of the bottle.
Now you are armed with the information. Head to your corner "Liquor/Deli/Lottery" store and start looking through the dust!