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!


Jason Beatty said...

So the 79 on the bottom of the Old Weller that I got from the same source does not mean it was made in 1979 because it says 750 on back?

Greg said...

Jason - the transition from standard to metric started in the late 70's and completed around 1980/81. There will be bottles that have both or just metric. If your bottle has a '79 on the bottom, that would be bottled sometime in 1979 which would possibly make that Stitzel Weller juice. Great bottle.

Greg said...

Steve - nice bottles, each of which reside in my bunker. The Old Overholt is a very good rye. Last night I was sippin on a '88 Old Forester 86 which would be DSP414; some of the best 'dusty' bourbon out there.

sku said...

Greg, thanks for your comments and all your work in this area.

Greg, how does a bottle have both metric and standard given that the measurements don't directly translate (though they are close)? Seems like it would be inexact.

Jason, I would think a 79 on the bottom could certainly have been bottled in 1980 (the cutoff, after all, was January 1, 1980). Either way, it's the same juice.

sam k said...

Must be nice to live in a state that runs liquor as any other private business. Due to our state-run monopoly, there is not one dusty bottle hiding anywhere in the entire state of Pennsylvania.

You, Sku, have substantially more dusty-hunting potential within your one square mile that we have in more than 48,000 square miles.

sku said...

Sam, that's a good point that I should have mentioned. Unfortunately, all of you in control states are out of luck. State stores don't do dusties.

Greg said...

Steve - You're correct, the translation isn't exact but I have a number of bottles that have both measurements on the bottle. Congress passed the law in Dec '75 officially making Metric U.S. policy. Initially, this was supposed to be voluntary but in 1979 and 1980, the AFT mandated that wine and liquor producers convert to metric. As for the double measurement? Most likely part of the overall transition strategy so consumers got used to the idea; just a guess on my part.

Anonymous said...

Great post. However, did anyone else read the title and think, at first, something completely different? Although, I have to admit that occasionally a bottle of whiskey did make me feel a certain way inside...