Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bourbon - The art of the dusty hunt pt 2

This is the second blog in a series related to the practice of dusty hunting. Part 1 we introduced the concept and in this blog we'll get into more detail.

Ever taken a close look at a bottle of bourbon? Probably only close enough to check out the price tag and maybe the proof, but there are many clues that reside on that bottle that tell a story few consumers will ever know.

By loose definition, a dusty bottle is any bottle of bourbon that is out of production and the dusty hunt is the act of rummaging through a liquor store looking for older, out of production bourbons. The sheer volume of information on out of production bourbon's is too much to articulate in these short blogs. What I will attempt is to give you some basic information and guidelines on what to look for and where to look for older bottles of bourbon. Believe it or not, there are many stores that still carry bourbon that has been sitting for 20, 30 or more years on the shelves just waiting for someone to come along and snatch them up; or, if not on the shelves, sitting in a cardboard box in the back store room. Let me caveat that bourbon does not age in the bottle. A 10 year old bourbon distilled in 1965 and bottled in 1975 is still a 10 year old bourbon even if opened in 2005.

I'll digress for a moment and tell a story that happened the summer of 2007. My brother and I were hunting in a major metropolitan city and walked into a downtown liquor store. Instantly my eyes began to scan the shelves looking for key indicators that would tell me this store had gems to offer. Within a few moments my eyes locked on a bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond. Instantly I knew that bottle was a prize so I asked the proprietor if I could see the bottle. Sure enough, this is a major find, a 1965 distilled Stitzel Weller Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond. The bourbon was 6 years old so the bottling was done in 1971. One of the holy grails of dusty bottles and I now held two of them in my hand. The damage? $11.95 each. So, do the math, 2007 minus 1971 would make that bottle 36 years sitting on the shelf. Oh, and by the way….it's one of the best bourbons I've ever had.

Let's discuss some of the factors to look for when seeking out that dusty bottle. First, we'll discuss the bottle itself. The glass bottle comes with various markings on the front, back and in particular, the bottom of the bottle. Most, but not all, bottle manufacturers place a 2 digit number on the bottom of their bottles denoting the year the bottle was produced. Looking at the picture on the right, you'll see the two digit year circled which denotes 82 meaning this bourbon was bottled in 1982. This particular bottle is of Jim Beam White. This is important because this is a key indicator of the year the bourbon was bottled. Distilleries do not store glass bottles and when delivered, those bottles go into the bottling line. So, if you see 78 or 82 or 99 on the bottom of a bottle, you can reasonably assume that the bottle was produced in 1978, 1982 or 1999 respectively. Another indicator of a bottles age is whether the volume is listed in metric or standard. A pint, quart or gallon bottle will indicate pre 1980 before metric took over. A bottle that has both metric and standard will indicate the transition years typically between 1978 and 1980. Metric only will then indicate early 80's and on.

In part 3 we'll continue our discussion on visual indicators to look for when dusty hunting.

Happy hunting!

Next, part 3.


  1. "Let me caveat that bourbon does age in the bottle. A 10 year old bourbon distilled in 1965 and bottled in 1975 is still a 10 year old bourbon even if opened in 2005."

    Assuming it's a misprint from the context and because I do it all the time when typing too, but bourbon does NOT age in the bottle.

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  3. You are correct, that was a mistype. I've since corrected it. Just to reiterate, bourbon does not age in the bottle although through oxidation, it can change in profile over time.