Here in this the third blog on dusty hunting, we'll discuss the label on the bourbon bottle that may hold some clues as to the heritage of the bourbon in the bottle. Some distilleries have changed ownership through the years and as such, the bourbon itself may not be the same product. Overall, the grains, water, seasonal fluctuations and maturation process will offer variances to any bourbon but in some cases, a change in ownership may trigger a recipe change. I mentioned in the previous article that I had found an Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond bourbon distilled in 1965. This particular brand has changed ownership a couple of times and as such, the product has changed over time. Ownership of this particular brand has included Stitzel Weller, United Distillers and currently, Heaven Hill. Old Fitzgerald from Stitzel Weller is considered some of the best bourbon ever produced while the current version from Heaven Hill is drinkable and some consider good for the price, but it's a far cry from the time when Pappy Van Winkle oversaw the production of Old Fitzgerald.
As I mentioned, the label will hold some clues as to the heritage of the bourbon. In the case of my 1965 Old Fitzgerald, the lack of UPC tells me that it's an older bottle that pre-dates the use of the UPC which, on a broad scale, was around the late 70's to early 80's. Because there are a number of items on the label, I'm going to break down the various things to look for in future articles. For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on the UPC symbol itself. Using the UPC is not a 100% guarantee which is why it's important to use it in conjunction with other visual indicators. In the case of the Old Fitzgerald, new bottles I have that date from the 80's show a UPC of 88508. This tells me that the bourbon is still Stitzel Weller due to the fact that the Stitzel Weller distillery stopped producing around 1992. Newer bottles will indicate 88076 which indicate Heaven Hill which may not Stitzel Weller bourbon, depending on the bottling date. If this sounds confusing, you're not alone. There's much ambiguity in the distillery world and trying to get a clear picture is sometimes difficult.
The UPC symbol should tell you who produced the bourbon. For a listing of UPC's, you can visit www.upcdatabase.com and search on the product itself. By searching on Old Fitzgerald you will see multiple UPC's for the same product (use quotes around the name to filter out things like Ella Fitzgerald…unless you like Ella). Knowing when a particular UPC was used for bourbon will give you an idea of the heritage.
In the next blog, we'll discuss the remaining indicators on the label that will help you in your quest for out of production bourbons. We'll be looking at things like proof, DSP number, distillery name and location.
Next, part 4.