The Dusty Hunt – Part 3, Decoding the Label

By Brbnizgud


In this third article on dusty hunting (part 1, part 2), we’ll discuss the label on the bourbon bottle, which can hold many clues about 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 from bottle to bottle. The grains or water used, seasonal fluctuations, and maturation process will create variation in any bourbon over the course of many years. In some cases, however, a change in ownership can trigger a dramatic recipe change.

For example, 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 Old Fitzgerald has passed from Stitzel Weller, to 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. I mention this, because knowing this type of information tells me the quality and time line of this brand of bourbon.

Read more about decoding the label after the jump…


As I remarked, 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. However, 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, newer 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 have a UPC of 88076, a Heaven Hill code, meaning it may not be 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.

Simply put, 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. As an example, try searching on Old Fitzgerald and you will see multiple UPCs 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 a specific bourbon will give you an idea of the heritage.

In the next article, 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.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post in the comments below or e-mail me at brbnizgud@yahoo.com

Happy Hunting!


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