How To Date A Bottle Of Whiskey

How To Date A Bottle Of Whiskey 1

Whether you’re trying to date a bottle of bourbon or determine the relative age of a dusty bottle of Scotch the process for US bottles is pretty much the same; it’s a matter of looking at clues and narrowing down possibilities. Kind of like playing a game of Clue, except with booze.

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, and figuring out the exact age can be a real hassle, but there are 11 basic clues and resources I use when trying to determine how old a dusty bottle of whiskey is. Below is a run through of each along with some additional resources at the end.

  1. Start with obvious
  2. Look for bottle codes
  3. Government warnings
  4. UPC codes
  5. Imperial or Metric?
  6. Federal tax strips & state tax stamps
  7. Bonded whiskey = a wealth of info
  8. Federal Law Forbids Sale or Reuse of this Bottle
  9. Glass date
  10. Brand history
  11. Google Books – Magazines

 

Start With The obvious

How To Date A Bottle Of Whiskey 2
Look for any clues on the bottle itself that’ll pin point it. In the image above we see that it’s commemorating the 200th anniversary of Evan Williams and on the bottle they say the distillery was founded in 1783. Doing some simple math puts this bottle at 1983. Nice and simple.

 

Look For Bottle Codes

How To Date A Bottle Of Whiskey 3
Some bottle codes are easy to decipher while others are not, but if they exist they’re a great place to start. If you can’t decipher them, and can’t find anyone else online who has a clue, reach out to the maker (if possible) and see if they can steer you in the right direction.

 

Government Warning

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You know that big block of text on the back of your whiskey that tells you not to operate machinery or be pregnant while drinking? If it’s not there then your bottle is likely from before 1989 when the Surgeon General’s warning became mandatory.

 

UPC Codes

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Does your dusty bottle of whskey have a UPC on the back? They fully came into fashion around 1985, but began popping up in the late 70s and early 80s. If the UPC code is missing you can move the estimated date of the bottle back to at least pre-1985.

 

Imperial or Metric?

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How the liquid in the bottle is measured can also be a clue. From 1981 forward all bottles in the USA started carrying metric (ml, liter, etc.) statements. Before 1979 bottles in the USA were measured using the Imperial system (pint, quart, gallon, etc.). The switch started happening in 1979 and some bottles from 79 / 80 will carry both on the bottle, but could still carry one or the other.

 

Federal Tax Strips

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Does your bottle of whiskey have a tax strip? Tax strips are the blue (if exported), green or red strips that go up the side of the neck and over the cap and will either say U.S. Internal Revenue or Bureau of ATF. If it says ATF on the strip then your bottle is from 1977 – 1985. If it mentions the IRS then it’s pre-1977 which still covers a lot of time, but fear not. We can break it down to smaller chunks fo time thanks to tax strip changes over the years.

  • 1934-1944: Weight/Proof Marks on ends, no “Series” near Eagle’s feet. Upper-left edge reads “US Internal Revenue”
  • 1945-1972: Words “Series” and “111″/”112″ added near Eagles feet. Upper-left edge reads “US Internal Revenue”
  • 1973-1976: Volume markings removed from ends of Tax Strip. Upper-left edge reads “US Internal Revenue”
  • 1977-1983: No Volume markings. No “Series” or “111″/”112″ near Eagle’s feet. Upper-left edge reads “Bureau of ATF”
  • In 1982 the words “Tax Paid” and “Distilled Spirits” were removed and replaced with simply “Distilled” and “Spirits” on the bottom of the strips.
  • The green Bottled in Bond strips were discontinued starting December 1, 1982.
    (details via wchurst on DrinksPlanet)

How To Date A Bottle Of Whiskey 8

 

State Tax Stamps

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Some states also used their own tax stamps (top left of the bottle above) which can give clues like the State Treasurer’s name, tax rate, State Secretary’s signature, etc. Most of that info can be looked up online so you can narrow your date range by looking up who was in charge when the tax stamp was used.

 

Bottled Under Supervision

Dating A Bottle Of Whiskey

A little side note here. If you see this it’s not a tax-strip. It’s a Manufacturer’s strip designed to reproduce the general look of a tax strip. Strips like this were added by many manufacturers in the mid 80’s after the tax strip requirement was lifted.

Most strips of this type were only produced for a few years at best, as manufacturers soon realized that most of their consumers had never dealt with any “refilled” bottles, as was so common to find prior to the 1940’s.

For nearly 100 Years the use of a Federal tax strip over the cap/cork of a bottle ensured that the bottle’s
contents were genuine. Perhaps manufacturers believed that consumers still shared this view and lead them to include their own strip once tax strips were no longer required.
(via Walter Hurst)

 

Bonded Whiskey = A Wealth Of Info

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If you’re lucky enough to score a dusty bonded whiskey your job is even easier because the green tax strip will state both the made (distilled) and bottled date. Though if the numbers have faded you can ball-park it by looking at the verbiage on the strip itself.

If it reads: “This bottle has been filled and stamped under the provisions of sections 5008 and 5243 Internal Revenue Code.” then it’s pre-August 1959 because in August of 1959 the sections it refers to changed to 5205 and 5233.

 

Federal Law Forbids Sale Or Reuse Of This Bottle

How To Date A Bottle Of Whiskey

Typically embossed on the bottle itself, though sometimes printed on the label, these words will date your whiskey to sometime between 1932 – 1964.

 

Glass Date

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I always save this for a last resort, but look at the bottom of your bottle. Is there a 2 digit date on the bottom? Likely there is and it could denote when the bottle was made. It does NOT denote when the whiskey was put in the bottle, as some suggest, but possibly when the bottle was made – or even when the mold for the bottle was made. It could also just be a proof number or something from the manufacturer and mean nothing at all in regards to age. Take these with a grain of salt.

 

Brand History

Wild Turkey Distillery - Day 2
Is it a brand that’s currently in existence? Reach out and see if anyone at the company can tell you when it’s from. If it’s a style that’s no longer made do a quick Google search to see if you can find out how long it was made for. If it’s a dead distillery look it up and see how long the distillery was around for. Basically I’m telling you to Google it. And speaking of Googling it…

 

Google Books – Magazines

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Another great way to figure out the relative date of your bottle is advertising. Search for your bottle (by name) in Google Books under the magazines. Find ads that depict your bottle and you’ll know roughly when it’s from. Bottle label designs can change over the years and advertising will always depict what the label looked like at that time so consumers could go out and get that exact bottle. You can basically use advertising as a visual history of label changes.
https://books.google.com/books/magazines/language/en

 

Using the info here you should have no problem figuring out at least a ballpark age for your dusty finds. With a bit of practice you’ll soon have your friends asking you how to date a bottle of whiskey, but if you want to make ‘em “learn the hard way” you can always send them here. Nothing wrong with that.

Cheers!

P.S. if you’re looking for some other great whiskey bottle dating resources give these a peek.

Other Resources

Josh Peters
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Josh Peters

I read about, think about, write about, and drink whisk(e)y. In short, it's my passion.
Josh Peters
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41 Responses to How To Date A Bottle Of Whiskey

  1. I found a bourbon bottle on the shore of Lake Arrowhead, California. Thick glass with a cork top. The words Federal Law Forbids Sale or Reuse of This Bottle are just below the neck. Looks like the bottle is dated 1932 to 1964. A long time under water. Thanks for the info.

  2. Great work organizing all this info, Josh. I would hesitate to be so tight on the dates involving conversion from Imperial to Metric, however. I have bottles that are as early as ’76 or ’77 that have dual measurements (Early Times, Old Taylor), and I have had both quart (Sunny Brook) and liter/dual bottles (Old Grand-Dad) from ’79. I think the changeover was haphazard or varied by brands, and since a number of the conflicts were from National’s labels, it further muddies the waters.

    Further, I have seen “Federal Law Prohibits Re-Use” bottles much later than 1964, and I imagine they were continuing to use glass molds that still had the designation in it, even though the date codes imply the 1970’s. I know I have one from 1973.

    Then again, Buffalo Trace claims Ancient Age began as a brand in 1946, but I have a bottle of AA that claims, on a little paper label, that the bottle design is from 1940… which is why I frequently am head-scratching on these sorts of dating techniques.

    • Thanks Andrew, I’d say it’s an imperfect science at best and gathered everything I could that would help ballpark it. There’s always going to be outliers because laws weren’t passed around these kind of things, but if I get better intel and ranges I’ll definitely update them. As of right now, from what I can tell, these guidelines will work for most bottles, but definitely not all.

  3. I have a one US Gallon bottle of Seagrams 7, dated I believe 1968, going off the info here. It has a IRS label and a 68 on the bottom. It is a great conversation piece while enjoying bourbon. Thanks Josh!

  4. I have a bottle that has been in the family since early 60s. It has a metal (pewter I think) label. The neck of the bottle had metal lines down to the label. The label itself has a horse and rider jumping a fence..(doesn’t look like the Hunter label). The bottle is brown and has G & (looks like M) on the back. Any guesses as to date or manufacturer….I am stumped.

    • I have no idea, you’d have to send some clear photos of the front, back and top to the email address in the contact area. I’d be happy to take a look and see fi I can help you out.

  5. Thanks for this info! I work in the theater as a Props Master and it’s always nice to have help with time period correctness for shows.

  6. I have two decanter famouse first made Italy and painted. One is record player with phonograph cork end very good condition. But this is where I’m stuck. The top has a red strip over the cork the Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey is still full not opened The strip has one end less then 1/2 pint on one side of strip said U.S.Inter.Rev. middle stamp said one side stamp one side other side bottle then other side of strip said distilled spirits other side U.S. Inter.Rev.end said again less then 1/2 pint has Eagle top . the other decanter record player same seal with same whiskey never opened with seal and extra cork after its open to put new one in sealed in pàrchment brown paper both corks mint!!!!! Please help oh it also said whiskey 7 years old then .I can’t find not one unopened with red seal attached. Is this worth $ and how rare do you thINk This is????? Lisa

    • I’d need to see clear pictures of everything to be sure, but it sounds like a 70s decanter. Those decanters are fairly common and depending on who made it, condition, actual age, etc. could go for $50 – $250. Lots of factors in play, but decanters on the whole typically go for less than whiskey in glass bottles because they could have lead in the whiskey from the decanter.

  7. Today was a very great day!

    I have a unopened quart of Wild Turkey 8-Year I found at my uncle’s when he passed away, I’ve had it for a few years now. No bar code, no government warning and I decided to call Wild Turkey today to see if they could give me an idea on the age. The polite woman at the visitor center placed me on hold to see if someone could assist me and to my surprise she returned to explain she had master distiller Jimmy Russell there to take my call! He was so polite and asked me a few details about the bottle I had, the conclusion was it was bottled between 1978-1980 and he explained that if it still has the same golden amber color, which it does, then it’s as good as the day it was put in there. What an honor to speak to the Buddha of Bourbon himself!!

  8. I am seeking the value of a sealed bottle of White Horse Blended Scotch Whiskey bottled in Scotland and imported to Maryland based on tax stamps between 1973-1976.

    • Hey Mayanrd. When it comes to “value” of whiskey it’s a buyer’s market. Depending on the condition yours is in I’ve seen them go for $50 – $100. White Horse from the 70s isn’t in crazy demand. You need to go back to the 50s for White Horse prices to start going up. Though even 40’s is only worth about $300.

  9. Hi Josh – found a Four Roses – pint – with US Internsl Revenue tax stamp on on the right side of the tax stamp the numbers 27117616. Also a state of Ohio department of liquor control stamp. Back of bottle – near the neck reads Federal Law Forbids sale or re-use if this bottle. Can’t find any type of date stamp. Bottom of bottle stamp is: D-126 5659. Any any the age of this fine whiskey? Thanks!!

  10. I have an unopened bottle of reserve Giblin blended whiskey. 86 proof Bottled exclusively for John Giblin 345 Bloomfield Ave.,Montclair,N.J. Red bottle stamp across top of bottle. Says Bureau of ATF.Label on back says Seal of assured Excellence Barton whiskey. Number on bottom is D396823C13. Looking for age. Thank you for any information.

  11. Found a bottle of something special de luxe and trying to pinpoint the dating. Could use some help. No upc. No surgeon generals warning. No metics or ounces but states 4/5 quart. Bears red internal revenue seal series112. Has additional numbers I-549 and number 608268508. Still sealed and never opened (redundant I know)

    On bottom bottle has
    K
    Liquor
    [] Bottle 5
    Scotland
    5576

    From reading above it seems it is 1976-1977 but I’d like to know..

    • 86.8 proof. By appointment to her majesty the queen scotch whiskey distillers. No mention of Queen Anne like I saw on other labels.
      Imported by summit marketing company 375 , park avenue, New York , ny 10022

  12. I have a glenfiddich 30 I’m trying to find the bottling date.
    There is some numbers etched into the bottle, not sure how tobdecipher

  13. Thanks for all the info, my wife’s grandfather recently died and left a bottle of Old Smuggler scotch and it’s been driving me nuts trying to find out how old it is,turns out with your information it’s around 45 years old!
    Probably valuable huh?

    • Hey David, glad I could help, though I do hate to break it to you that Old Smuggler isn’t worth anything. It’s incredibly prevalent or sought after. It was a mediocre blend. At most I’ve seen them for $50.

  14. I have an unopened bottle of Guckenheimer Reserve around 1960. 30% straight whiskey 70% grain neutral spirits 86 proof. American Distilling Co. Does this have any monetary value or historical value to a museum?

    • Hey Kirk, hate to say it, but no. Blends are not sought after and they’re easily found because no one tries to collect them. Some of them tasted ok, but most of them, even from back then, tasted awful. Best option is to open it up and see how it is. Cheers.

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