The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery Bottling Code
Since the bottling code (or laser code) of the Van Winkle bottles changed in the fall of 2011, there has been some confusion about how to read the new code, and what the code can and cannot tell you.
The code in itself can not define if the bottle is either Stitzel-Weller stock or Buffalo Trace stock, only that your bottle is bottled at either Buffalo Trace or the other Sazerac owned bottling locations. No bourbon is bottled at the S-W distillery anymore, so there is no S-W code or indicator. The only way to determine that is to know what year the brand in question switched over.
Since it is safe to assume that there are no dusty Pappy Van Winkle bottles sitting on a shelf anywhere in the United States, so if you buy a bottle today, it is most likely from the same calendar year. If you get a bottle from a friend or in a trade, and your code doesn’t look like the code below, it is probably from before 2011. You can check out SKU’s Recent Eats for the old code.
Example Code as of 2011: B1222312:49M
The B indicates that your bottle was bottled at Buffalo Trace
The 12 is the two digit year, 2012
The 223 is the julian date that it was bottled, August 10th
The 12:49 is the time on a 24 hour clock, 12:49 PM
The letter M on the end of the code is the bottling line it came down, Line M at the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
S-W or BT
As of the 2012 release, everything 15 years old and younger was pure Buffalo Trace bourbon. The 12 year Lot B switched over around 2007, give or take a year. The Old Rip is most likely two years before that.
The PVW 20 & 23 are both combinations of S-W & BT bourbon, with no definitive answer of when it will be all BT in sight. The question with the 20 and 23 is not so much about whether a specific year is S-W or BT, but whether they are S-W, BT, Bernheim or another distillery? Anyone that cares to offer clarification, please feel free.
I imagine at some point soon, an announcement will be made and many tears will be shed once the last barrel of Stitzel-Weller bourbon has been dumped. Until then we can only speculate.