How Old is My Whiskey? - IMBOLDN
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Like all true gentlemen, we’re always trying to better ourselves. And a big part of bettering yourself is educating yourself. When we don’t know something, we ask. And recently we realized that we could know a whole lot more about whiskey. We know, the research is going to be grueling. But luckily we’ve got the guys from The Whiskey Library to help us out. In this post, the first in a series of whiskey-related goodness, they give us the run down on figuring out how old your drink is.

Look if there is an age statement

It seems fairly obvious, but there is something about the age statement on the label that most people forget about: it only tells you the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle. That’s because most bottlings are a combination of a batch of different barrels or casks. Some may be older than others, but the distillery will combine them to ensure each bottling run results in the same flavor profile each time. This is because when you purchase a bottle of a specific whiskey today you want to know that it will smell, taste and finish the same as the bottle you purchased last year (or last month depending on how many friends you have).

Therefore, if there is an age statement on the label it only means that the youngest barrel they used in that batch was that specific age. Bottom line – that 15 year old whiskey you enjoy may have a lot of older whiskey in it too!

What’s in a name?

Even if the whiskey you are looking at doesn’t have an age statement, its name alone may give you some insight into its age. In order to be called a Scotch, it has to be aged for a minimum of 3 years. Therefore, for those single malts and blended scotches that don’t tell you their age, you now know they are no younger than 3 years!

Bourbon and ryes however have no minimum age requirement. So, in order to know the age of the whiskey, you need to be able to decode other messages on the label.

Hidden Message: “Straight Whiskey”

Look carefully at some American whiskey labels and you might see the words “Straight Bourbon”, “Straight Rye”, or just “Straight Whiskey”. This term can only be on the label if the whiskey was aged in a oak barrel for at least 2 years. Meaning if it’s on the label, you know you have whiskey that is at a minimum 2 years old.

But wait! Look closer.
If you don’t see the exact distilling, barreling, or bottling dates on the label then it actually no younger than 4 years old! That’s because a ‘straight whiskey’ is less than 4 years, the label has to clearly display that information. So most ‘straight whiskey’, while only having to be 2 years old (as well as a few other legal requirements) is actually at least 4, unless otherwise stated.

If you don’t see the exact distilling, barreling, or bottling dates on the label then it actually no younger than 4 years old

Three Words: Bottled-in-Bond

The Bottled in Act was passed in 1897 and was America’s first consumer product protection law. It was passed during a time where you couldn’t be sure what was in your whiskey (or if it was even really whiskey). It’s passing marked a new chapter of transparency and openness for American whiskey. This law is still on the books and many whiskeys still carried the label: “Bottled-in-Bond”.

But what does this statement tell you about the age? Well, in addition to the requirements that the whiskey was produced in one distilling season, by one distiller at one distillery, and bottled at exactly 100proof (50%ABV), it also requires a minimum of 4 years in the oak barrel. Therefore, any label that has the privilege of carrying the term “Bottled-in-Bond” is at least 4 years old!

Why hide the age & what’s the best age?

So why not include a specific age statement on each and every bottle? It takes the freedom and flexibility away from the distiller. As we said earlier, the goal is to create the right product with the best possible flavors. Sometimes that requires a larger combination of older whiskies and sometimes younger whiskies. It also allows them the creativity to create new expressions or pick those very young whiskies that some consumers may not believe are as good, or better, than what is stored in older barrels. Remember, just because it is older doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better!

The Whiskey Library was founded in 2014 by two friends, Brian Thompson and Tim Moll, to share their love of whiskey through education. The Whiskey Library hosts educational whiskey and food pairing events at bars, clubs, and private residences around Washington, D.C. to help both novices and experts enjoy a variety of unique whiskeys and to impart a better understanding of whiskey and its history to their guests. They also consult for bars and restaurants, and work with individuals to create customized collections.