7 Bottled-in-Bond Bourbons to Try Now
In the modern age of craft distilling and rapid-aging, many feel that a bourbon labeled as Bottled-in-Bond is an unnecessary hurdle. On the other hand, bourbon created under this 125-year-old legislation is a throwback to the time-honored tradition of allowing bourbon to age slowly, over time, and when quality was a foremost consideration.
America's First Food Safety Act
I grew up learning about America's nod to food and drug safety by reading excerpts from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Focusing on the meat-packing industry, this investigative reporting was published in 1906. Nearly a decade earlier, though, several bourbon legends, including Colonel E.H. Taylor - master distiller at the E.H. Taylor Distillery (now Castle & Key), pushed for its passing. In a time when rectifiers were purchasing bulk spirits and adding artificial (and deadly) flavorings and colorings, including molasses, prune juice, turpentine, and, yes, tobacco spit.
The result was America's first food safety act - not for food, but for bourbon. Yes, you read that right. The Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 set standards for quality and authenticity. Spirits labeled as Bottled-in-Bond must be:
a product of 1 distillation season, by a single distiller, at a single location
aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years
bottled at 100 proof
labeled to identify the distillery where it was distilled
produced in the U.S.
Old Tub Bottled-in-Bond ($22 - $25)
Starting out at the lower-end, this brand produced by Jim Beam has classic Jim Beam notes. The mash bill is 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. In the glass you'll find a lovely copper color with a fragrant vanilla and caramel nose. The non-chill filtration leads to a lovely "chew" and viscous feeling with vanilla, caramel, almond paste and marzipan. With a medium-long finish spotlighting vanilla, oak, and gentle spice, this is one that will please both novice and experienced bourbon fans. oak and gentle spices follow with a light and smooth mouthfeel.
($40 - $45)
Wilderness Trail isn't a brand that rolls off your tongue, but you may be seeing more of it following its recent acquisition by Campari (owner of Wild Turkey).While many brands use a "sour mash", incorporating mash from the previous run (think "sourdough bread starter"), each run utilizes a "sweet mash", meaning fresh yeast is incorporated into each mash run.
This is our only wheated bourbon in the line-up, with a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% wheat, and 12% malted barley. The corn and wheat are grown locally in the Danville, KY area.
You'll find loads of corn-on-the-cob intertwined with honey, caramel and vanilla notes, along with a quick wisp of spice and campfire smoke. This is another brand that utilizes a non-chill filtered process that leaves more esters and oils in the finished product resulting in a slippery smooth sensation.
I was super-sad when Heaven Hill discontinued its 6-year Bottled-in-Bond product. In fact, this former rendition was so prevalent that, at one time, I used it as my "cooking bourbon". I was elated to find a nearly-full bottle I'd left in my daughter's cabinet long after it had stopped being readily available. With an updated bottle and label, this is sure to catch the eye of the discriminating buyer.
The mash bill is shared with Evan Williams and its delicious, older award-winning sibling, Henry McKenna 10-Year Bottled-in-Bond - 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. This is loaded with heaps of vanilla and caramel mixed gently with spice and oak. If this one proves elusive, its younger (and bargain!) sibling, Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond is readily available.
Produced by Brown-Forman, parent of the Old Forester and Woodford Reserve lines, this version of their Whiskey Row series pays homage to founder George Garvin Brown's bourbon, the first sold in clear glass so others could see its quality, and holds true to the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. If you haven't tried the Whiskey Row Series, it's worth a try to see how different blending, proofs, and finishing techniques can impact the exact same mash bill.
Beginning with the Old Forester mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley, this is a quite delicious pour and definitely one to share with friends and family. Medium copper in color, this has a delicious vanilla, buttered cornbread, caramel and butterscotch flavor profile. The finish is medium-long with a splash of peppery spice.
($35 - $40)
New Riff is one of the craft distillers that I have had my eye on. Based in Newport, Kentucky, this brand has continued to turn out high-quality, bottled-in-bond products, in the region's traditional "high-rye" profile. The mash bill is 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley, and the finished product utilizes a non-chill filtration process (which I wholeheartedly admit, I enjoy.
When viewed in the glass, this has a very dark amber, followed by brown sugar, butterscotch, cinnamon and dark fruit on the nose. The mouthfeel here is rich, with vanilla cream, cinnamon, and light citrus. A few years ago, I'd have said I leaned towards wheated-bourbons, but I completely enjoy the complexity and layered notes offered by some of the higher-rye products. Don't overlook this incredible find.
($22 - $26)
I am always amazed at how some bourbon fans pass up dusty bottles that are found on bottom shelves. Those that love Jim Beam's Basil Hayden may not realize that it shares ties to lowly (and much cheaper) Old Grand-Dad. While Basil Hayden is extremely approachable with its low proof, it can be quickly washed-out when served on ice or in a cocktail.
Old Grand-Dad carries the same mash bill as Booker's and Basil Hayden - 63% corn, 27% rye, and 10% malted barley. This carries about twice the rye as the typical Jim Beam and Knob Creek profiles. You'll find vanilla, caramel, corn fritters and nutty notes, along with baking spices. This is one to definitely reach down to the bottom shelf and add to your cart.
($26 - $30)
This final selection is one that comes with a disclaimer. First, the bourbon I reference here is the bottled-in-bond product - and not Early Times Whiskey. Along with being a lower-proof, the latter is also not a bourbon, as a good percentage of the barrels used to age the finished product are used barrels - and not new barrels. Second, the Early Time brand was sold by Brown-Forman (owners of Old Forester and Woodford Reserve) to Sazerac (owners of Buffalo Trace and 1792) in mid-2020. For at least a year or two longer, the bottles of this product you’ll find on shelves are the ones referenced here. Once Sazerac begins to take full ownership of production, all bets are off on what the finished product will be like.
In the meantime, this bourbon begins with a mash bill of 79% corn, 11% rye, and 10% malted barley - slightly sweeter and less spicy than its cousin Old Forester. Inside this bargain 1 liter bottle, you’ll be greeted with vanilla, warm maple syrup, sweet corn, and toasted oak. This has a substantial mouthfeel to it, that is creamy and smooth on the tongue, ending with a long finish of caramel and spice.