You’ve heard me mention it more than once – the phrase “bottled in bond”. But what does that really mean? Why is it so important? And where did it all begin?
YOU’LL GO BLIND DRINKING THAT!
In bourbon’s early days, you literally could go blind – or worse – from drinking the spirit that was called “bourbon”. Going back to the 1800’s, you have to remember that there weren’t liquor stores and your bourbon was drawn from large barrels at the local watering-hole. There was no telling what was inside or where it came from.
Traveling whiskey salesmen would spin outlandish tales of the story behind the particular barrel they were hawking. Furthermore, there were rectifiers – those who were “non-distilling producers”. Distillers would sell their whiskey as a commodity to rectifiers, who in turn, would blend whiskies together until they created their unique taste profile. Some would merely blend whiskies together, some would add grain neutral spirits and flavors, including molasses, prune juice, and dark liquids of all varieties (allow your imagination to run wild here) to create products that looked the part.
Now, before you get a bad impression of rectifiers, many of today’s distilleries began as rectifiers. Paul Jones, who founded Four Roses, began his career as a rectifier. George Garvin Brown, one of the founders of Brown-Forman, began by blending whiskies from 3 different distilleries to create his flavor profile.
FIRST BOURBON BOOM
Following the Civil War, the bourbon and whiskey industry was booming. Rectifiers sought to accelerate the aging of their product and bring it to market faster, adding colors and additives to make the product appear “aged”. Sound vaguely familiar?
All of this continued to cheapen the product and reputation of those who were doing things right. So much so, that producers like George Brown sold his whiskey in clear glass bottles so consumers could see the product they were buying. Distilling giants like E.H. Taylor lobbied heavily for more regulation in this unregulated market to provide credibility for their particular high-quality product.
INCENT THE BEHAVIOR YOU WANT
Somewhat like parenting, it’s important for legislators to properly incent the behaviors desired. While most are familiar with the definitions of bottled-in-bond, we’ll run through them once more:
Must be the product of 1 distillation season, by a single distiller, at a single location
Must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least 4 years
Bottled at 100 proof
Label must identify the distillery where it was distilled
Only spirits produced in the U.S. may be bonded
There were also financial incentives bundled into the legislation, as well. Under the law, distilleries were allowed to defer payment of the excise tax on stored whiskey until completion of the aging process. Supervision of the warehouse by a federal inspector ensured proper accounting (which also meant the tax would eventually be collected). Ultimately, E.H. Taylor and Secretary of the Treasury John Carlisle fought for the Bottled-in-Bond Act. Today, excise taxes account for nearly $10 billion of Federal tax revenues. Distilled spirits today are taxed at around $13.50 per proof gallon (one liquid gallon that is 50% ABV or 100 proof).
Treasury agents were onsite at many distilleries to control access to bonded warehouses at distilleries. Even today, on some older distillery tours – such as the Woodford Reserve Tour – you’ll see a small building adjacent to the production facilities, of the then Labrot & Graham Distillery, where the agent resided onsite. Rumor has it the residence did not contain running water – all that was required was a residence for the inspectors – nothing was said about modern plumbing. As you may imagine, these individuals were not the most well-loved on the property.
BOTTLED-IN-BOND IN THE MODERN ERA
With a second bourbon boom well underway and a rush to distill bourbons faster than ever, there are precious few bottled-in-bond products, let alone BiB products that one can find consistently on the shelves.
Here’s a quick rundown of some Bottled-in-Bond products available today.
Beam Suntory: Old Tub (available at the distillery or Jim Beam Experience only), Jim Beam Bonded, Old Grand-Dad
Brown-Forman: Old Forester 1897, Woodford Reserve Bottled-in-Bond (limited release)
Heaven Hill: Evan Williams White Label, Henry McKenna 10 Year, J.T.S. Brown, J.W. Dant, Old Fitzgerald, Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 7 Year (October 2019 release)
Kings County: Bottled in Bond Straight Bourbon Whiskey
New Riff: New Riff Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Sazerac: Col. E.H. Taylor, 1792 Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
Wilderness Trail: Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond
Willett: Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond
While there are a number of names here, the list has definitely shortened as the current boom has continued. On the same note, though, it’s great to see some new players wait at least a full four years to bring their craft bourbon to market – such as New Riff and Wilderness Trail.
Be on the lookout for some of these unicorns out there the next time you’re scouring the shelves and rest assured, you won’t go blind from drinking a bottled-in-bond product.