American Whiskey Podcast – Bottled in Bond Episode – Where does American Whiskey get the Bottled in Bond label?
Hey there welcome to the first ever episode of American Whiskey podcast, where we focus on the intersection of American history and American whiskey. The goal is to hopefully shed a little knowledge and give you an interesting nugget to share at your next whiskey meeting or when you’re trying to impress those stodgy “I only order drinks with aperol in them” bar types. This episode of the whiskey podcast will focus on whiskey that is Bottled in Bond. What’s it mean? Where does it come from? What influence does that have on the whiskey we drink today?
The words “Bottled in Bond” are found scrawled across many labels in the American whiskey market. This really is a category of bourbon all on it’s own. There are stringent government regulations classifying what can be called a Bottled in Bond spirit and the regulations are not even a requirement for being called bourbon. This makes you wonder why our friends in those southern states that dabble in the distillation of the devil’s brew, you know, those southern states that are often rallying for small government and generally voting against their best interests, even bother with producing whiskey adhering to these standards? Submitting even further to government control?
Back in Time on the American Whiskey Train
Well come on a trip with me where we must reach that magical speed of 88 miles per hour and end up in 1897 where the Bottled in Bond act was first penned. Let me set the stage for you in this whiskey podcast. It’s very easy to look at individual instances in history and forget the context of everything that’s happening around the US. The United States in 1897 looked pretty different than it did today. We are talking about 30 or so years since the civil war and the industrial revolution is booming. Metropolitan cities are growing rapidly and at this point we’ve moved away from a primarily agriculture driven nation. Skyscrapers are constructed and world fairs are all the rage, those are those cool bizarre type things from the movies where people are demonstrating the newest inventions. Electricity is buzzing it’s way into every city, shining a light on young America being on the brink of becoming a real world power. At this point blacks have the right to vote with the passing of the 15th amendment, even though most southern states denied this right by literacy tests and other constitution limiting methods. We have a Jim Crow South present with the passing of Plessy vs. Fergueson saying that Separate but equal IS in fact constitutional. Railroads are spreading across the entire United States and There was an influx of 15 million immigrants from everywhere across the globe, including my ancestors, my great, great grandfather who came through Ellis Island and left our name on the wall. William Mckinley became president in 1897, a pro-business republican out of Ohio, who is later assinated. And the united states government decided to pass the Bottled in Bond act.
Now that you’ve been inundated with a 30,000 foot view of history, you should have so many questions running through your head: what would decide that regulating the production of bourbon is more important than say, I dunno, women having the right to vote? This was before Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. And McKinley was a pro-business republican in a time when the speed of industrialization meant these huge factories could make 6 year old kids work 18 hours a day. Why would they want to introduce more regulation? Well, lets dive deeper in the whiskey podcast and discover there are a couple of reasons for this.
From a public safety perspective, people are drinking a lot. I mean if you had just worked for 12 hours in a factory with incredibly dangerous equipment and trying to avoid the black lung, I’d say you deserved a drink or 7. An issue arises when there is no regulation. You see people decided to start making there own whiskey by grabbing a little rubbing alcohol & adding little tobacco spit from the old spittoon and bottling it together, viola! We’ve got whiskey. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had any rubbing alcohol, but I remember a game I used to play on the old ti83 calculators, when we were supposed to be doing geometry, called “Hick Quest”. The object of this game was, if I remember correctly, to get as drunk as possible without dying and one of the options was to “chug rubbing alcohol”. And you can guess what happened to our questing hick when he drank the rubbing alcohol. Yes, he in fact died. And what’s worse for factory owners than workers dying when trying to blow off some steam from their 19 hour work days?
So some rules were established to try and be able to tell the difference between legitimate whiskey and the rubbing alcohol. The rules are as follows: the whiskey must be distilled in one season, meaning January to December, so no combining old distilled stock with new distilled stock to boost your production, it must be distilled by one distiller in one distillery, so no combining spirits from different distilleries, it must be at least four years old, must be bottled at least 100 proof with nothing added but water, and it must be stored in a government bonded warehouse and placed under government officials supervision. Then a pretty little green seal of sorts was placed over the cork in the bottle. Now all of these rules are in addition to the already rules in place for whiskey – must be made of a distilled spirit and aged in oak. So in effect, bottled in bond whiskey, is legitimately the most regulated spirit in existence. To be clear, other distilled spirits can be bottled in bond also, but this is a whiskey podcast so I don’t care about your gluten free Tito’s vodka.
What about the distillers?
So there’s another piece of this puzzle that is in need of being talked about, the actual manufactures of the whiskey. Why would they want the government coming in and telling them how to make whiskey and forcing them to store it in some over regulated government building? And that my friends, lies as one of the only two sure things in life. Taxes. The other sure thing being death. You see, making whiskey is a pretty costly endeavor. You have to distill the spirit, which has cost in equipment and grain and wood and people to run it and a building in which to do this in. Then on top of your initial cost of distilling, you have to store that whiskey for aging in a barrel somewhere. Then you have to pay to bottle it and ship it to stores. And you don’t get paid until that bottle actually sells. Even more so, the government taxes the alcohol every year it is sitting in your warehouse aging. That’s a lot of money out of pocket. Here’s the beauty of Bottling in Bond, by storing the barrels in a government bonded warehouse, all those taxes you would normally pay are delayed until the product is bottled or otherwise exported.
What? I can get out of paying thousands of dollars in taxes while legitimatizing my brand and making my whiskey even more desirable. Sign me up. And none other than Colonel EH Taylor played a big role in getting this act signed into law and getting other distillers on board.
What does that mean for me today?
So awesome, back in the dark ages the whiskey industry was legitimized and people stopped chugging rubbing alcohol. But what does that mean for us today? Not a damn thing… maybe. The FDA and the brands that you’ll find on the shelf work really hard to make sure the stuff you’re drinking isn’t poisonous anymore. To be fair it’s been that way for a long time. So why is Bottled in Bond still scrawled across the bottle of cured oak you just bought off the black whiskey market? Mostly it’s a nod to the progression of whiskey through time, an ode to times past and you know, a really good marketing tactic that sounds really good when you say it out loud in the Total Wine bourbon aisle.
So there you have it, the tale of bottled in bond and what it means. Now, what do you say we drink a bottled in bond whiskey.
The Review of Very Old Barton 6 year Bottle in Bond
We are drinking a BiB version of Very Old Barton. We actually don’t get this in California, and from what I’ve read, it’s actually not available very many places at all. The good thing about this whiskey is the price point is extremely affordable. However, finding inexpensive bourbon that’s worth drinking isn’t hard at all. On the nose of this whiskey corn is very present and I get some apple. There’s also some spice that tingles the nose hairs a bit. On the mouth I get a cool coating that’s rich with caramel apple. There’s also some cinnamon that touches the back of the tongue. The finish is pretty filled with caramel and there’s also a bit of tannic. Now for most entry-level whiskey drinkers, just being able to pick out one smell, one flavor, or one taste other than burning is a feat in and of itself. But one of the issues that those with more refined palates will find is that Very Old Barton 6 year is lacking in depth. There’s not much there, but for a daily drinker, this whiskey is fantastic and for the $17 I paid for it, it flat out can’t be beat.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the American Whiskey Podcast. It’s been swell, but the swelling has gone down. Catch ya on the flip side.