Photo via Old Forester
An often-overlooked category of whiskey is bottled in bond bourbon. This is probably mostly due to the fact that not very many brands actually carry expressions that fit the stringent criteria, part of which involves minutiae like government-certified warehouses. Obviously, the rules that classify bourbon as bonded aren’t mandatory, so why would a brand even bother? Well, there’s a bit of history behind it.
In 1897, the Bottled-In-Bond Act was passed as a type of consumer protection legislation to help ensure that the whiskey people were drinking met certain standards. Those were as follows: the whiskey must be the product of one distillation season, it must be distilled by one distiller at one distillery, it must be at least four years old, and it must be stored and aged in government bonded warehouses. The whiskey must also be at least 100 proof, and nothing except water may be added (a common practice which is done to reduce the proof before bottling). Clearly, this was an attempt to standardize whiskey production to a certain degree at a time when certain unsavory characters were bottling paint thinner, adding a splash of caramel coloring, and calling it whiskey.
So what does bottled in bond mean today? It’s largely a throwback concept that some brands use as a marketing tool and a nod to the long and storied history of bourbon distillation. Yes, these expressions meet the definition of bonded whiskey, but concerns about people buying crap are not as pressing in today’s world of “all whiskey everything” and bourbon-obsessed tippler-nerds. It’s hard to pull a fast one when everybody’s a whiskey dilettante. On the other hand, the proof and age aspects defined by bottle in bond can go a long way, with upstart distilleries popping up in every corner of the country and many brands choosing to be very tight-lipped about just where their sourced whiskey actually comes from. So maybe bottled in bond still means something; a statement that a brand not only recognizes bourbon distilling as an integral part of American history, but a declaration and adherence to certain standards that are universally recognized as helping to produce decent, if not always excellent, whiskey.
Here’s a list of some bottled in bond expressions available today, some easier to find than others, and many of which are part of the Heaven Hill family. With few exceptions, most of these are pretty cheap, but don’t let that fool you. Sometimes those bottles gathering dust on the back shelf at some Podunk liquor store marked at $14.99 yield some surprisingly good finds.