Across various alcoholic beverage categories, from whiskey to wine, there are certain terms, certifications of authenticity, and specifications that provide quality assurance for consumers, allowing them to make informed decisions about the products they purchase. In the world of aged American spirits, most commonly whiskey, bottled-in-bond is one of those phrases, and it’s been popping up more frequently as imbibers seek authenticity in the spirits they consume.
Bottled-in-bond is a designation that was created in 1897 by way of the Bottled in Bond Act. The act’s purpose was to protect the integrity and authenticity of aged spirits in America. Because sellers and bootleggers at the time were adulterating moonshines and other non-aged spirits with colourants, flavourings, and occasionally lethal chemicals to falsely market their spirits as legitimate, a spirit marked as bottled-in-bond was essentially guaranteed in its quality.
All you need to know about bottled-in-bond designation
More discerning palates during that period in time would’ve likely been able to parse out a coloured and caramel-flavoured grain alcohol (ie imitation whiskey, and in some cases rum) and might have demanded the real spirit they intended to purchase, but average Joes and Janes were often swindled by shady sellers looking to capitalise on less experienced drinkers. And, for the less fortunate consumers who unknowingly purchased moonshine cut with gasoline or high volumes of methanol — which was occasionally the case — this deceit proved fatal.
To mitigate the threat of dangerous imposter spirits flooding the American market, the government enforced the Bottled in Bond Act, allowing distillers to label aged spirits, mostly bourbon and rye, as bottled-in-bond to indicate authenticity as long as the product met the following criteria:
- The spirit must be produced in a single distillation season by a single distillery (eg, spring, from January until June; or fall, from July until December.
- The spirit must mature in a US bonded warehouse for a minimum of four years.
- The aged spirit must be bottled at 50% ABV
Beyond this designation serving as an assurance of quality, the government also instituted a tax incentive for participating distillers: By bottling-in-bond, distilleries could delay payment on the excise tax until the whiskey had matured the full four years. This incentive still exists today.
Over time, whiskeys labelled as bottled-in-bond became less popular as consumers during the 1970s and 80s ditched higher-proof bottlings in favour of lighter styles of whiskey, like bourbon and blended Scotch whisky in particular. Given the logistical demands of bottling-in-bond, most distilleries decided that it no longer made sense to continue bottling whiskeys in this way but, today, the designation is experiencing something of a comeback as consumers demand more transparency from the brands they consume.
In the last decade, noteworthy brands such as Jim Beam, Old Overholt, George Dickel, New Riff and most recently Jack Daniel’s, have released bonded expressions of their whiskeys for consumers seeking provenance and quality. This shift in consumption behaviour, compounded with bartenders showing a newfound interest in the way higher-proof spirits stand up in a craft cocktail, has given bottled-in-bond whiskeys a new lease on life. This boom in bonded whiskeys has even lured non-whiskey producers, such as Massachusetts-based Privateer rum, to create its own bottled-in-bond offerings, making it the first rum brand to use the designation in over 70 years.
As more American spirit producers embrace this historic designation as a way to communicate the authenticity and standards of their products, consumers will, with one look at the back bar or retail shelf, have a good idea of what they’re getting themselves into. In this age of transparency reigning king in industries across the board, there’s no signs of bottled-in-bond spirits slowing down any time soon.
This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com
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