Whisky Advocate, America’s leading Whisky magazine have announced their 2019 “Whisky of the Year,” and the interesting this is that their choice is a Bottled In Bond expression.
George Dickel Bottled in Bond is a limited release, 13-year-old whisky. At 100-proof (50% ABV), the whisky offers a bold and assertive profile with a well-balanced finish highlighted by tastes of light honey, tropical fruit, warm spices, and a touch of leather.
Now while the whisky in question is probably great, what really interests us is its classification as Bottle In Bond. After all, there’s something rather powerful about those three little words, that’s not only intriguing but it somehow implies something quite secretive and somewhat cloak and dagger.
Before your imagination gets the better of you and you start thinking that there might be a bit of whiskey bottling in the next James Bond film (or perhaps that he has retired and started a distillery), we might explore what it actually means to be bonded.
So, what does it signify?
Bottled in Bond (BIB) is actually quite an antiquated term. It dates back to the Bottled-In-Bond Act which was passed in the United States in 1897. It was designed to act as a type of consumer protection legislation to help ensure that the whiskey people were drinking met certain standards.
In other words, BIB was is a warranty to the consumer that it’s “made here, bottled here.” As the feds decree under the act, “the label shall bear the real name of the distillery or the trade name under which the distillery produced and warehoused the spirits, and the plant (or registered distillery) number in which produced; and the plant number in which bottled.”
What were the standards?
Basically the act stated that the whiskey must be –
- the product of one distillation season,
- distilled at a single distillery location,
- at least four years old,
- at least 100 proof (50% ABV)
- with nothing except water added (often done to reduce the proof before bottling)
- stored in a federally “bonded” warehouse under government supervision
Why did they do it?
In the mid to late 19th century, the alcohol industry was largely unchecked, and as such, attracted a mix of charlatans and conmen, who were selling unnamed spirits with a variety of adulterants as Whiskey.
It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that the technology was developed to make glass bottles ecumenical to make on mass. Before that, barrels they bought from distilleries, and Whiskey was sold either by the glass or decanted into containers that consumers brought with them.
It was therefore relatively easy for unscrupulous whiskey dealers to mix chemical additives, colourants and flavouring agents including wood shavings, creosote, acid, prune juice, burnt sugar, iodine and tobacco to either stretch out the whiskey they received or colour/flavour a neutral grain spirit they were using.
Bottled-in-bond production continued after the pause of Prohibition, but the name gradually lost its esteem. As with modern times, inexperienced drinkers didn’t really know what it meant and it became a curiosity and feral designation, like the Heart Association Tick of Approval.
Sadly, over time, Bonded liquor migrated to the bottom shelf, where hoary standbys like Old Grandad and Old Forester maintained a barely discernible pulse.
So what’s the big deal?
There is currently a lot of smoke and mirrors going on in whiskey. The BIB resurgence is seen as being one of the most honest things happening in American spirits. Of course, the government-run bonded warehouses have gone but every other regulation relating to BIB still exists.
“Bonded whiskey is making a comeback for a few reasons,” explains Adam Harris, American whiskey ambassador with Beam Suntory. “Some appreciate it as a novel relic of old-school American distilling and enjoy partaking in that tradition.
“Others find bonded [whiskeys] to be just a solid, high-quality and often affordable product. Even bartenders have been turning to bonded products because of the big flavours and higher proof that stand out well in a cocktail.”
Why use it now?
Sure, the wild west days that demanded such standards are long gone, but there has become a nostalgic prestige to BIB.
Over the past decade, a simmering debate has persisted among craft distillers over the term “craft.” Those who ferment and distil their own alcohol grumble that modern-day rectifiers were simply buying neutral grain spirits and filtering and flavouring it, or buying whiskey made by industrial producers and blending or barrel-finishing it before claiming the liquor to be local “craft.” (Sometimes framed as the “fakers vs. makers” debate.)
When you talk about the “bonded” designation, you are usually talking about Bourbon, but realistically any 100-proof spirit that meets the other stipulations can be bonded, such as ryes and even brandies.
If you go to your local bottle shop, you’ll find a number of different Bourbon brands distilling Bottled In Bond expressions, but if you are after the George Dickel version (that we mentioned at the beginning of the article) then it might be worth going to their website – georgedickel.com