In the bourbon aisle in any liquor store, you will find fewer subcategories, divisions, and gimmicks. The American bourbon tradition has produced a very homogenized expectation around this type of whiskey. Still, there are different labels on bourbon bottles ranging from “single barrel” to “rickhouse” and “cask strength” to “premium blended.” Most of these labels are easy to understand, but one label is very hard for fresh buyers to grasp. And that is “Bottled in Bond.”
So, what does bottled in bond mean? Bottled in Bond means that the whiskey is a product of a single distillation season and has been aged for four or more years at a federally bonded warehouse. To bear the label, it must be distilled by one distillery and bottled at 50% ABV, as dictated by the “Bottled in Bond” act of 1897.
In this article, you will discover the exact relevance of the Bottled in Bond label today alongside the different conditions involved in earning the label. Each condition’s contemporary equivalent will also be covered. By the end of this post, you will know more about single barrel, single source, and bottling proof, alongside the Bottled in Bond label.
What Is Bottled in Bond?
Bottled in Born is a term used on alcoholic beverage labels to signal that they were produced and bottled according to the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. It is a legacy-driven marketing label that can also stand for quality, consistency, and above all, the safety of the liquor.
In the late 1800s, alcohol adulteration became a widespread issue, with alcohol being cut with semi-dangerous spirits by bottlers. The diluted/contaminated liquor would result in medical reactions and even death. To put an end to this, the nation’s alcohol Quality Assurance got nationalized in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897.
According to this act, blending would be minimized, and the aging process would occur under the government’s supervision. Government-bonded warehouses would be the sole aging facilities for federally approved liquor. The “bonded” warehouse would become the etymological origin of the “Bottled in Bond” label.
The act no longer applies to all liquor producers, but those who choose to adhere to its standards can still use the label for marketing purposes. This label has more than a nostalgic appeal. It communicates a few tangible factors.
When liquor is Bottled in Bond, it satisfies the following conditions:
- Produced in a single season – The two seasons for whiskey sourcing are January to June and July to December, splitting the year into halves. The whiskey Bottled in Bond must be from products belonging entirely to one season.
- Produced by a single distiller – The whiskey cannot be sourced from multiple distilleries. It must be produced by one distiller at his distillery or a third-party distillery.
- Produced in a single distillery – While the distiller can use a different distillation facility than his primary facility, he cannot use more than one distillery for the process.
- Aged in a federally bonded warehouse – After the contents are added to a barrel, the cask must be aged for four or more years at a federally bonded warehouse.
- Bottled at 100 proof – The bottle must have a 50% Alcohol by Volume (ABV) ratio.
- Bearing Distillery information – The label of the bottle must bear the name of the distillery. If the bottling facility is different from the distillery, it should be identified as well.
Bottled in Bond: Does It Matter?
While the act of 1897 no longer applies, what advantage is there to Bottled in Bond whiskey? Most whiskey drinkers see it as a nostalgia marketing choice, while others see it as a legacy label. Very few consumers see the “Bottled in Bond” label as anything other than a branding tool.
Still, the label cannot be co-opted without fulfilling certain conditions, so it does stand for a certain degree of quality.
Bottled in Bond whiskey has the same quality as single barrel whiskey, though it might have lower proof. It is better than multi-source blended and general blended whiskey. A bourbon being Bottled in Bond implies that it is superior in homogeneity to standard bourbon blends.
What Is Bottled in Bond Bourbon?
Bottled in Bond bourbon is a bourbon that has been distilled in a single distillery and aged at a federally bonded warehouse before bottling at 50% ABV. Moreover, the spirit must be distilled by a single producer in a single distillery.
The “Bottled in Bond” act applied primarily to Bourbon, though some rye whiskey producers also used it to receive tax benefits. Nowadays, the label has become archaic because liquor is brought to the market pre-bottled instead of in barrels. The bottled import system, alongside advanced testing mechanisms, reduces the “Bottled in Bond” label to a gimmick at worst and a stand-in for “single barrel” at best.
Bottled in Bond: Is It Important Today?
It is not important for a spirit to be Bottled in Bond today.
The act was first introduced to combat dilution and cutting which happened at the hands of transporters who had easy access to barrels. When liquor is transported after bottling, it is harder to alter and easier to test.
This removes the ambiguity which the government was trying to offset by bottling in bond. Let’s look at how each aspect of bottling in Bond translates to the liquor market today.
Produced By A Single Distillery
This feature is important in terms of consistency. It is still relevant today, though the label “single malt” or “single grain/source” is used to signify it. If a whiskey doesn’t meet all the “Bottled in Bond” conditions but is produced by a single distillery, it will be labeled as a single malt or a single source whiskey.
Distilled By One Producer
This is an extension of the “single malt” and “single source” condition, though it differentiates whiskey making facility from the whiskey maker. From a practical perspective, it does not matter if one distiller or multiple distillers are involved in making a whiskey if it is made in a single facility.
It is a redundant condition as multiple distillers can only get involved once whiskey leaves one distillery and is blended at another one. The “single malt” classification and its grain equivalents cover this.
Aged In A Single Barrel
This feature is a very relevant metric of quality in the whiskey market. Most premium whiskeys are aged in individual barrels and not blended with other distillates. The term “single barrel” is used for whiskey that is aged in one barrel up until it is ready for bottling. A majority of the single barrel whisky bottled today is not labeled as “Bottled in Bond,” though.
Aged At A Federally Bonded Warehouse
This is the condition that most bourbon products today fail to satisfy. That said, this is also the condition that means the least to the market today. If bourbon is aged in a single cask and made by a single distillery, it is perceived as having a holistic flavor profile and a consistent production quality. But it doesn’t really matter if it is aged at a federal warehouse or a private rickhouse.
Since location, altitude, and length of aging period all play a role in the quality of bourbon, there are rickhouses that can age whiskey better than some federally bonded warehouses. Connoisseurs like to know the aging location of their whiskey, as the climate in the area can influence its flavor and intensity. The area itself matters more than whether or not it is federally bonded.
Bottling At 100 Proof
100 proof means 50% alcohol by volume. This is higher than the common minimum of 45% ABV in store-brand bourbon. But 100 proof is by no means the golden standard of whiskey strength. It is neither excellent nor bad. 50% ABV is average, and many whiskies that satisfy most “Bottled in Bond” conditions have higher than 100 proof.
Almost as important as 100 proof bottling is cask strength bottling. When a bourbon is bottled at the strength at which it exists in the cask, it is considered to be purer, even if its alcohol by volume ratio is lower than the 50% average.
Is Alcohol Safe In America?
Whenever the answer to this question is “no,” the “Bottled in Bond” label is relevant. For better or worse, the answer has not been “no” for over a hundred years.
1889 was the last time alcohol was unsafe, in 1933, when it was made almost entirely by illegal bootlegging operations. Since the end of prohibition, government oversight over alcohol production has increased. While this might be a tragedy from a libertarian perspective, it has resulted in higher safety.
Today, American liquor is among the safest, most reliable ones in the world. The Alcohol and Tobacco Products Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), alongside the Food and Drugs Administration FDA, plays a major role in ensuring that alcohol is safe to consume.
Common Bourbon bottled in the US in 2023 is safer than bourbon “Bottled in Bond” in the US in 1897. Single barrel bourbons have higher holistic flavor quality, while individual blends have a more complex taste. Americans in 1897 couldn’t afford to trust blended whiskeys because of the common cutting practices that included adding iodine coloring, tobacco, and other substances for volume.
Thanks to appropriate regulation and oversight, consumers today can purchase blended bourbons made from safe-to-consume vattings and designed to be flavorsome. You can buy any bourbon in an American liquor store with the knowledge that it is safer than a “Bottled in Bond” bourbon from the era where the label was the only measure of quality control.
Bottled in Bond FAQs
What are the 3 requirements for a product to be “Bottled in Bond”?
For a product to be Bottled in Bond, it must be distilled in a single season, aged in a federally bonded warehouse, and bottled at 50% ABV.
Other conditions include distilling at a single distillery and aging in a single barrel. The “Bottled in Bond” label was a consumption-safe quality assurance in 1897 when bourbon was notoriously easy to tweak.
Is bottled in bond FDA approved?
The FDA was created nine years after the passing of the “Bottled in Bond” act of 1897. The act was the first consumer protection bill in US history and set the stage for future regulations, which were ultimately overseen by the FDA.
The FDA doesn’t regulate the “Bottled in Bond” label today, though it does oversee mislabeling to an extent. Most of the alcohol regulations are overseen by The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, and if a spirit has a misleading “Bottled in Bond” claim, it can be reported to the TTB.
Why is bottled in bond better?
Bottled in Bond is better because it is usually a single barrel product that has a degree of consistency. However, it isn’t the best quality label available today. “Cask strength single barrel” is the best label for spirit consistency, and “still strength single grain” is the best label for alcohol strength. Bottled in Bond is mostly a legacy marketing label.
Is bottled in bond made today?
Bottled in Bond bourbon is made today by multiple distilleries that have a history of producing bonded whiskey. It often comes with traditionalist, old-time branding and has an air of heritage. Whether one chooses to buy into the historical myth of legacy branding or not is up to the consumer.
If you like the nostalgic brand and buy into the label’s utility, here are the three popular Bottled in Bond brands to look into:
1. Early Times Bottled in Bond – The brand started in 1860 and has continued producing bonded whiskey since 1897.
2. Old Forester 1897 Bourbon – It has buttery caramel top notes with an earthen body. The overall flavor is woodsy with an old-timey charm.
3. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond 15-Year-Old – It has honey notes and a subtle fruity flavor. This is a well-aged liquor that comes in a great-looking bottle.
Final Thoughts on Bottled-in-Bond Alcohol
When bourbon is Bottled in Bond, it is aged in a federally bonded warehouse. At a bare minimum, it is not contaminated or cut with subpar contents.
But given that Alcohol and Tobacco Products Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and the FDA oversee alcohol products’ quality today, most liquors in the market have higher integrity than the ones Bottled in Bond in 1897.