What Is Bottled-in-Bond Whiskey?

Occasionally, a new whiskey drinker will notice something unusual with select bottles of bourbon or American rye: There are occasional bottles that seem to share a long thin sticker over the cap of a bottle, that states that the whiskey is “bottled-in-bond.” What does the phrase mean, and what does it mean in practice for the whiskey itself? There’s a lot of history in those words, so sit back and enjoy a dive into the strange world of American alcohol production pre-Prohibition, where a Wild-West mentality prevailed and regulations were a whole lot looser than they are today.

As you may know, American whiskey production is heavily regulated, and if you put certain things — such as, say, the word “bourbon” — on the bottle’s label, that means that the contents of the bottle are adhering to said regulations; in the case of bourbon, that it’s made from a mash of at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred-oak barrels, among other things. Whiskey aficionados might be surprised to know that this wasn’t always the case. Especially before the turn of the 20th century, alcohol fraud was rampant. Bottlers could — and occasionally did — add water to paint thinner, pour in some coloring to turn it brown, and sell it as a bottle of bourbon to unsuspecting consumers. Less-sinister bottlers might merely add flavoring or coloring to their product, or water it down to stretch their alcohol supply a little longer.

In the 1890s the makers of legitimate bourbon had had enough of cheap imitations cutting into their profit margins and they took the matter to the courts, led by a name that those who appreciate fine American whiskey might recognize: Colonel E. H. Taylor, founder of what is now Buffalo Trace. The fight was bitter, with the defendants claiming that Taylor and his friends were just out to create a monopoly, but President Grover Cleveland took Taylor’s side when, on March 3, 1897, he signed the Bottled-in-Bond Act into law.

So that’s the history, but what does bottled-in-bond actually mean? Basically, it creates an avenue for government oversight on spirits distilled in America. We’ve been talking exclusively about whiskey, and for the most part you’ll only see bottled-in-bond whiskey, but there’s no hard and fast rule about that, and there are other types of American spirits that are bonded: Christian Brothers now makes a bonded brandy, for example.

In order to be able to call itself “bottled-in-bond,” a spirit has to follow the strict guidelines contained in the Bottled-in-Bond Act: It needs to be labelled with the same class of spirits that it actually contains within, the label has to contain the name of the actual distillery or the trade name the distillery uses for the spirits, it has to have been stored for at least four years in wood barrels, it can’t have anything added to or subtracted from it, and it has to be bottled at at least 100 proof. If a bottle meets what’s expected of them under the Act, it’s adorned with a sticker over the mouth of the bottle that states the season of production, the date of bottling, the proof of the spirit, and the district the distiller resides in. While it is aging, bonded whiskey is actually stored in locked, bonded warehouses which are routinely inspected by the government to ensure the rules are being followed.

So what’s the big deal about bottled-in-bond? Well these days, not much. In the age of bourbon fanatics who can learn everything there is to know about their favorite spirit online, not much is hidden from the consumer anymore (except perhaps for the actual distillery a sourced whiskey came from). To be honest, the Bottled-in-Bond Act, as well as the subsequent Pure Food and Drug Act, may have been so successful as to drive most illegitimate bottlers out of business. These days, the bottled-in-bond sticker is more of a marketing tool, a nostalgic throwback to pre-Prohibition spirits production.

That’s not to say that bottled-in-bond is meaningless, of course; because a bonded whiskey has to be aged for 4 years and bottled at 100 proof, when picking one up you can be reasonably sure you’re getting a solid bottle, and bonded whiskey tends to be fairly inexpensive. Old Grand-Dad Bonded and J.T.S. Brown are hidden gems for those in the know, both great 100 proof bourbons for under $30. Rittenhouse Rye is a wonderful and inexpensive bonded rye that makes a great manhattan, and even Jim Beam has a worthwhile bonded offering. Next time you find yourself deciding on a bottle of whiskey, don’t be afraid of the lower shelves, and if you see that bonded sticker on any of them, pick one up and savor a taste of whiskey history. It might become your new favorite bottle.

Review: S.D. Strong Distilling Pillar 136 Gin

S.D. Strong Distilling, founded in 2012, can be found in Parkville, Missouri, where its spirits are produced in a cave 65 feet underground. The gin — named for the pillar that holds up the distillery — is vapor-infused with juniper and hand-zested lemon, lime, and orange peel, plus angelica root, cassia, orris root, ginger, and licorice root.

This is a somewhat strange gin — particularly so, since the botanical bill isn’t too off the wall. From the start, the nose is lightly smoky, earthy, and offers an aroma I can only describe as akin to that of new carpet. Juniper is evident, but so are notes of dark chocolate, an unusual twist.

The palate is equally odd — more citrus than the nose would let on, with overtones of brown sugar, allspice, lime peel, raisins, and licorice. Interesting stuff, but it’s all filtered through a muddy collection of wet leaves and dishwater, giving it a dullness that battles directly against the fruit and spice notes that come before. Ultimately, it feels like the gin’s balance is simply off, with lingering notes of burnt evergreen bark rather than juniper and evergreen needles.

90 proof.

C+ / $30 / sdstrongdistilling.com

Review: Cadee Distillery Complete Lineup – Vodka, Gin, Bourbon, Rye, Deceptivus, and Cascadia

Based on the Isle of Whidbey, north of Seattle, Cadee (Gaelic for “pure”) is operated by a family of Scottish ex-pats with a passion for distilling. The distillery offers a wide range of spirits, from vodka to gin to a selection of whiskeys — clearly the focus here, considering the pride it takes in its oak barrel program.

We tasted, well, everything that Cadee makes. Thoughts on the complete lineup follow.

All bottles are individually numbered.

Cadee Distillery No. 4 Vodka – Distilled four times (hence the name) from unspecified grain. This is a prototypical modern vodka, a little mushroomy on the nose but balanced out with marshmallow-like sweetness that is particularly present on the creamy, versatile body. Hints of lemon and milk chocolate give the vodka some nuance, but otherwise it’s a straightforward and simply sweet vodka with mixing on its mind. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B+ / $29

Cadee Distillery Gin – Juniper-focused, but botanicals are not disclosed. Reportedly made from an 18th century recipe. This London dry style gin is indeed heavily perfumed with evergreen notes and a touch of forest floor funkiness, but the body offers more interest, with those juniper notes slowly fading to reveal a complex array of flavors that include marzipan, lemongrass, and mandarin oranges. It’s those distinct mandarins that linger on the finish for the long haul, giving this gin a particular uniqueness that merits exploration. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $36

Cadee Distillery Intrigue Gin – This is a distinct and separate gin expression, “full of character and botanicals, with a subtle citrus focus.” The mandarin notes from the standard gin are stronger here, particularly on the nose, which ride along with grapefruit and banana notes, plus some lime. That lime paints the way to the palate, which continues the heavily citrus (not at all “subtle”) theme, with more grapefruit and lemon notes, along with a healthy grind of black pepper and a touch of mint. For fans of fruit-forward vodka, this is a pretty and aromatic gin worth picking up. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A / $36

Cadee Distillery Bourbon Whiskey – Aged in new, charred American oak barrels for a minimum of just eight months, but you could’ve fooled me. This is young whiskey, but it has a depth and maturity that I never see in craft bourbons. While the up-front speaks of buttered popcorn and salted caramel, what follows is a character that would indicate much more seriousness: ample vanilla, chocolate malt, some match-head barrel char, and hints of roasted meats, cloves, and a soothing, rye-like baking spice character on the finish. The up-front, grain-heavy character makes a subtle showing on said finish, alongside some notes of hemp rope and, at the very end, hints of sweet Sauternes wine. Kooky fun. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #4. B+ / $43

Cadee Distillery Rye Whiskey – Same aging regimen as the bourbon, but with a rye mash. This one’s not as successful as the bourbon, with much less maturity — which is understandable given that, well, it’s not terribly mature. Sugary cereal plays with some weedy and mushroomy notes on the nose, with a slight undercurrent of lemon peel. On the palate, it’s quite sweet but otherwise similar, with a continued focus on grain and earthier elements. The finish is on the tough side, though a lot of brown sugar sweetness hangs on well after the granary notes fade. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. C+ / $39

Cadee Distillery Deceptivus – This is essentially Cadee’s bourbon, finished (for an unstated amount of time) in first-fill Port barrels. (Real Port from Portugal, not some weird Washington “Port.”) The nose has that telltale winey fruitiness, all plums, prunes, and raisins, with a smattering of Christmas spices behind it, plus a hint of caramel corn. The palate is sweetish without being overblown, fruity without tasting like jam. It’s hard to go wrong with Port finishing, and here the wine and whiskey notes come together to create a dessert-like spirit that balance one another with notes of brown sugar, rum raisin ice cream, cinnamon sticks, roasted almonds, cocoa nibs, and lingering dark chocolate notes. One to pick up, for sure. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $49

Cadee Distillery Cascadia – The Port-finished version of the standard rye. The whiskey has a lovely, pinkish hue to it. Even the Port can’t tamp down the grain here, which is just as cereal-focused as the unfinished version, a bit leaden with notes of hemp and wet earth, plus overtones of menthol. The palate is more of a success, layering in fruit atop the cereal, here showcasing lighter notes of strawberry and grape jelly, some orange oil, and a slightly sour rhubarb edge. Again, the finish is boldly sweet, though not so overpowering as to make one grimace. 87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. B / $50

cadeedistillery.com

Review: Modelo Chelada Tamarindo Picante

Modelo’s latest release is a spin on its long-running canned Chelada, a new flavor that adds tamarind and chipotle peppers to the classic chelada recipe of beer, tomato juice, salt, and lime.

I tried the new product, rimmed with Halo de Santo spicy/citrusy salt blend that Modelo conveniently sent along.

All of the extra flavors in the Chelada have a really light touch here. The primary character is Mexican lager, crisp and lightly malty, with some brightly citrusy flavors driven by the lime. The tamarind is more noticeable than the tomato even (despite the ruddy brown-orange color), and the Chelada isn’t particularly picante unless you sip it with a chunk of rimming seasoning. I highly recommend this approach, as the spice really elevates the beverage into something festive. Straight from the can, it’s fine, but too boring to get excited about.

3.3% abv.

B+ / $3 per 24 oz can / modelousa.com

A Brief History of India Pale Ale

Though sours and goses have been making strong headway into the craft market recently, IPAs remain kings of the mountain. High in alcohol, swelling with hops, both tart and bitter, there’s a lot to like about the crisp, bracing taste of a good craft IPA. But whether you’re a dedicated hop-head who can recite the IBUs of any given beer, or a more casual fan of the pine and citrus taste of a good IPA, you might wonder where the name “India Pale Ale” actually came from. Everyone knows what a pale ale is, of course, but what does this beer, which is the hallmark of American craft brew more than anything else, have to do with India?

Ale is one of the oldest styles of beer, with references being found in ancient archaeological sites in modern-day Iraq. But there are few cultures that are as synonymous with ale as the English. By the time of the various pagan conquests of England by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, the meadhall with its mead and its ale was firmly entrenched in the culture of the English. In addition to ale, another thing the English were once fond of was colonizing, in order to grow what was once the mightiest empire in the world. The British East India Company began running operations in India in the 1750s, and from the 1850s to the 1940s the British crown laid claim to the whole subcontinent. Throughout this almost 200-year stretch of British rule, both the government and the army of India were both filled with Englishmen.

All of these Englishmen pined for English beer of course, but the brewers back on the British Isles were having trouble getting their beer to last on what was a six-month voyage from London to Kolkata, then known as Calcutta. The solution was hit upon by a London brewer called Hodgson, who formulated a strong, heavily-hopped ale in hopes that the hops and the high alcohol content would serve as preservatives and keep the beer drinkable for longer. The plan worked better than anyone could have guessed, and soon India was importing strong, hoppy ales by the literal boatload.

Though IPA was of course immensely popular in India, the strong, hoppy quality didn’t develop a following at home, and with the advent of refrigeration and faster transportation methods, standard English ales could then survive the trek to India. These original IPAs, for the most part, faded away… for a time. Leave it then to the American craft brewers in the 1970s to pick up the style as they searched for an unusual type of beer that could help them stand out from the crowd. These American IPAs became the alcohol- and hop-monsters that we know and love today, no longer developed for preservation reasons but just for their taste. In a funny turn of events it was then the English brewers who began copying American IPAs to fill a niche market at home that just kept getting bigger and bigger.

So when you crack open a bottle of Bear Republic Hop Shovel or something similar, you’re drinking a beer with a history that has crossed oceans, crafted from the influence of three different nations. Talk about a glass of history!

Review: Sir Edward’s Smoky Blended Scotch Whisky

With the promise that it is “matured in wood casks,” Sir Edward’s Smoky sure does sound enticing, doesn’t it? This venerable (but lower-shelf) blended Scotch brand is out with a new expression, a lightly peated blend without much else in the way of production information (except for a bit about a “Speyside heart”). Let’s give it a whirl.

For a whisky that costs less than a dollar per shot, it’s really not half bad. The nose is very light on the smoke, with notes of sea spray, petrol, and some rubbery medicinal overtones. None of this is overwhelming, but the nod at peated barley is at least somewhat noticeable. On the palate, the gentle body offers notes of honey foremost, plus a squeeze of lemon and a spritz of fresh sugar syrup. The peat is just as gentle and quiet as what’s come before, a modest puff of smoke across the top of an otherwise simple and sweet concoction. The finish sees the smoke vanish nearly entirely, leaving behind some residual sugar that, to be truthful, is perfectly enjoyable for an outlay of $14 per bottle.

80 proof. (Available only in foreign markets at present.)

B- / $14 / siredwards.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyLIVE Washington DC 2017

With so many whiskeys out there to try, from distillers big and small, whiskey festivals can easily be overwhelming. WhiskyLIVE offers a good balance of options, showcasing industry heavy-hitters along with up-and-coming American (and several international) craft distillers. It’s small in comparison to events like WhiskyFest, in both attendance and vendors, so your options are a little more limited. The size, however, does remove some of the annoyance that can come with wading through crowds of people, many of whom are just looking for their piece of the only bottle of Pappy at the Buffalo Trace table.

There was no Buffalo Trace table at this year’s WhiskyLIVE in Washington, DC. In its place, however, were many standout offerings from craft distillers, including Smooth Ambler, Westland, and Sonoma County Distilling Co., as well as a few surprisingly good bottles from regions of the world not known (yet) for their whiskey.

Brief reviews follow.

Scotch

Craigellachie 17 Years Old / B+ / buttery and chewy with honey and anise on the palate
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / B+ / light for an older sherried whisky; warm cereal notes with raisin and citrus on the palate
Aberlour 18 Years Old / B+ / well-balanced with dried fruit and a little dark chocolate on the palate
Aberfeldy 21 Years Old / B+ / malty with a good helping of vanilla
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B+ / spicy for a 16 year old with cocoa and raisin on the palate
Talisker 18 Years Old / A- / a perfectly balanced single malt; notes of smoke and ginger with a subtle spice

Irish

Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey / B+ / ex-bourbon- and oloroso-finished; a little hot with layers of vanilla bean and dried fruit
Glendalough Single Malt Irish Whiskey 13 Years Old / A / a fantastic sipper; the ex-bourbon cask gives this one tons of caramel and toffee
Kinahan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old / A- / incredibly fruity with citrus and apple on the palate; a biscuit-like finish

American

Smooth Ambler Wheated Bourbon / B+ / thin but flavorful for such a young wheater with notes of buttered popcorn and caramel sauce; looking forward to its older brothers
Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey / B+ / good heat with notes of caramel corn and toasted marshmallow
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 11 Years Old / A / the latest gift shop release; thick and honeyed; full of brown sugar and cinnamon with a great chew
Breckenridge Distiller’s High Proof Blend / B+ / molasses on the nose; spicy and oak-forward with subtle baking spice notes
Westland Garryana Native Oak Series 2016 / B+ / a little thin but well-balanced; sweet on the palate with dark red fruit, smoke, and faint sea salt
Westland Winter Release / A- / light but silky with good heat; smoked bacon, pepper, and red licorice on the palate
Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Bourbon 9 Years Old / B+ / hot for 110 proof; caramel apple and clove on the palate with a somewhat short finish
Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey / B+ / bright red fruit on the palate and a nice, warming rye spice
Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye 10 Years Old / B+ / minimal rye spice and very little heat; oily and fruity but with a lingering medicinal note I can’t quite place
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Cask Strength / B- / grassy with loads of menthol and a drying finish; the youth really shows at a higher proof
Bainbridge Battle Point Whiskey / B / cereal nose; very sweet and a little hot with notes of mint and fudge

International

Paul John Classic Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / A- / rich and flavorful; honeyed palate with great baking spice notes
Paul John Peated Select Cask Indian Single Malt Whisky / B+ / balanced and enjoyable; classic peat smoke and sweet cereal
Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky / B+ / noticeably young but full of light sherry and bright citrus flavors
Lark Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength / A- / big for such a youthful whiskey; thick and sweet with wonderful notes of ripe peach and dried fruit
Nomad Outland Whisky / B+ / the Pedro Ximenez finish is all over this one with raisin notes and a little smoke

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