May 27, 2009

Bottled In Bond

Bourbons that are "bottled in bond" are those that comply with the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897. This Act was created to ensure the authenticity and purity of bourbon, and mandates that to be considered bonded and be labeled as such, bottled whiskey must be at least 4 years old, at least 100 proof, be the product of one distillery and one distiller, in one season. Bondeds are thus distinct from straight bourbon because straights commonly are combinations of different bourbons made at different times and places.To make sure these requirements were met, bonded bourbon was aged in Federally bonded and supervised warehouses, the keys to which were held by the goverment supervisors (these "government men" were agents of the Treasury Department, and up until the early 1980's, they physically unlocked the doors each morning and locked them each night).

These requirements are interesting and all, and can be useful in understanding the character of modernly available BIBs, like Old Grand Dad 100 proof. More interesting is the history and historical players behind the Act.

Among his many other significant contributions to the bourbon industry as we know it today, E.H. Taylor was instrumental in the creation of the Bottled-In-Bond Act. By way of brief background, Edmund Haynes Taylor was born in 1890 in Columbus, KY. He made a bunch of money as a banker and eventually became interested in the whiskey business. His first foray into the bourbon industry was in 1860, when Taylor funded Gaines, Berry & Co. Distillers, which apparently made Old Crow. After the Civil War, he acquired the Old Pepper distillery along with its whiskey stocks. Taylor also had a hand in the OFC Distillery, which today is Buffalo Trace. In addition to bourbon, politics became another primary interest to Taylor, and in 1871 he was elected Mayor of Frankfurt, KY - a position he held for almost 20 years. From Mayor, he went on to become a state representative and then Senator. With his substantial interest in bourbon, and his powerful political presence, Taylor was especially well-positioned to influence the government about the importance of protecting the quality and integrity of American whiskey at that time. You see, Taylor did not want the American public to distrust whiskey, and he had good reason to think they might.

When Taylor was born and living, bourbon was not aged, advertised, or sold as it is today. A large percentage of whiskey available in the 1800's was green (unaged) and thus very harsh tasting. While aging bourbon in charred oak barrels was on its way to becoming the standard, there were still an overwhelming amount of distillers, wholesalers, and retailers who did their best to make the young bourbon palatable. Some used innocuous ingredients, like syrups or fruit juices to sweeten the bourbon. Others, however, used some pretty disgusting stuff like tobacco, acid, and other harmful toxins to trick drinkers' mouths. All this was compounded by the fact that the U.S. did not have any truth-in-advertising, trademark, or brand name protection laws at this time. Accordingly, with harmful bourbon concoctions being sold under the false pretenses of "pure Kentucky bourbon" (for example), time was ripe for Federal intervention.

So, armed with his political might and his determination to keep bourbon pure, Taylor joined forces with the then-Secretary of the Treasury John G. Calisle. Together, they successfully fought for the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897. The term bonded bourbon now is antiquated, but is still similar to the several single barrel expressions sold today. So, if you see the random Bond, give it try, and appreciate the distiller's skill in selecting the single-season, single distillery quaff. And, when enjoying any bourbon, tip your glass to Mr. Taylor and thank him for the absence of acid and tobacco in your drink.


  1. I have an original,unopened,. sealed " bottled in bond " bottle of Old Crow whiskey...W.A. Gaines & Co., Old Crow Distillery, Distillery no. 106...proof 100...made spring 1913...original Internal Revenue there interest in this?...

  2. I have a bottle of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bottled in Bond: D.S.P. KY. 49
    100 Proof
    Distilled and bottled by Medley Distilling Company.
    The front label says:

    I'm hoping to sell it. What is an estimated value?
    I have had it since the early 70's My mom had it for years past that. Thanks. Dan

  3. These bottles are probably highly collectible, but not worth a great deal of money. I have a W. A. Gaines & Co. bottle (empty, but dried up cork still intact) of Old Hermitage Bourbon Sour Mash Whisky. It still has the government label that was affixed over the cork. What's interesting is that it was made in 1916, but not bottled till 1928 -- prohibition was 1920-1933. The label says "for medicinal purposes only". Do you suppose distillers finally found a legal way to bottle the bourbon that was sitting in their warehouses?

    1. Yes. Doctors were allowed to prescribe two pints per person every few weeks. That keep some of the old distilleries up and running ( like Buffalo Trace ). Learned that at the Buffalo Trace distillery on their tour.

  4. It was legal, during prohibition, for doctors to dispense medicine that contained alcohol. Hence bottles of alcohol sold during prohibition contain the words: For medicinal purposes only.
    Basically a person would go to the doctor and with a wink and a nod, get a prescription for a bottle of alcohol for thier supposed medical problem.
    I wouldn't recommend drinking anything made during prohibition though. The standards were non-existant for liquor, and I'm not sure the precurser of the FDA was looking at bottles of medicinal alcohol as a high priority for regulation.