Celebrate Bottled-in-Bond Day: What Is Bonded Whiskey?
The Bottled-in-Bond Act was passed on March 3, 1897, to help protect consumers against the rampant bogus whiskey trade. Championed by Secretary of the Treasury John G. Carlisle and distiller Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., (yes, the same man responsible for Col. E.H. Taylor Bourbon), the Bottled-in-Bond Act guaranteed the integrity of whiskey through a series of provisions.
The Act helped prevent charlatans from lacing whiskeys with flavorings and coloring, including vodka, tea, prune juice, tobacco, and poisons like kerosene or sulfuric acid. A product with the Bottled-in-Bond seal meant consumers knew exactly what they were buying: a whiskey made by a bona fide distiller. In fact, the Bottled-in-Bond Act was the first consumer protection act in U.S. history, pre-dating the Pure Food and Drug Act by nine years. Folks in the 1890s were serious about their whiskey.
“Whiskey was a household staple back then,” says Nick Laracuente, archivist and exhibit designer at Buffalo Trace Distillery (Sazerac Company). “You drank whiskey daily with meals and at almost all social events. So I think it shows how much whiskey kind of permeated society. Yes, the temperance movement raises its head here and there, but overall, whiskey is just everywhere.
“I think part of the reason you see the Bottled-in-Bond Act passed before the Pure Food and Drug Act is what’s going on with the rectifiers [someone who re-distills spirits with flavorings], where they are poisoning their product and selling it because they’re making a buck. But whenever you add acid to your distillate in order to add the burn that the customer desires, it’s only really going to burn once, right? You’ve made your dollar, but that customer is now dead. And so, the distillers are like, ‘This is bad for our entire industry.’ And people, of course, are like, ‘I don’t want to die of rotgut.’ So I think that’s why the Bottle-in-Bond Act passes first, before extending out to everything else with the Pure Food and Drug Act.”
Bottled-in-Bond Whiskey Requirements
- One Distillation Season: The distillate going into the barrel must be from one distillation season (January-June or July-December).
- One Distiller: You cannot source the distillate from other locations.
- One Distillery: The distillate needs to be from a single distiller at a single location.
- Bottled and Stored in Bonded Warehouses for 4-Year Minimum: The warehouse is federally supervised to ensure that the whiskey is not tampered with.
- Bottled at 100 Proof
Col. Taylor Leads the Way
The aforementioned Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr., (1830-1923) was one of the distillers responsible for helping get the Bottled-in-Bond Act passed.
Col. Taylor started/owned seven different distilleries throughout his career. Of course, the most successful was Old Fire Copper (O.F.C.) Distillery, which later became Buffalo Trace Distillery. Taylor championed many innovations in the whiskey industry, including using sanitary measures like copper fermentation vats instead of wooden tubs.
“I think probably the biggest thing Col. Taylor was doing was practicing what he was preaching,” says Nick Laracuente. “The O.F.C. facility he built in the 1880s, I think, shows his dedication, with copper-lined fermenting vats and the finely finished warehouses with steam heat—it was extremely expensive. And I think, at a certain point, it broke him a little bit financially because of the expense of setting up something that was basically perfect from the innovation and the sanitary standpoint. He’s making the best product of that time. Especially based on what else is going on in the 1880s in the random unsanitary practices of some of the other distilleries.
“So whenever he spoke, people knew that he wasn’t just saying something he didn’t really believe in. He was doing it for about 30 years before the Bottled-in-Bond Act passed.”