America’s history is closely mirrored in the history of our native spirit, Bourbon. It’s a story of triumph and defeat, relentlessness and fortitude, enterprise and regulation. One such regulation was the Bottled In Bond act of 1897.
Speaking of enterprise, people have been profiting off of the spirits industry for much of our recorded history. It was the seeking of profit by companies in the mid 1800’s that created the whiskey conundrum that let to the passing of this act. In the mid 1800’s, the whiskey market was booming and it seemed like distilleries couldn’t produce enough for thirsty Americans to consume. This is when some got the idea of capitalizing on the whiskey craze by selling whiskey that wasn’t quite… well… whiskey.
Many of these companies decided to purchase grain spirits in massive discounted bulk orders. They would then dump these grain spirits into large vats and mix in flavoring and coloring agents to make something that resembled the delicious amber whiskey people knew and loved. However, as time went on and companies sought to increase their profits, they began to get more bold with their operations. Some would source potentially dangerously produced grain spirits from less than reputable sources, while others began using cheaper additives to further reduce their cost of production. Many of these companies would put completely false advertising statements or use phrases to indicate quality to unwitting consumers. Some companies even led to poisoning customers and then packing up shop and vanishing overnight, only to reopen under a different name weeks later.
Many quality whiskey producers came together to protest the damage these companies were doing to their industry and the trust they had worked for decades to distill into their consumers. Colonel E.H. Taylor (yes, that E.H. Taylor) and other whiskey producers banded together to fight for the US government to enact safety and quality standards for whiskey. The fight lasted until a decision was reached in favor of those fighting for accountability, and the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 was passed.
The Bottled in Bond Act required companies to adhere to a strict standard of distillation practices.
• It must be the product of a single distillation season by a single distiller at a single distillery
• It must be stored and bottled in a bonded warehouse under US governmental supervision for no less than 4 years
• It does not allow the removal or addition of material to alter the substance in any way from the original product (except water to proof)
• It must be bottled at 100 proof
• It must have the green Bottled in Bond label placed over the cork
• It must indicate name and location of the distillery, and indicate how much spirits are in the bottle.
This was the first real consumer protection law put into place, even predating the Food and Drug Administration. Consumers were able to look for whiskey that donned the bottled in bond label and be confident in the quality and purity of the whiskey they drank. It was a large step for companies being held accountable for the products they produced and the safety of those who used them.
Today, we see a large number of whiskey companies releasing bottled in bond expressions that are produced under the same regulations the bottled in bond act set over 100 years ago. These bottles are a piece of drinkable whiskey history. Customers can still rest assured today of a certain quality standard set forth by these bottled in bond releases in terms of their production, aging, and purity of the spirit within the bottle.
Greg Sinadinos started his spirits journey writing a whiskey periodical for Fine Tobacco NYC Magazine. He began answering review requests under a social media page he named “Whiskey Culture,” which quickly merged with Greg’s passion for connecting with others and his interest in history.
Today, Greg travels the country not just looking for great whiskey, but also exploring the history and individuals that the whiskey community is founded upon. He has authored “Whiskey History From Around The World” and is the host of “The Rickhouse” web series.