Adventures in bourbon - Bottled in Bond
Whiskey is awesome, and I wanted to share some of my recent journey into the distilled beverage with 'yall.
Recently I've been digging more into the world of bourbon, and man, there's some great stuff to discover. As a whiskey fan for a long time, I often find myself shelling out for top shelf, rare and expensive whiskies, particularly in the Irish Whiskey and Bourbon categories. And while these whiskies are always awesome, I've begun wondering if I've been missing out on any hidden gems that might be considered "lower" tier.
Enter Bottled in Bond, the bottom shelf bourbon you had no idea you should be drinking.
I stumbled upon Bottled in Bond when I read a bunch of rants from the whiskey punk scene. Drinkers were pissed that Jim Beam, a massive brand in its own right, had raised prices across their large portfolio of distilled beverages. One of the top complaints was in regards to Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond (BiB). Old Grand Dad, to me, was the "unemployment whiskey", aka this stuff sucks but it's only $15 a bottle so whatever I'll buy it. This led me to research BiB.
Here's a quick primer on BiB. Introduced in 1897, the Bottled in Bond Act was put in place to protect whiskey drinkers. See, back in those days, it wasn't difficult for any random person to distill and sell whatever they want under the label of whiskey. As a popular alcoholic beverage of early America, it wasn't uncommon to find... unfavorable beverages being sold side by side with some of the legendary distillers that still exist today (like Beam). You might walk into a bar to buy a bottle of whiskey labeled as "Straight bourbon whiskey", only to find out it's mostly colored water, or worse - something legitimately harmful such as paint thinner plus a little coloring.
The Bottle in Bond Act set to standardize bourbon whiskey in America, both for the protection of the consumer, and to legitimize the beverage as a pure product of American craftsmanship. The requirements are as follows:
- The liquor must be the product of one distillation season.
- It must be made by one distiller.
- It must be made at one distillery.
- It must be aged, for at least four years, at a federally bonded barrel aging warehouse.
- It must be bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV).
The bottle's label must identify all of the above before a whiskey can be sold under the label of BiB. The cool thing? This federal label is still in act today, and you can go out and buy Bottled in Bond bourbon at most bottle shops near you. Most modern distilleries don't bother with BiB labeling, as it can be costly and annoying to produce. However, there are still quite a few BiB whiskies to choose from, made by names such as Jim Beam, Old Granddad, Rittenhouse, and Old Forester.
You might wonder to yourself "so what? Why would I care about BiB when I can buy Two James Grass Widow?" There are a few reasons, and most of which favor the budget and adventurous bourbon seekers.
Firstly, it's important to note the 100 proof requirement for BiB bourbons. Most bourbons will be bottled at 60-80 proof, which will give you a light, watered down flavor. By picking up a BiB bourbon, you can guarantee yourself a big and intense flavor, most of which that will be very clear examples of what makes bourbon whiskey great - a sweet flavor of corn, rye, and heat.
Because of the intensity of these flavors, BiB whiskey makes for EXCELLENT cocktail bourbon. In fact, a well-kept secret is that most bartenders prefer to stick to BiB whiskey for all of their cocktail mixing (specifically rye-forward variants), because they impart huge flavor without the need of using a ton of whiskey from the bottle. That, and they're typically super cheap.
The price really is a shock with these whiskies. Most BiB bourbons found today can be purchased between 20-30 dollars. You've probably seen them, sitting on the bottom shelf of a whiskey isle, gathering dust. BiB bourbon has long been considered a hidden secret for bourbon lovers, and I'm only now beginning to understand why - they're delicious and a great bang for the buck.
Ultimately though, BiB whiskey is great because you're guaranteed to know what's in that bottle. Sure, we live in a world where we're not about to be duped by some punk selling paint thinner in a bottle. That being said, you don't always know where the whiskey actually comes from, or what the age statement actually is. When you buy Bottled in Bond whiskey, you know exactly what's gone into that bottle. That kind of transparency is pretty neat.
Here's a great article on Paste about Bottle in Bond, including a list of some of the best currently available Bottled in Bond brands. If you're a discerning bourbon drinker and are even the slightest bit curious, give some of these a shot (I'm sipping on Old Granddad BiB right now!). You might be surprised what you'll find in those dusty, ignored bottles.