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.
Living as close to the bourbon trail as I do, it's rare that I learn something new about bourbon. Today I learned something new. Thanks Bobby.
Old Granddad is great for cooking too. Most "bourbon _____" recipes like Bourbon Chicken or whatever are made with BiB bourbon because of the aforementioned reasons.
Two James appears as a "sourced" bourbon (Grass Widow) on Sku's list (https://recenteats.blogspot.com/p/the-complete-list-of-american-whiskey.html#MI) which means it comes from a factory.
Confirmed: Grass Widow is made by MGP and then soaks in Madeira Port barrels to finish: http://alcoholreviews.com/tag/grass-widow/
Two James tells you as much on their tours, it's not a state secret. The rye is produced in-house. I'm unclear on their other variants since they came out since the last time I took a tour.
Pretty sure the only Old Grand-Dad that's ever showed up in this house is a plastic handle of 80 proof.
@UPSLynx , Evan Williams is also a "bonded" Bourbon.
Here's the Wikipedia article on it which has a list of a few "bonded" bourbons.
Yeah, I remember them saying that, since at the time of our tour it would have been impossible for them to have had product aging that long considering how new they are.
I thought they were planning on moving production for Grass Widow in-house once the timing made since. Any word if that's still going to happen? (I'm not sure the age of standard Grass Widow).
Exactly why I was skeptical of trying to BiB version. The 80 proof with the screwtop was the unemployment whiskey I mentioned in the OP because I could buy it for around 13 bucks. BiB version (and if you can find it, Old Grand Dad 117) are actually impressively refined bourbons. Worth checking out!
They do! It's on my list to try (have yet to find it out here, though). I also want to try Old Forester 1897 BiB and Henry McKenna BiB, which is a 10 year bourbon that I've heard it's fantastic.
Well stop being a bitch and come back to Indiana. I know a few places that serve or sell.
The great thing about Bourbon (and it's amplified in the BiB space) is that the rules for putting that word on the label* in the US are so strict, it's actually difficult to make a bad Bourbon. These rules came about because of the aforementioned safety concerns, and created an environment where a very consistent product emerges across the board.
It's also interesting to see what kinds of flavor variations can arise from such a restricted space. Such wonderful things from corn, yeast, water, heat, and a charred oak barrel.
I haven't delved much into the BiB space, but I've never been disappointed by it. Mellow Corn was a very nice surprise, ESPECIALLY at the price point (MSRP $12!).
People like to crap on Beam as swill, but it's really not, primarily because of the rules that govern the Bourbon word. Beam is really solid and makes a great low-price go-to when things like Blanton's (my personal favorite) get on ridiculous price swings like is happening in MI right now.
*If you didn't know, in the US, every character printed on a bottle of liquor, wine, or beer to be sold must be signed off upon by the ATF. When AB InBev wanted to relabel Budweiser as America, they had to go through the entire process just like before.
I gained a whole new respect for Jim Beam when I randomly, on a whim, visited the distillery on my own. I was quite surprised and delighted at just how hand-crafted Jim Beam really is.
It's really quite good. I randomly had a pour of it because I was at an Applebee's and it was literally the only thing they had. After having geeked out about "the good stuff" for a while, it was a really pleasant surprise to realize how solid it is.
I also recommend a tour of Jim Beam. It's very interesting and a lot of history. The Buffalo Trace tour is also super cool.
We don't always splurge on Bourbon, and have found ourselves getting Old Grand-Dad more often since it's friendlier on the budget and Joe goes through a bourbon too quickly to always buy the top, or even mid-shelf stuff. We'll have to try the Bonded next time! Not sure we've tried that one yet.
And I agree, Old Grand-Dad makes some delicious crock-pot bourbon meatballs. Let me know if anyone wants the recipe. (although I rarely follow the recipe exactly every time)
Has anyone tried Jim Beam Black? We tried that on the tour and it's one of our current favorites. It won some awards and is quite tasty and smooth for being $20-25/bottle.
I'm not gonna say it's better (to me) than Woodford Reserve or even good ol' Bulleit. But it's very acceptable.
For the record: Grass Widow says "Distilled in Indiana" on the bottle. I know their Mezcal is distilled in Mexico. Every other bottle of spirits from Two James says "Distilled & bottled locally" in Detroit, including their new peated bourbon.
@UPSLynx @UPSKingpin You hear that? Sounds like an ICIN reunion is in the works!
It's always interesting to me when I look at whisky reviews and the proof it is bottled at makes some impression on the taster despite almost needing to add a couple drops of water to enjoy it. Personally, when a spirit gets past 80 proof or so, all I can taste is the burn of the alcohol unless I add water, some ice or a mixer. If you are drinking Wild Turkey 101 straight and tasting the "subtle vanilla notes, and caramel"... You have better taste buds than me, all I can taste is alcohol burn.
This is my problem with all liquor. Any subtlety is just crushed by alcohol flavor on my palate. It sucks.
Stronk palate. Good Bourbon.
I felt the same way until I hit a couple of heavy-duty barrel-proof bourbons. My bottle of Elijah Craig barrel-proof clocked in at an extremely hefty 139.2 proof and I wouldn't have watered it down at all. Yes, a lot of the flavor gets blasted by the alcohol, but that's only on the first blush. Subsequent sips opened a whole world of flavor I was not previously aware of. Every flavor was amped up to 11+.
Now, that's not to say that I would stick with a barrel-proof all the time, but it was definitely a hugely eye-opening experience.
Thanks again, Bobby. This experiment has yielded tasty results. First I picked up a bottle of the Old Grand-Dad for 25 bucks for a liter. Today I snagged a bottle of BiB Rittenhouse rye for $25/750ml. Both are really quite good for the price.
Some absurd amount of all bourbon and especially ryes in the US are made in the same MGP owned plant in Lawrenceburg Indiana. Bulleit is made there, Dickel is made there, High West is made there. It's massive and like every startup gets their whiskey made their to start. It helps them get going faster because of the whole age thing.
It's in the corner of Indiana bordered by Ohio, and Kentucky, gets their water from the Ohio river. Only redeemable thing about that whole area of Indiana.
I've decided to give this a shot since it was on sale.
"In business news, Old Grand Dad Bonded sales have seen an inexplicable spike all across the country since late January..."
Looks like quite a few shots, actually.
Love seeing so many people interested in BiB whiskey!
@GHoosdum that Rittenhouse Rye BiB is one of my favorite go-to rye whiskies. I had been buying it to make Sazeracs for years before I even knew what BiB whiskey was. I purchased it just last week to sample neat and man, I was not disappointed. I knew I loved that rye for a reason.
I've read that the MPG produced rye whiskey has altered the public's view of what rye bourbon actually is, because that distinct flavor is shared across so many different bottled products. I think that's why people are so shocked when they try Two James' Catcher in the Rye, because the spice is massive in that whiskey, and it kicks you in the face. People try it expecting an MGP rye, such as Bulleit, and it kinda blows their mind.
That's why I love Rittenhouse Rye. It's distinctive, and it's powerful, but it's crafted very well to directly showcase the rye malt's spiciness and dryness without overwhelming you with it. You get tons of dark fruits, pepper, and just enough spice in it. I love it.
I still think it's one of the best Rye whiskies for making Sazeracs with, but man it is hella tasty neat with a small splash of water in it.
Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond bourbon will likely be my next BiB purchase to explore. It's a 10 year whiskey, so aged much longer than the base 4 year requirement for the BiB program. I've heard is much more rich and oaky as a result, which should be right up my alley. It's also a single barrel whiskey, so every batch tastes slightly different. It's a touch more expensive than Old Grand Dad or Rittenhouse, sits around $35, but it should be worth it.
I also really want to try the Old Forester 1897 BiB bourbon, but every time I see that it's stupid expensive at around $60 which kind of defeats the purpose of this thread. That being said, this is a special throwback whiskey that was made to period-specific style (as it was in 1897), so I hear it's a very unique experience.
A ten year aged whiskey at 35 bucks still sounds like a bargain. I'm looking forward to your impressions.