Bonded whiskey—one of the great American whiskey categories is returning to the spotlight. Born in the late 1800s, this category’s old school roots ensure quality control and prevent all types of fraudulent chicanery that was prevalent in so-called “whiskey” back in the day. So what exactly is bonded whiskey?
Bonded whiskey, or Bottled-in-Bond whiskey, must be:
-made at a single distillery
-produced within a single distilling season
-aged for a minimum of four years
-bottled at 50% ABV
Those last two conditions make it an ideal choice for classic cocktails, as well as for home sipping on the rocks. Originally created via the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, bonded whiskey must also be matured in federal bonded warehouses.
“The Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 was introduced to ensure that whiskey producers were making their whiskey at a certain quality level and standard suitable for the public,” explains Adam Harris, American whiskey ambassador with Beam Suntory. “At the time, the act was so important as it not only allowed for an authenticated and consistent whiskey, but also led to a market standardization that resulted in booming growth in the American whiskey market during the years leading up to Prohibition.”
Meanwhile, much of the bonded whiskey that has remained available over the years is actually—and wonderfully—found on the bottom shelf. They’re some of the best values in the store. Interestingly, two distilleries have been largely responsible for maintaining that tradition. There’s Jim Beam, with Old Grand-Dad Bonded, Jim Beam Bonded and Old Tub whiskeys. And then there’s Heaven Hill, with the likes of Old Fitzgerald Bonded, Rittenhouse Rye and Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond.
NEW BONDED RELEASES IN 2018
Now that both consumers and producers realize the potential of this category, more offerings are becoming available.
“Bonded whiskey is making a comeback for a few reasons,” Harris says. “Some appreciate it as a novel relic of old-school American distilling and enjoy partaking in that tradition. Others find bonded [whiskeys] to be just a solid, high-quality and often affordable product. Even bartenders have been turning to bonded products because the big flavors and higher proof that stand out well in a cocktail.”
Old Overholt Bonded Rye / Photo Credit: Jake Emen
Harris is proud to be touting a new edition to the Beam family portfolio, Old Overholt Bonded Rye. It’s new, but also the revival of the original offering. “Old Overholt was one of the first distilleries to take advantage of the Bottled-In-Bond Act when it was first passed, and we’re excited to honor that storied legacy by bringing back Old Overholt Bonded,” he says.
Beam is back in action, and surprise—so is Heaven Hill. The company made waves with an 11 year old edition of Old Fitzgerald being released this spring. It’s the first release of a planned series of limited edition offerings. However, it should be noted that as its age has increased, it’s priced well out of the bottom shelf category.
NOT JUST KENTUCKY
Several American craft whiskey producers have been getting in on the bonded whiskey market as well. And while once again, these won’t be bottom shelf values, it’s nonetheless an exciting development. Most notably, it signifies a coming of age for many producers who are able to meet those baseline quality guidelines.
Arkansas’ Rock Town Distillery released perhaps the first bonded craft whiskey in 2015, and there are numerous other examples as well. One comes from Kings County, with its Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon from the Brooklyn distillery. Meanwhile, Breuckelen Distilling on the other side of the borough has released several experimental bonded offerings. Project No. 1 and Breuckelen 77 Bonded Rye & Corn Whiskey both have availability on the east coast.
Dad’s Hat has a bonded version of its Pennsylvania Rye, though it’s available for sale only at the distillery. And Virginia’s Catoctin Creek also has a limited annual bonded release, dubbed Rabble Rouser. This year’s offering will be the first time it will be officially labeled as bonded despite previously meeting the qualifications.
Grand Traverse Distillery in Michigan can be added to the list, as can Colorado’s A.D. Laws, with a four grain bottled-in-bond. New this year and marking another shift as perhaps the first craft American single malt to gain the bonded designation is Pine Barrens Bottled in Bond from Long Island Spirits.
This isn’t a comprehensive collection either—more great craft bonded whiskeys are continuing to reach the market. As always we suggest you try them all. If however, you’re just looking for a solid bottom shelf whiskey, you’ll still be able to do just that. The aforementioned Old Overholt Bonded Rye, or my longtime personal favorite, Old Grand-Dad, will do the trick just fine.