Whiskey plays an integral part in American history, and has grown and adapted along with the nation. Companies embrace this long heritage; Bottled in Bond whiskeys highlight this past, and illuminate the craftsmanship in these products. Jeptha Creed’s Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Bourbon is one such example. The Bottled in Bond Act is one of the most important laws in United States history, and revolutionized the whiskey industry.
During the 19th century, whiskey’s popularity increased throughout the United States. Whiskey travelled from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania to their consumers. Merchants moved the whiskey in oak casks, which mellows the spirit and improves the taste, which consumers began to prefer over the clear, unaged whiskey. Distillers recognized the demand for aged spirits and sold their products as either white whiskey, or “old,” to denote its aged status. Some brands retain this historic label, such as Old Forrester, Old Taylor, and Old Grand-dad. The “old” in the name did not derisively refer to the man on the label (Forrester, Taylor or Grand-dad), but rather to the spirit within the bottle.
The Age of “Rectified” Whiskey
As whiskey matures in the cask, the distiller must sit on and wait to sell their product. Some unscrupulous merchants, known as rectifiers, duped their clients by purchasing unaged spirits and adding coloring to achieve the amber hue and flavor of aged whiskey. Some of these additives were benign, like prune juice or caramel, but others were not. Tobacco spit, iodine and shoe polish made people ill as they consumed the adulterated tipple. Legitimate distillers and merchants’ profits were being undercut by these counterfeit products, and consumers were buying dangerous and fraudulent drinks.
As the Civil War raged in the 1860s, the federal government needed a way to pay for the long war of attrition. Beginning on August 1, 1862 a tax on distilled spirits took effect. As distilled spirits age in oak casks there is a considerable loss of liquid between the cask’s absorption of approximately 3 gallons as it is filled, and evaporation over time. Legitimate distillers did not want to pay tax on products they were losing, so the solution of a “bonded warehouse” was devised. After aging for a year, a tax gauger would visit the “bonded” rickhouse that stored the spirit, assess the tax that needed to be levied, and stamp the casks for which tax had been paid. Tax guagers were given a manual on how to determine evaporation rates, and if the guager believed there was less spirit in a cask than should be, the distiller still needed to pay for the projected total.
The purity of the spirits were further aided in the last decades of the 19th century. In 1879 the law governing bonded warehouses was modified to increase the aging period to three years, and a two lock system was established for the still house and the warehouse. One key was held by the master distiller and one was held by the gauger, so the buildings could not be opened without both the distiller and government official being present. Finally, the introduction of machine blown glass also helped to protect the spirits within the bottles, as distillers could now fill, label and seal their product so that consumers knew with great certainty the purity of their whiskey. Prior to this, distillers would ship casks of their whiskey to merchants or rectifiers, which made it impossible for the producer to guarantee quality once the barrel was out of their hands.
The Bottled-In-Bond Act, 1897
Although these laws were enacted, rectifiers were still selling their poisonous spirits. A group of professional distillers led by Edmund Haynes Taylor of Old Taylor Bourbon fame, along with Secretary of the Treasury, John G. Carlisle worked to pass the Bottled in Bond Act. This was the first consumer protection law passed in the United States. Under this law, whiskies labelled as “Bottled in Bond” must be distilled in one six-month season, either from January to June or July to December, aged for at least 4 years, bottled at 50 ABV (100 proof), with nothing other than water added to adjust strength. To ensure the consumer knew where their product was produced, the bottle was labelled with the distillery at which it was produced and bottled. These many requirements make it so the consumer knows fairly specifically where, when and by whom their bottles of whiskey were produced.
In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act added one more adjective to the label of whiskey bottles. The act stated that “straight” whiskey could only have water added to it. If neutral spirits, coloring or additives were added, the whiskey was to be called “imitation” whiskey. In 1909, President William Howard Taft amended this rule to say that whiskey with neutral spirits added must be known as “blended” whiskey.
Do these rules still matter today?
Absolutely! These laws and regulations still govern the beverage in your glass and still mean what they did over a century ago. Bottled in Bond whiskeys will bear Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) numbers on the side to indicate where the bottle was distilled and bottled. These bottles are among the highest quality in American whiskey, they are highly regulated and traceable back to their specific production. In order for a product to be considered Bottled in Bond it must be aged four years, which indicates the distillery has operated and sustained itself for at least that long, and most likely longer. Bottled in Bond whiskey is the highest quality of spirit, it has exceeded the highest standard of government regulation, and connects us back to a long history of American whiskey.
Jeptha Creed’s Bottled-In-Bond Straight Rye Bourbon is a fantastic expression of this style. As standard in Jeptha Creed products, Bloody Butcher Corn is the larger part of the mashbill, giving its characteristic earthy notes. The rye emerges at the end of the nose, providing the spice and dried fruit aroma. The palate is sweet, heavy on the vanilla and caramel. The finish is long, lingering, and mouth coating. As the taste fades away it is smooth, and the spice of the rye are the last notes to leave. The skill of Jeptha Creed’s team, and the quality of their product is evident throughout. Looking forward to their November 11th release date of this incredible Bottled-In-Bond rye bourbon.
Special thank you to Dr. Steve Haller for writing this article. Steve is a historian of Early America and the Scottish Enlightenment. When not studying and teaching history, he is enjoying a whisk(e)y with some friends. He writes about the history of whisky and the great traditions within the whisky industry. He can be found on Instagram and Facebook. Follow his writing at https://whiskyoflife.wordpress.com.