According to Bernie Lubbers in his wonderful book, Bourbon Whiskey, Our Native Spirit, “ Not only was the Bottled In Bond Act of 1897 the first consumer protection legislation in the history of the United States, it probably saved straight whiskies from the rectifiers and blenders. When the BIB Act was passed in 1897, the distilleries had to educate bartenders, customers and the consumers on just what it was.”
The Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 requires whiskey to be aged and bottled according to a set of legal regulations. The primary purpose of the Act was to guarantee that the product the consumer was buying was really whiskey, according to a standardized definition.
The Act requires that in addition to meeting the qualifications to be called bourbon whiskey it must also be the product of one distillation season at one distillery, by one distiller. It must be bottled and stored in bonded warehouses under the U.S. government supervision for no less than four years and bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV).
The law prohibits addition of any additives except to reduce the proof with water. The Bottled-in-Bond Act has made the U.S. government the guarantor of the whiskey’s authenticity. Treasury agents were assigned to control access to bonded warehouses at the whiskey distilleries.
With all these requirements, are bottled-in-bond bourbons better? For a proper tasting of them, I enlisted the help of my dear friend and whiskey expert Bobby “G” Gleason. Not only did Bobby lend his fine palate, but he showed up with some goodies I was unaware of—including the soon-to-be released Jim Beam Bonded.
Edmund H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch B.I.B. (Sazerac)
Nose: Cereal mash, toasted nuts, marzipan, sweet orange, tobacco/cigar box revealing baked apple with cinnamon, brown sugar and just a touch of vanilla.
Palate: Rich, full-bodied and complex, with a big blast of pepper spice followed by dates, toasted hazelnuts, caramel, orange peel, oak and tobacco.
Finish: A long and memorable finish, with lingering notes of spice, tobacco and butterscotch.
Evan Williams B.I.B. (Heaven Hill)
Nose: Brown sugar, maple syrup sweetness followed by a charcoal smokiness, candied orange peel, dried fruits (dates), caramel and sweet vanilla.
Palate: The dried fruits appear again followed by bittersweet chocolate and baking spices–cinnamon, clove and nutmeg–with nice acidity.
Finish: Medium in length, warm with a reminder of blanched almonds.
Henry McKenna 10yr Single Barrel B.I.B. (Heaven Hill)
Nose: Big and complex with layers of caramel, vanilla, burnt sugar and dried fruits–dates and raisins–giving way to nougat, baked apple, candied orange peel, fruitcake and rich oak.
Palate: A lovely mouthfeel with a burst of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla and dried fruits, followed with baking spice–cinnamon and nutmeg.
Finish: Medium in length, with a sweet reminder of caramel and oak.
Jim Beam Bonded (Jim Beam)
Nose: A complex and mature nose highlighted by dried fruits, toasted nuts and candied orange peel leading to fruitcake, bright citrus and baking spices.
Palate: The mouthfeel starts with beautiful viscosity, which dries nicely reveling a blast of spice, both baking as well as pepper, with layers of dried fruits and candied citrus.
Finish: Long and memorable, with a reminder of dark chocolate.
J.W. Dant B.I.B. (Heaven Hill)
Nose: Big and complex with a blast of baking spices–cinnamon, clove, allspice and vanilla–followed by dried black cherries, dates, figs, raisins and ripe plums revealing crème brûlée sweetness.
Palate: Powerful and very spicy right out of the gate, leading to a burnt sugar/brown sugar, honey sweetness, ripe peaches with a mild nod of vegetal character.
Finish: Medium in length, warm with a sweet reminder of burnt sugar and bitter almonds.
Old Fitzgerald B.I.B. (Heaven Hill)
Nose: Grain (wheat) up front, leading to confectionary notes of bread pudding, wedding cake and cinnamon toast.
Palate: Soft and approachable, with sweet notes of cake, vanilla, light caramel and a touch of cinnamon spice.
Finish: Rather short, with a light touch of sweetness, mint and oak.
Old Grand Dad B.I.B. (Jim Beam)
Nose: Explosive pepper spice celebrating the bourbon’s high rye mash bill, leading to bright citrus notes of orange zest, almond/marzipan nuttiness, vegetal (bell pepper) and fresh cut wood.
Palate: A silk mouthfeel with big spice–pepper, cinnamon, ground cloves–revealing toasted nuts and
candied orange; balanced with beautiful acidity.
Finish: Long, lingering notes of spice, orange and almond nuttiness.
Old Tub B.I.B. (Jim Beam -Visitors Center Only)
Nose: Classic with notes of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and ripe peaches, developing into Bananas Foster and pecan pie, with nice baking spices and smoky oak.
Palate: Full bodied with great acidity, revealing dark chocolate, dried fruits, stewed cherries and marzipan nuttiness.
Finish: Medium in length, with a gentle smoky-sweet reminder.
Tony Abou-Ganim is the founder of Las Vegas-based cocktail consultancy The Modern Mixologist and the author of The Modern Mixologist—Contemporary Classic Cocktails and Vodka Distilled.