From its earliest days, craft whiskey made by small distillers has shown a lot of promise. But critics often scoff that craft whiskies are under-aged spirits that haven’t been given enough time to gain nuance and complexity. The naysayers still like to say that, but over the last couple of years the charge has become less accurate and lost much of its sting. Nothing symbolizes this growing maturity of craft whiskey like the number of new releases that are Bottled-in-Bond.
A Bottled-in-Bond whiskey, (BiB), is one made according to the U.S. Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, one of the early pieces of food and beverage purity legislation from the Progressive Era (think Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”). Unlike many of the reforms of those times, this one was sponsored by a group of big distillers led by Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., who still has a brand made by Buffalo Trace named for him today. Distillers wanted to protect their brands by establishing high standards in an era where anyone could color rotgut grain spirits with iodine and pass it off as bourbon.
Under the law, the main points to qualify for BiB status are that a whiskey has to be:
- Drawn from stock made by a single distillery and in a single distilling season.
- Aged in a bonded, government-supervised warehouse.
- At least four years old.
- Bottled at 100 proof (50 percent ABV).
Any of the types of whiskey made in the United States—bourbon, rye, wheat, or malt—can be BiB.
It’s the “at least four years old” point that points to the development of craft whiskey. In the recent past, many craft whiskeys have been sold at only a couple of years of age (and sometimes only a few months.) Now, small distilleries have been around long enough to accumulate a greater stock of older spirits. This has allowed them to release older products, and in particular BiB whiskeys.
BiB whiskey was once a sleepy category that appealed mainly to die-hard enthusiasts on a budget. But the last decade has seen a total resurrection of the American whiskey market. A decade ago, nine- to 12-year-old bourbon was cheap and plentiful, but the Bourbon Boom has made aged American whiskey in general harder to get. Several popular brands have either raised their prices or dropped their age statements in response to surging demand, and the result has been more attention given to the quality represented by the BiB standard.
This renewed interest has come at the same moment the craft whiskey movement has matured enough to enter the BiB scene, introducing several whiskeys that made that old school grade.
A.D. Laws Four Grain Straight Bourbon Bottled in Bond ($75, 750mL)
Colorado is one of the states at the forefront of the craft whiskey scene, and A.D. Laws is part of what is driving the state forward. This bourbon is a solid example of why, because it’s an evolution of their four grain bourbon. (The only other four grain BiB bourbon is the Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain released this year, which promptly won top honors in “Whisky Bible 2018.”)
Kings County Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon ($50, 375mL)
Opened in 2010, Kings County was the first distillery to open in New York City since Prohibition and for the last five years they have called the Brooklyn Navy Yard home. Their BiB bourbon was released for distribution on March 3, 2017—on the 120th anniversary of the Bottled-in-Bond Act—and unlike most craft whiskeys of this type, the high profile enjoyed by Kings County has their BiB in wide (albeit strictly allocated) release.
Old Maysville Club Rye Malt Whisky Bottled in Bond ($65, 750-milliliter bottle)
This BiB comes from The Old Pogue Distillery, and unlike their much loved namesake bourbon, Old Maysville Club Bottled in Bond is made in-house rather than sourced. It’s a 100-percent malted rye whiskey and an evolution of their Five Fathers Rye, and much improved for the extra two years of aging.
Tom’s Foolery Bonded Bourbon ($50, 750-milliliter bottle)
Michter’s Distillery was the last operating distillery in Pennsylvania when it closed in 1989, and the crown jewels of the place went in different directions. The brand names were sold to various companies, and the still was bought by David Beam, who in turn sold it to Tom and Lianne Herbruck of Tom’s Foolery Distillery in Cleveland, Ohio. The Herbrucks learned from Beam all about crafting a classic, pot-distilled bourbon. They eventually sold their classic Michter’s equipment (and that brand is being resurrected in Louisville, Kentucky) but not before making over 400 barrels of bourbon and rye whisky, and releasing their first bonded bourbon in 2016.
Wigle Organic Deep Cut Bottled in Bond Rye ($75, 750-milliliter bottle)
Earlier this year, Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey tapped barrels laid down in 2012 and bottled the contents as a BiB. Releases like this are paving the way for the revival of the Pennsylvania style of rye whiskey, noted for using a mash bill that uses no corn and a very high rye content to create a deeply spicy spirit.