Why Every Bourbon Drinker Should Know What Bottled-in-Bond Means

Back before the days of carefully crafted whiskey and Bourbon made by some of the finest palates in the world, consumers couldn’t always be sure what was pouring out of their Bourbon bottles. Then came the Bottled-in-Bond Act. In 1897, the US government passed this law with support from distillers and drinkers alike to ensure consistency and quality.

So what is bottled-in-bond, anyway? Throughout most of the 19th century, bourbon was generally purchased out of barrels at taverns, grocery stores, and pharmacies. It wasn’t until 1870 that Old Forester (a brand that’s still around today) became the first brand to put its bourbon in sealed glass bottles. And even then, there was no guarantee that what you were getting was real whiskey, rather than some sort of grain spirit with colorings and flavorings like iodine, tobacco, and turpentine added. Imbibers risked their health and even their lives with every drink.

Bottled-in-bond production continued after the pause of Prohibition, but the name gradually lost its luster. Inexperienced drinkers didn’t really know what it meant; it became a curiosity and feral designation, like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Bonded liquor migrated to the bottom shelf, where hoary standbys like Old Grandad and Old Forester maintained a barely discernible pulse.

To receive the label of “bottled-in-bond,” Bourbon must be:

  • The product of one distillation season (either January to June or July to December), at one distillery, by one distiller.
  • Aged in a federally bonded warehouse under government supervision for at least four years
  •  Bottled at 100 proof
  • Labeled with both the location of the distillery and the bottling
  • And produced in the USA