On March 3, 1897, President Grover Cleveland signed the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. It was the last piece of legislation that he signed as President of the United States. He signed the act and got into the carriage that took him to the inauguration of President McKinley. It had been a long fight to get the act passed by the distillers of straight whiskey. It was opposed by the rectifiers such as I.W. Bernheim and George Garvin Brown who thought that it gave an unfair advantage to straight whiskey distillers in the market place. Yet it passed through Congress with the support of distillers such as E.H. Taylor, Jr. and James E. Pepper. The Secretary of the Treasury was a Kentuckian, John G. Carlisle, who was instrumental in getting the law passed.
The Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 guaranteed that every drop of whiskey in the bottle was made by the same distiller, made in the same season, at least four years old, bottled at 100 proof and nothing was added to the whiskey except pure water to adjust the proof. Consumers were slow to realize the advantages of bonded whiskey, but they eventually came to trust it as pure whiskey and preferred it over other, blended whiskey.
Bottled-in-Bond whiskey fell out of favor in the 1970s as whiskey sales as a whole declined. Consumers at that time preferred spirits that were lighter in flavor such as vodka. Bonded whiskey fell out of favor in the marketplace and distillers introduced lower proof whiskeys to try to satisfy the consumer demand for lighter flavor.
Bottled-in-Bond whiskey is making a comeback in the 21st century. This is partly the result of the work of such people as Bernie Lubbers of Heaven Hill Distillery and others who have worked hard to promote bonded whiskey in the market. It is also the results of the artisan distillery movement. More and more artisan distillers are bottling bonded whiskey. Bonded whiskey is required to have the DSP number of the distillery that made the whiskey on the label and artisan distillers release bonded whiskey to show that they made the whiskey in the bottle and it is not sourced from another distillery.
March 3 is a significant date as it was on this date in 1897 that the act was finally passed. It should be recognized as an important date in whiskey history. March is “Bonded Whiskey Month” and that too is an important event, but the date of March third should be especially noted. As more and more regulations are being put aside in the whiskey industry with products such as cherry and cinnamon flavored whiskeys are being labeled as “Bourbon”, it is good to know that bonded products have kept the straight whiskey image and consumers are once again looking for bonded whiskey and purchasing it. Bottled-in-Bond whiskey is growing once again as a product that consumers want and trust.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller
March 3, 2023 at 5:36 pm
Starting in the late-20th century, marketers have focused on bonding solely as a government program to improve product quality. But I recall from civics class that it was also a tax program, kind of an IRA for whisky – the taxes on the product were deferred while it aged in a bonded warehouse. The government was essentially investing in the whisky, and set standards for its quality.