You may be familiar with this distinction, seeing it on spirits labels in the liquor stores or on cocktail menus around your town or city. But what does it mean? And what does it say about the product inside?
In the late 1800's, the question of where one's booze originated either wasn't important or folks just didn't give much thought to it. Or if their whiskey was even whiskey at all. Generally, alcohol was bought by wholesalers in barrels rather than bottles making it all too easy to tweak or mask the product with additives and artificial flavorings to stretch the product for more profit, frequently using questionable ingredients to do so.
A traditional whiskey distiller from Kentucky, for example, could be easily undercut by another distillery using a neutral spirit like vodka which is much less expensive and requires much less skill to make and add to their vodka such ingredients as caramel coloring, wood chips and even formaldehyde to alter it enough to pawn it off as something that vaguely resembled a traditionally made whiskey.
After experiencing this con for some time, whiskey distillers and consumers alike got fed up. With the help of the federal government, they set up a standardized designation known as the Bottled In Bond Act. This was one of first examples of a consumer protection law in the US.
The Bottled in Bond or "BIB" designation is one that holds a spirit to a fairly high standard. The Bottled in Bond or Bonded spirits standards are as follows:
Because of these standards, what you get is essentially a "craft" spirit. A unique expression of that distillery's terroir/climate/water etc.
As a bartender and cocktail creator, using a BIB spirit will ensure you of a couple of things. Because of the four-year aging minimum and a 50% ABV, you know your spirit is going to have a strong flavor profile and alcohol content to give it the backbone to stand up to all other ingredients. Especially for more savory or less sweet style cocktails.
The takeaway for me in understanding more about BIB spirits is that a BIB designation of a spirit does not necessarily guarantee a higher quality. That is still a very subjective realm. But it does speak to the authenticity of the product. It's the truest expression of that distiller's "art" in their craft. And that speaks volumes to me.
Come sit down at the bar at The Establishment and let's explore some of these BIB whiskeys. We have several on the menu, and now that they have grabbed our attention, you can rest assured you will see many more offerings a little sooner than later.
Cheers to all!