Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bottled in Bond – High Proof Spirits Make a Comeback

Over the last few decades the trend in alcoholic beverages has been ‘lighter’. Vodka and other ‘white goods’ based cocktails seemed to prevail. Certainly people continued to drink bourbon and scotch and the like but the ‘brown goods’ share of the market diminished. Lighter also meant lower proof spirits.

In the sixties, a typical bottle of bourbon, for instance, was 86 Proof, or 43% alcohol. Today, that same bottle of bourbon is 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. And at one time, 90 Proof spirits were fairly common, particularly bourbons. However, until recently it was nearly impossible to find any spirit of 90 proof or above (Wild Turkey, being the exception). That is now changing. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal noted that many distillers are beginning to offer higher proof spirits, some as high as 150 Proof – 75% alcohol.

The reason for the higher alcohol content is not just to get more ‘punch’ in the Punch it is to intensify the flavor. Alcohol is what carries the flavor of the beverage, the higher the alcohol content the more intense the flavor. That is particularly important in high-end spirits such as quality bourbons, scotches and brandies.

With higher proof spirits making a comeback, bottled-in-bond is also making a comeback though most distillers are not using that term for any of their 100 Proof + spirits.

Bottled-in Bond refers to spirits (primarily whiskeys) that are at least 100 Proof and are stored and aged until ready for distribution in federally bonded warehouses under government supervision. The spirit must also come from a single distillery, distilled in a single season. It cannot be blended with other spirits distilled in other years or other distilleries.

Before 1985 all liquor bottles had a tax stamp or seal over the top of the bottle cap. This ensured that the tax had been paid on the alcohol. Bottled-in-Bond stamps were green, the others were red. The tax rate was based on the ‘Proof Gallon’. A ‘Poof Gallon’ is a gallon of liquid that is 100 Proof or 50% alcohol. The rate is adjusted up or down depending on the actual Proof of the spirit.

In 1985, the U.S. Government discontinued the use of the tax stamp on all spirits – they didn’t however discontinue the tax.

In addition to the tax stamp the bottle had to indicate the distillery. This was done with a Distilled Spirits Plant (DSP) mark or number. In the past this DSP could be found on all liquor bottles, not just Bottled-in-Bond. It was usually found on the bottom of the bottle. Many distilleries no longer mark their bottles, but it is still required for Bottled-in-Bond. You may find the DSP on the bottom of the bottle or somewhere on the label.

Bottled-in-Bond is still a requirement of the government but you don’t hear the term used much anymore. Maybe the term will come back, with the increased interest in higher proof spirits however the distillers seem to favor euphemisms, Cask-strength is one. Jim Beam introduced its first Cask-strength bourbon in 1988 with its Booker’s Small Batch Bourbon.

So pour yourself a glass of a nice Bottled-in-Bond whiskey, make certain to splash some water in it, it improves the flavor and you really don't want to drink uncut 50% alcohol, I don't care how much you like it. You will enjoy it more with a little water; the flavor will be better, and you will feel better in the morning. If you decide to use Wild Turkey's Bottled-in-Bond version, adding the water will make it a Bird Bath. Enjoy

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