Once relegated to the dusty part of the shelves, Bottled in Bond labeled whiskies are making a strong comeback, helped in part by mini controversies that emerged from the craft spirits movement. “Bottled in Bond is like a guarantee of what’s in the bottle,” says Kristina Bello, a brand representative for Heaven Hill Brands and Heaven Hill Distillery. “The rules were set in 1897 when it was necessary to protect the public from some unhealthy additions to spirits that were added for flavor.”
The Bottled in Bond Act in 1897 provided a seal of approval by the federal government that each bottle was produced by the same distiller at the same distillery that was listed on the label. To ensure the process was legitimate, a bonded warehouse on the site of the distillery would be accessible by federal agents with keys to the warehouse. All bottling was done under the supervision of the agents.
Bello has five BiB whiskies available in Oklahoma, including Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel Bourbon, which won the Best in Show prize at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2019. While protecting the public from poisonous additions to whiskey is no longer the issue it was in the 1890s, knowing what’s in a bottle can still be reassuring given the rectifying scandals of recent memory wherein allegedly “craft” whiskey was actually bulk neutral spirits with flavoring added.
Cliff Nutt, owner of Primo’s Fine Wine and Spirits, 9125 S. Yale Ave., carries approximately 500 different whiskies in his store, and he’s an advocate of BiB. “The seal is a guarantee that you’re getting a good product,” he says. “I think I started with Old Grand-Dad; it’s basically Basil Hayden for $20 less. It’s a good, quality product, as are all the Bottled in Bond whiskies.”
One of the best known of the category is the Evan Williams “white label,” which, like all BiB whiskies, is 100 proof. A whiskey of that strength makes excellent cocktails, especially Old Fashioneds. That’s the reason you’ll find Evan Williams and Rittenhouse Rye (also BiB) in so many wells around the city. As Nutt points out, the 100-proof whiskies also have more complex flavor profiles than the lower proofs — also a bonus in cocktail builds.
While the category tends to be less expensive, with examples like Evan Williams and Mellow Corn being well under $20 for a fifth, the category is dependent on the volatility of the consumer market. Henry McKenna used to be easy to find for under $30. That’s no longer possible, and the incredible King’s County Bottled in Bond is pricey by any definition (and totally worth the money). The Old Fitzgerald 15 has become highly sought after, so neat pours around the city range from upper $20s per ounce to whatever the market allows.
Nutt recommends starting with one of the less expensive ones like Evan Williams or Old Grand-Dad. Even if you don’t think they’re sippable, they can be a go-to for cocktails.