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Laws

Bourbon Delivery: Mail-Order Wonder

Have you ever wished your favorite bourbon could be delivered right to your door? What could be better than the UPS driver arriving with your latest bourbon delivery from Kentucky, fresh from the distillery? According to the Herald-Dispatch, the distillers of Kentucky may soon be able to do just that with a new piece of legislation pending in the Kentucky House.

One of the best parts of my recent trip to Bardstown, Kentucky was the shopping. Being able to buy some of the bottles that are hard to find back home in Chicago was outstanding. The big distilleries chose not to compete with local stores, however, and marked up the bottles significantly. The allure of getting a bottle right from the source was worth the expense, though, and made a great keepsake. We drove back home with a dozen bottles that served as souvenirs or treats for special occasions.

The Breakdown on Bourbon Delivery

If Kentucky joins the other states that allow shipping of liquor to other states, you soon could enjoy the same. On Monday you could want to have a nice bottle of Old Weller, and by Friday it could be in hand. This disruption to the distribution model of liquor could also allow small distilleries to compete. Some, like the Abraham Lincoln Straight Bourbon by Boundary Oak Distillery, are not available from Chicago retailers. As a small, family-owned company, they would now have access to the national market overnight. Bourbon lovers get bourbon delivery and distilleries get new customers; it’s winning all around!

Up next is the debate in the Kentucky House over the original bill. Then, a discussion can start over adding the provisions for interstate bourbon shipments. Hopefully, someday soon, we’ll have access to all of Kentucky’s wonderful spirits! And then the wide-range of products offered from the state can be available everywhere.

Abraham Lincoln Bourbon

Bottled-in-Bond Part 1 – Taxes and Death

In Episode 1 we talked a little bit about the bottled-in-bond designation and its history. Born of the snake oil and bathtub distillate in the 19th century, the program was a collaboration. It brought together private distillers and the US Department of the Treasury in the late-1800s to solve this crisis.

The Dark Ages of Bottling

Prior to 1897, you would be hard pressed to find liquor in your town that was unadulterated. That was the nature of the beast, and it made consumers leery of their liquor. Less upright distillers might buy grain spirits and cut them with additives. Things like boneblack, tobacco, and even iodine were added for color and flavor. You never knew what you were drinking, and that was the point: it was cheap and fast. Much like the bootleggers of Prohibition, the booze you got wasn’t always the booze you bought. Well-known distillers would produce their product and deliver to distributors who then cut, weakened, or mixed the high-quality whiskey with things like iodine or tobacco mixed with water to match the original color.

On top of the problems with quality and brand protection the distillers faced, the government found that many of those same unscrupulous distillers hid barrels, changed counts, or falsified age statements to avoid paying the required taxes on their product. The unsavory side of American whiskey withheld millions in today’s dollars of taxes from the federal government. Since everyone knows the Treasury always gets its pound of flesh, it brought interesting bedfellows.

Fed up with the stricter enforcement and oversight for their legitimate businesses, the leaders of the distilling world came up with a solution. Early leaders, like Colonel EH Taylor of Old Taylor fame, worked with the Treasury. Together they formed a plan on how to solve both of their problems: a national law to tax and verify. Only two things in life are inevitable: Death and Taxes. They sought to ensure your Bourbon doesn’t kill you, and that your supplier paid their taxes.

A Way Forward

Through this cooperation came the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, a pivotal piece of legislation. First, it adopted a defined characteristic standard: all distillate must be from one season (January to June or July to December), it must be made by only one distiller, and it must be made at one distillery. Second, it provided a tax incentive for the distiller which limited their overhead. This was a delayed tax payment until after the whiskey was finished aging. To-date, taxes were paid every year while aging, which required significant up-front capital to launch new product. Third, the product must be bottled at precisely 100 proof, or 50% alcohol by volume, to ensure consistent product between brands. Finally, it required the aging take place in a federally-bonded warehouse under the supervision of the Treasury Department.

After all of this, the barrels were opened under government supervision and bottled with special tamper-proof paper seals that outlined their bonded status. Any attempt to open the bottle and change the contents would break or tear the seal, rendering the bottle suspect. As one of our nation’s first consumer protection laws, the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 ensured that every bottle you purchased of a particular spirit were, in fact, the spirit it claimed to be, without contamination, additives, or unsavory changes.

The Aftermath

What the act did not do was guarantee the quality of the spirit or the skill of the distiller. It also denied mixed or blended whiskeys a distinguished bond, which soured the public on those blends. In the end, it became the earmark of top-shelf liquors and the way consumers identified good whiskey. Every American producer clamored to display their bonded offerings, shilling it as the best and the greatest available.

Does the Bottled-in-Bond designation have a place in modern society? Do our new food and drug laws cover the very reason the program was created? In theory, they prevent the addition of harmful or unknown additives, flavorants, and colorants. What we need to decide is if they actually stop these adulterations or if the Bottled-in-Bond program is still needed today.

Next time we’ll dive deeper into the Bottled-in-Bond programs that exist today and discuss some of the various distillers that keep this tradition alive. And there will be a Bottled-in-Bond episode that comes up soon so you can learn even more. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter below to learn when both are launched!

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