Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.
By the mid 19th century whiskey had become America’s favorite spirit, and distillers were cashing in on demand by selling increasingly low-quality spirits. Much of the nation’s “bourbon” was made by large-scale producers known as rectifiers, who turned out a product more akin to neutral grain spirits than whiskey, then added adulterants like tobacco, caramel, oak shavings, and iodine as a shortcut to flavor and color.
The Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 was enacted to put an end to these practices. A whiskey labeled “bonded” was not permitted to contain any additives, and was aged in a government-supervised warehouse for a minimum of four years. It also had to be the product of one distiller and one season, and had to be at least 100 proof.
The act also provided an incentive for distillers to participate: whereas the whiskey excise tax, reenacted in 1862 to pay for the Civil War, was originally applied the moment whiskey came out of the still, bonded whiskey wasn’t taxed until it was bottled. This meant a significant savings for distillers, who wouldn’t be liable for spirits that evaporated during the aging process.
Though the bonded label is largely irrelevant today due to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906—for which the Bottled-in-Bond Act is considered a precursor—a handful of American distilleries still produce bonded whiskies as a nod to the spirit’s storied history. Old Forester, both the oldest continually-operating distiller in the country and the first to sell whiskey sealed in bottles, has a recent edition to this lineup: Old Forester 1897 Bottled in Bond.
According to Old Forester, this small-batch bourbon is made in accordance with “production techniques of the 1897 time period” and has a “character reminiscent of a 19th-century bourbon. The mash bill for this bourbon is 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% barley, and it’s bottled at the requisite 100 proof. The age isn’t stated, but per the bonded label, it’s at least four years old.
At initial appearance in my glass I witnessed it to be copper in color with light legs. Below are my tasting notes for this whiskey:
Nose: Sweet honey and vanilla and a hint of smoke are immediately noticeable, along with salted caramel and warm allspice.
Taste: Heavy on sweet flavors like honey and caramel, with notes of dark fruit and oak.
Finish: A distinct smokiness pops out, and oak predominates in the warm, moderately long finish. Some caramel remains.
Overall, this is a well-balanced bourbon with some complexity and an overall approachable character. There’s nothing unexpected here, which, it could be argued, is the whole point of the bonded label. Though the $50 pricetag might be a little steep, I give this very drinkable whiskey a score of 89.