Whiskey Wednesday: Overholt’s Bond

Bottled in Bond has jumped the shark. Before what’s sure to be Jack Daniel’s latest premium priced bottled in bond hits Duty Free shelves worldwide let’s look back to a much more innocent time when a BiB release truly excited me. A time known as six months ago…

Before we jump in the Short Way Back Machine what exactly does Bottled-In-Bond mean? Well, here’s a link to a video of some fools talking about it, but here’s a quick refresher. The Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 was spearheaded by a group of distillers, lead by Col. E.H. Taylor, to instate a form of quality control on products calling themselves whiskey, as well as to give consumers the confidence that whiskey sold in this new contraption known as a mass produced glass bottle was reliable and un-tampered with.

Working with the U.S. Government they came up with a list of regulations to be labeled as Bottled-In Bond.

  • The spirit must meet all the legal requirements for that spirit.
  • It must be the product of a single distillery in a single distilling season.
  • It must be aged for a minimum of 4 years in a government bonded warehouse.
  • It must be bottled at 100 Proof
  • Every bottle must list the DSP (the distillery identification number) for both the location of distillation and location of bottling.

Follow all these rules and you get a tax break and US government slaps its seal of approval on the bottle in the form of a tax stamp to show that the liquid has not been tampered with after it was bottled.

The bonded warehouse is an interesting thing to note. In the olden days this meant that the warehouse was physically locked and could only be accessed by a tax assessor (see the above tax breaks, to ensure that there was no “unauthorized removal.” This Tax Man had the keys to the warehouse and it could only be opened with their help, which is how we end up with such delightful stories as that of Old Fitzgerald.

Bottled in Bond began to thrive. It was a mark of quality, and a mark of the distiller’s skill. However, after prohibition when stocks and profits were low distillers looked for ways to stretch out the remaining supply and to reduce costs. See: blended whiskey and applejack. The required aging and proof of bottled in bond raised the quality but also the price, and being unable to blend across distilling seasons meant there was less ability to utilize backstock. Brands that were once proudly Bottled-in-Bond began reducing proof and age and slowly disappeared. Most of those that survived have been consolidated under the ownership of Heaven Hill but also lost their premium status and became your “Granddad’s Whiskey” which despite what the current whiskey boom will tell you used to be an incredibly uncool thing to say.

On the flip side, the current whiskey and cocktail boom has reinvigorated interest in Bottled In Bond as a mark of quality and in mixing. This has lead to a rash of reintroduction of Bottled In Bond products but often at a steep mark up, which I believe misses the point and utility of Bottled In Bond. They’re meant to be versatile and approachable. One of the rereleases that got this right was Old Overholt.

Old Overholt is owned by Beam Suntory, which is the parent company of the largest Bourbon producer in the world, Jim Beam. And while Overholt is truly an old brand it doesn’t usually stand out for me.

It’s a barely legal rye, meaning it’s 51% rye in the mashbill, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rittenhouse Rye is also barely legal and is a bottle I can’t live without. But bottled at 80 proof I’ve often found the Overholt to be oily and incredibly earthy. However, this past January Beam Suntory added a Bottled In Bond version of the Overholt, so lets see how it stacks up.

On the nose it smells definitively like a Jim Beam product. I associate this smell with the Jim Beam yeast strains. There is a woodsy, yeasty, nutty quality that carries through almost everything in the Jim Beam lineup. There is also an oakiness and dark wood scent that lingers.

On the palette the oiliness is still very much present, but it’s cut through with a heavy alcohol burn that dries out a vanilla and caramel while complimenting the rye natural spiciness. The finish is surprisingly short, leaving an alcohol tingle and a touch of green apple.

This new Overholt is a vast improvement over the old Overholt. However, this new bottle is undeniably a whiskey drinker’s whiskey. It is mean and uncompromising and honestly tastes a lot like what I would get if I blended the 80 proof Overholt with a bottle of Rittenhouse. Its price point makes it incredibly versatile as well. The new proof boost lets it stand up in cocktails while offering a flavor profile the is unique enough to justify including it on the back bar. Bottled in Bond is clearly becoming a hip term and producing a bonded version of a known branded may help boost sales, but that boost doesn’t mean it has to come with an inflated price tag or loss of character.

Just remember, not every reboot is terrible. And while something may jump the shark it doesn’t negate the quality of everything that came before the leap.

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