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Hard Water Newsletter, September 2016 Edition
WELCOME! This is the third edition of our monthly newsletter. We'll be using it to keep you abreast of changes to our extensive American whiskey selection and as a general source of information about whiskey and whiskey culture.

We apologize for the tardy publication this month. Research for the article on bottled-in-bond whiskey (see below) took longer than expected. (And we stumped quite a few "experts" along the way with our questions.)

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New Arrivals on the Wall

1792 Port Finish 44.45%, $7
1792 ‘Small Batch’ 46.85%, $9/2 oz

What? We didn't have these whiskies on our wall already? Well, there's always room for more. Produced at the Barton distillery, owned by Buffalo Trace's parent company Sazerac. The port finish in particular is a great alternative to Angel's Envy.

Barrell Batch #007 5yr 61.2%, $16/2 oz
Small batch Bourbon from this relatively new non-distilling producer located in Kentucky. Distilled and aged in Tennesse (but not a Tennessee Whiskey), this younger Bourbon shows nice spice and tea on the nose with a smooth caramel palate.

Four Roses Single Barrel ‘Bay Area Bourbon Drinkers’ (OESV) 53.1%, $9
Another great private barrel pick, this time by a consortium of drinkers working with PlumJack Wines & Liquor here in San Francisco. Interestingly enough this barrel is from the same warehouse and same rick as our #6 pick, just one tier lower down.

Low Gap Bourbon, 2yr, California 43.2% $9
A superbly made young whiskey with a broad inflection on the palate and nice clean finish. Can't wait to try this one at four years of age. If I was a new distiller I would study this one closely.

Rye Whiskey 202 Flight $28
We're super excited about this new survey flight. There are six distinctive examples of rye that show off both its spicy and its floral sides. If you've been wanting to take a deeper dive into this original American spirit, here's the perfect way to do it.

Et Al...
Our usual reminder that we don't announce ALL our new arrivals. We like to leave a few things as surprises for patrons scanning the wall on their own. There's a couple of very special and very limited bottles up there right now as I write this. In fact, looks like some people have already discovered 'em.

Our complete September whiskey list can be found here.
Low Gap's Crispin Cane and Tamar Kaye
 
On the 15th of September we held a staff training and tasting with Crispin Cain & Tamar Kaye of Low Gap. If you are not familiar with their whiskies, Crispin worked for many years under the tutelage of Hubert Germain-Robin making American brandy using traditional Cognac methods of fermentation, distillation, and (perhaps most importantly) aging and blending. Crispin is now on his own, applying those same techniques and sensibilities to whiskey. He’s even using the same antique “Charentais” pot still as was used for the brandy. No one else is working this way in the U.S. today.
 
The results, which are really just coming in after over six years of work, are some of the most unique and understated ‘craft whiskies’ on the market today. Low Gap’s ‘Blended Whiskey’ has been the lead in our Craft Distillers’ Flight for the past several months and has proven itself a crowd pleaser. It’s especially appealing to first time whiskey drinkers. Crispin however is most proud and invested in his rye. By redistilling both the heads and tails from each successive distilling run, the rye continues to gain added complexity with each successive vintage. We were most lucky to sample three of these, 2012, 2013, and 2014 during his visit.

Thanks Crispin & Tamar for coming by!

About Bottled-in-Bond Whiskey
Tax seal from a pre-prohibition bottled-in-bond Bourbon


This is the first part of a two-part article on bottled-in-bond whiskey. With roots in the 19th century, this gaming changing product category is showing signs of making a come back in the 21st.

It’s a good bet that the last time you bought a bottle of American whiskey you probably didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what might be in the bottle or how it got there. Whiskey is made from grain (mostly corn if it’s Bourbon), aged in a barrel, usually diluted to a lower proof with water, put in a bottle by the distillery, and sent to the store where you buy it. However, things weren’t always that simple­—or reliable. Once upon a time the contents of that bottle might have been quite different. This is part of the story of how that changed.
 

Part 1: The Significance of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897
 
At the end of the 19th century the U.S. government enacted a piece of legislation which would revolutionize whiskey for the consumer, provide a unique opportunity for distilleries, and set the stage for the standards of identity for Bourbon and rye (and all other spirits, really) that we now take for granted. This was the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897.
 
The key provisions of the Bottled-in-Bond Act are generally summarized as follows:
  • The whiskey must have been aged ‘under bond,’ meaning with direct supervision of the federal government. The typical bond period was four years. [See Note below.]
  • The whiskey must have been distilled in the same season and at one distillery. (Originally the year was divided into two distilling “seasons,” spring, which ran from January to July, and fall, which ran August to December. This was done mostly for the purpose of assessing taxes.)
  • The whiskey must be bottled while still under bond supervision at 100 proof, with water the only allowed additive.
  • The bottled whiskey must be clearly labeled as having been bottled-in-bond and include both the year and season in which it was distilled and the year and season in which it was bottled. (This label took the form of a “tax seal” glued over the cap of the bottle. The original seals bore the image of John G. Carlisle, then Secretary of the Treasury, and a strong proponent of the act.)

NOTE: I felt it important to point out that the BIB Act itself doesn’t specify any particular age for the whiskey, as is commonly reported. Rather, on this matter, it implicitly refers to an earlier act passed in 1894. I have tracked that document down and must confess that I find its language be particularly dense and opaque. Best as I can tell, allowance for evaporative loss (“angel’s share”) increased the longer it was held in bond, but capped once the whiskey reached four years (48 months) of age. (The maximum time a whiskey could be held in bond was eight years.) So it would behoove a distillery to keep the whiskey in bond for at least four years to enjoy the maximum tax benefit. I could of course also be completely wrong.

So, what specifically made this legislation so important? Let's look at its various provisions.
 
First, there is the notion of bonding. Bonding was (and still remains) a mechanism that allows distilleries to defer paying the federal excise tax levied on alcohol. In return, the distillery agrees to allow the U.S. government to oversee the warehouse in which the whiskey is stored. (This would later lead to a notorious collusion between one very large whiskey producer and the government agents—­­­the Gaugers—responsible for oversight. But that is another story!) Since the volume of whiskey in the barrel decreases over time, deferring payment (hopefully) reduces the amount of tax owed by the distiller.
 
However, bonding was a common practice well before the act of 1897. The excise tax was originally levied to help pay for the Civil War in 1862. Four years later, the Internal Revenue Act of1868 defined the first bonding period of one year. This was extended to three in 1879 and then to eight years in 1894. (You realize just how important whiskey was to the US economy in the late 19th century when you see how much time congress spent on related legislation.)
 
Secretary of State John Carlisle. The BIB Act is often named for himThe real significance of the Bottled-in-Bond Act lies in its other provisions, which by modern standards seem hardly innovative.  And here’s why.

Today we think of whiskey and other distilled spirits as pretty pure and unadulterated products. This however wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 19th century it was quite common for “whiskey” to be manufactured by taking high proof spirit distilled from cane sugar and adding to it various flavoring and coloring agents that simulated the effects of barrel aging. This process was known as rectification. And it was perfectly legal to sell and label such products as “whiskey” without making any mention of how it was created. This changed only after passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, followed by the so-called Taft Decision in 1909. By then, a rectified product had to be labeled as “blended whiskey,” a compromise devised by President Taft against the objections of the distilling industry. And after the repeal of Prohibition such a product wouldn’t be considered whiskey at all. However, before all of this came the Bottle-in-Bond Act, and therein lies its real importance.
 
The Act created the first, if only implicit, definition for ‘straight whiskey,’ a whiskey made by one distiller, aged for at least four years and guaranteed not to contain any additives other than water, all done under government supervision. In other words, Bottled-in-Bond whiskey could not be made by rectification.
 
Second, it created a new opportunity for distilleries to establish brands that would connect them directly to the consumer. The switch to selling bottled and branded whiskey had already started by the time of the Bottled-in-Bond Act. Brands were not however always the creation of a specific distillery. Just as often these were just the creation of bottlers buying whiskey by the barrel. And a lot of it was rectified product.
 
It took four more years after the 1897 Act was passed before the first bottled-in-bond product came to market. (The identify of this first qualifying product appears now to be lost in the mists of time.) This was very likely because no one had sufficiently aged whiskey stocks available at the time—the bonding period had just been extended from three to eight years in 1889. Many more distilleries would follow suit soon thereafter, forever changing the landscape of American whiskey, setting the stage for the modern standards of purity and age we’ve come to take for granted.
 
In the second part of this article we’ll talk about how bottled-in-bond whiskey evolved after the repeal of prohibition and how it’s making a resurgence today.

More questions? Feel free to ask any of the bar staff or just send us an email: whiskey_concierge@hardwaterbar.com.
The text of Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. (Thanks to David Wondrich and the Library of Congress for helping me locate this.) If you want your own complete copy, drop us an email here.
Ask Hard Water
 
We're always standing by to answer your American whiskey questions. This past month we had some questions about bottled-in-bond whiskey that stumped a number of "experts" so we're feeling pretty saucy about ourselves. Maybe your question will stump us!
 
We look forward to hearing from you! Write soon! whiskey_concierge@hardwaterbar.com.
 
Low Gap Whiskies
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