By Richard Thomas
Among bourbon enthusiasts, the phrase “Bottled in Bond” has a kind of conservative mystique, evoking a past when things were better. Often times the more fixated a bourbon drinker is on “deceptive whiskey” practices, the more the romanticize Bottled in Bond.
The connection is an easy one to understand, as the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 was a step designed to ensure quality in an era of widespread adulteration by making the government a guarantor of quality. To qualify, the whiskey must be produced by one distillery and in one distilling season, aged for at least four years under the watchful eye of the Federal government, and bottled at at least 100 proof (50% alcohol).
Jim Beam Bonded, one of Jim Beam’s new releases this year, joins that small group of a dozen and a half bonded bourbons. What is so interesting about Beam Bonded is that, once you get past the mystique surrounding Bottled in Bond, it points to how out of date the very concept is. I hear Jim Beam Bonded sometimes referred to as “4 year old Knob Creek,” a phrasing that amply illustrates how so much bourbon in this era of plentiful, premium brands has surpassed the quality standards of the Bottled in Bond Act, and by a mile at that. Also keep in mind that plain old Jim Beam White may be only 80 proof, but it is in the four to six year age range.
Don’t get me wrong here, because I’m a historian at heart and love the idea of an old fashioned, bonded whiskey. Yet at the same time I’m a very practical fellow, and because of that I recognize the truth in labeling Jim Beam Bonded a youthful Knob Creek, and saw a long time ago how the industry passed the Bottled in Bond Act behind. It’s a lovely anachronism, but an anachronism all the same.
Leaving aside the Bottled in Bond part, Jim Beam Bonded has a pleasant mid-amber, caramel coloring in the glass. The nose packs candy corn sweetness, toffee and caramel balanced against an earthy woodiness and rye spice.
The palate follows in that vein: core, simple bourbon values of corn sweetness seasoned with vanilla and caramel, but with a current of old, leathery wood. Compared to Jim Beam White, Devil’s Cut, or the pre-NAS, more aged Beam Black, it is a richer bourbon with a dry and woody aspect that isn’t present or as present in the other whiskeys.
Once again, that “4 year old Knob Creek” statement points right to how to look at Jim Beam Bonded. Knob Creek floats in the $35 to $40 range in most of the United States nowadays, while Jim Beam White is down around $14. At $23, Beam Bonded is the bridge between the core mass market and premium expressions of Jim Beam.