Wednesday, March 18, 2020

TTB Waives Rule, Permits All Distilleries to Make Hand Sanitizer



Several distilleries have made posts recently, indicating that they are not legally permitted to make hand sanitizer. That was true until today. The Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has just announced that, "any existing DSP therefore can immediately commence production of hand sanitizer or distilled spirits (ethanol) for use in hand sanitizer, as described below, without having to obtain authorization first." The details are here.

However, not every distillery is able, because of the technology it uses, to make the necessary 190° proof (95% ABV) ethanol, and they also may not have access to the other materials needed. But for those that do, this is a way for them to both 'pitch in' during the current crisis, and keep their businesses going. Although alcoholic beverages can still be sold, many small distilleries depend on visitors and purchases made at the distillery, and that will be severely impacted by the crisis.

3/20/2020: New guidance, provided today, is here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Happy Birthday, Bottled-in-Bond Act



One-hundred-twenty-three years ago today, Congress passed the Bottled-in-Bond Act. Once considered the epitome of 'the good stuff' in American whiskey, the 'bonded' or 'bottled-in-bond' (BIB) designation fell into disuse. Old Grand-Dad Bonded, the best-selling bond for many years, was one of the few nationally-distributed bonded whiskeys that remained. Heaven Hill had a stable of inexpensive bonds (Heaven Hill, J.T.S. Brown, J.W. Dant, T. W. Samuels) sold primarily in Kentucky. Sazerac's Very Old Barton, another mostly-in-Kentucky brand, had a bonded expression. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond (the green label) was also available here and there.

But bottled-in-bond has come back in a big way. Beam Suntory, which makes OGD Bonded, now has Jim Beam and Old Overholt BIB expressions. Brown-Forman has bonded versions of Old Forester and Early Times. (Which is funny since company founder George Garvin Brown opposed bonds.) Heaven Hill has a super premium bond in Henry McKenna and their #1 bourbon, Evan Williams, now comes in a bonded expression. They also make Mellow Corn, the only bonded corn whiskey, and Rittenhouse, the top-selling bonded rye. Sazerac also has a premium bond, named for the father of the Bottled-in-Bond Act, Col. E. H. Taylor Jr.

Recently, several micro-distilleries have introduced bonds as a way to proclaim, "Look! We actually have whiskey that is more than four years old." They include Kings County, Laws Whiskey House, New Riff, FEW Spirits, Dad's Hat, One Eight, and Tom’s Foolery.

What does 'bottled-in-bond' mean? The 1897 Federal law was America's first 'truth in labeling' legislation. In return for allowing the Federal Government to monitor their operations and adhering to a strict set of rules, producers could label their products 'bottled-in-bond,' which the government considered a guarantee of whiskey authenticity. Though guaranteeing quality per se was never the intention, it became that de facto.

The most obvious characteristic of a BIB is its proof, 100°, which means one-hundred degrees of proof, also known as 'full proof,' which is 50 percent alcohol, 50 percent water. Though essentially arbitrary, this was long believed to be the ideal alcohol concentration for a whiskey. Modern tastes seem to prefer a milder 40/60 mix, but bonds must be 50/50, no more, no less.

A bond must also be at least four years old but it can be older. The Henry McKenna Bond, for example, is 10-years-old. George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond in 13-years-old.

The lesser known but more interesting characteristic of bonds is their singularity. A bond must be the product of a single distillery and a single distiller during a single distilling season. A 'distilling season' is a six-month period, either January-June (Spring) or July-December (Fall).

Think of bonds as 'single batch' whiskeys. The singularity rule means producers can't 'correct' a bottling batch by mixing in older or younger whiskey, or whiskey from another distillery. This makes barrel selection critical. If you really want to experience a distillery's house character, drink one of their bonds.

Although bottled-in-bond whiskeys were made and sold pre-Prohibition, it was mostly after the drought that they came into their own. Prohibition, the Great Depression, and World War II all kept the American whiskey industry from building up a solid stock of fully aged whiskeys for more than 25 years. In a market chock full of immature spirits, the words 'bottled-in-bond' became a Holy Grail in the late 40s and 50s, and into the early 60s. Then the whole American whiskey market crashed. Instead of being desirable, bonds came to be considered old-fashioned. One after another, major producers discontinued their bonds in favor of 80° proof expressions.

In today's crowded whiskey marketplace, new products are the easiest and surest way to grab attention. The long whiskey aging process makes it hard to develop products that are from-scratch new. For large producers especially, bonds are a way to create a new product from existing inventory. Bonds appeal to newbies and veterans alike. Bonds are back.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Is There Gluten in Bourbon?



With concerns about gluten allergy (i.e., Celiac Disease), people often ask "is there gluten in bourbon." The short and correct answer is no, but with an explanation.

Gluten is a group of proteins found in many but not all cereal grains. Wheat and rye contain gluten, corn and rice do not.

Because there is no reliable way to test for the presence of gluten in consumer products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says no product may legally be labeled 'gluten free' unless none of its ingredients contain gluten. The U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which controls alcoholic beverage labeling, echos the FDA's direction.

Since a whiskey made from 100 percent corn can be labeled as bourbon if the other requirements are met, a bourbon made from 100 percent corn may be labeled gluten free. Most vodka is made from 100 percent corn and can also be labeled gluten free. Most bourbons, however, contain rye or wheat and those grains contain gluten. Therefore, those whiskeys may not be labeled 'gluten free.'

But are they, in fact, gluten free? Is there gluten in any straight spirits? Almost certainly the answer is no. Proteins such as gluten shouldn't be able to survive the heat of the distillation process. The slight hedging is because (1) I'm not a chemist and (2) the aforementioned inability to reliably test for gluten in the final product.

So if 'highly unlikely' is good enough for you, then you shouldn't worry about gluten in bourbon.