In part I of this In Focus we looked at the life of Edmund Hayes Taylor Jr, one of the fathers of modern whiskey distilling and now in part II we will look at the outcome of his and others work to provide a quality product.
During and after the Civil War, whiskey’s popularity in America was booming. Where the century before brandy was our nations go to spirit it seemed in the nineteenth century the whiskey craze spread like wildfire. Unfortunately the hurdles that whiskey makers face today were still around back then but what early whiskey makers didn’t have is strict regulations and standards. So what these early merchants did was to take cheap whiskey and add color and flavor to it and sell it at a price that was much cheaper than the standard aged whiskey. These were known as ‘rectified’ whiskeys.
The makers of rectified whiskey had an obvious advantage over the distillers of ‘true’ or straight whiskey in that it only took them a few days, instead of years, to get their product out to market. So this advantage helped the rectifiers get control of the whiskey market and with no way to compete the distillers of straight whiskey sought out congress to help them win the war on whiskey. Led by E.H. Taylor Jr. the distillers began to lobby congress for a set of regulations on whiskey making and so with the help of the secretary of the US Treasury, James G. Carlisle, the distillers were able to come up with a bottled in bond act that was signed into law by Grover Cleveland in the last few hours of his presidency on March 3, 1897.
Sure the bottled in bond act helped the distillers gain leverage on the rectifiers but what exactly did the bottled in bond act consist of? Well the Bottled In Bond Act of 1897 ensured that whiskey labeled as ‘bonded’ or ‘bottled in bond’ was at least 4 years old, 100 proof and was distilled by one distillery in one season in a federally bonded warehouse. This now gave straight whiskey makers a stamp of authenticity that they could use to separate themselves against the harsher and cheaper rectified whiskey. As you would expect this new law was met with an outcry from the rectifiers. Much in the way todays lobbyist were able to get congress to say pizza is a vegetable, the rectifiers were trying to pass their stuff as the more ‘natural’ form of whiskey by saying straight whiskey contained byproducts such as congeners, an outcome of fermentation. It didn’t work. And with the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1909 the final nail in the coffin was laid for the rectifiers as whiskey made from flavored neutral spirits had to be labeled as blended and not straight whiskey. These outlines laid the foundation for a more defined market and the rectifiers could no longer pass their product off with words like ‘pure whiskey’.
So in the end of the nineteenth century going into the twentieth ‘bonded’ whiskey was used as a sign of a superior product but today with tighter and stricter regulations in place it’s more of a tradition or nod to the past. It was not until 1964 that the strict regulations for bourbon came into effect.