The third week of the Filson Bourbon History Series started with the discussion of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, a precursor to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. The law simply states that the whiskey was all made by the same distiller, in the same season (Spring is from January to June and Fall is from July to December), aged at least four years in government bonded warehouses and bottled at 100 proof with only water added to adjust proof, all under government supervision. It does not guarantee quality beyond these points, but it does mean that it is straight whiskey without any adulteration.
The Pure Food and Drug act of 1906 immediately created a question as to “What is Whiskey?” The government under President Theodore Roosevelt answered that question as it had to be straight whiskey, aged in wood with no ingredients other than water added to the product. Anything else had to be labeled “Imitation Whiskey”. This led to a legal battle between the government and the rectifiers who were making blended whiskey products with neutral spirits and flavorings. The issue was all settled in 1909 when President William H. Taft took it upon himself to settle the question. The “Taft Decision” defines the categories of whiskey that we have today. For a hand out, I furnished the student with a copy of the Taft Decision and a copy of a letter from President Taft to Kentucky Governor Augustus E. Willson thanking Willson for his support of the Taft Decision.
The history discussion ended with a discussion on prohibition. One of the myths of prohibition was that it was illegal to own whiskey. Not only did the distillers still own the whiskey that was made before prohibition, they actually had a very limited outlet to sell it for “medicinal use.” The companies that had a license to sell during prohibition were Brown-Forman, Glenmore Distillery, Frankfort Distillery, Schenley Distillery, National Distillers Corporation and A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery. W.L. Weller and Sons piggy backed on the Stitzel license since they were owned by the same people and formally merged to form Stitzel-Weller Distillery after prohibition ended.
For the tasting portion of the class we looked at single barrel bourbon using Four Roses Single Barrel, small batch bourbons using Knob Creek, extra aged bourbon using Russell’s Reserve 10 years old and specialty bottling using Bernheim wheat whiskey.