Bottled-in-bond bourbon whiskey is often called “the good stuff.” Part of that is due to the style being a little rarer than your average small batch bourbon. Another reason is the way it’s made. The juice in bottled-in-bond bourbons need to come from one distiller, during one distilling season. After at least four years of aging, those barrels are then blended and proofed down to 100 proof, every time.
The idea is that since the barrels have to come from the same season, they’re generally the same age and have the same depth. There’s no hiding/fixing flavor notes with older or younger barrels. Here’s the thing: any barrel can be a “bottled in bond” if it fits the flavor profile of that brand’s b-i-b expression. Distilling is a big business and all warehouses are federally bonded (another rule for bonded whiskey). So if a barrel doesn’t match that flavor profile, it isn’t thrown out, it’s just blended out into another expression. If it fits, it stays a bonded whiskey.
To many, the bottled-in-bond label represents a certain kind of fidelity to the process and to the product. But does it actually taste better? To try to answer that, I thought I’d pull some bottled-in-bond bourbons from my shelf and taste them blind, to see if they really are the good stuff. And to really drive that point home, I added two ringers — Knob Creek 12 and Johnny Drum Private Stock — which both have an ABV of 50 percent, like all bonded whiskey.
The lineup today is:
- Jack Daniel’s Bonded
- Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond
- Knob Creek 12
- Johnny Drum Private Stock
- Boulder Spirits Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bottled In Bond
- E.H. Taylor Single Barrel Bottled In Bond
- New Riff Red Turkey Weated BIB
- Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Spring 2022 Edition
Do bottled in bonds really taste that much better than an average 100-proof bourbon? Let’s find out.
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Part 1: The Tasting
This is all about the vanilla cakes and cherry candies on the nose with a little bit of new leather, orange oil, and sweet wood. The palate leans into apple fritters with vanilla frosting next to plenty of wintry spices — nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon mostly. There’s a Cream of Wheat vibe on the mid-palate with brown sugar, cinnamon apples, and raisins mixed in. The finish is a bit like a Hostess Cherry Pie with a dry cedar edge.
Vanilla ice cream and salted caramel draw you in on the nose with dashes of dried apple chips and cedar bark. The taste has a floral honey sweetness with layers of Graham cracker, nutmeg, and orange zest. The mid-palate leans into the sweetness with rich toffee before the finish arrives with a mix of sticky cherry tobacco, old leather, and woody spice.
Cherry bark and dark chocolate dominate the nose with a whisper of winter spice and menthol tobacco. Blueberry and cherry pie lead the way on the palate as salted caramel and dark chocolate cut with dried chili balance things out. The finish is part green reeds and maybe even sugar cane and part rich and dark brandied cherries dipped in that chili-infused chocolate with a silky body.
Creamy and lush eggnog with plenty of allspice and nutmeg gives way to a soft and slightly sweet cedar plank with a hint of salt. Red Hots and orange rinds lead the way in the taste as Cherry Dr. Pepper livens things up. That hot cinnamon and creamy nog round out the finish with a touch of tap water at the very end.
This is all about that hazy IPA on the nose with plenty of tropical fruit countered by rummy spices, vanilla, and oak. That tropical rum cocktail vibe continues on the palate with plenty of sticky toffee pudding, vanilla creaminess, and wet oak. Dried apricot leather and cotton candy dominate the back half of the sip as notes of dark chocolate and tobacco finish things off.
Orchard wood and berry fruit leather dance on the nose with layers of old cellar beams, dry black potting soil, vanilla wafers with a touch of nougat, and buttery toffee. The palate is part of sharp cinnamon tobacco and part dark fruit leather that mingles with old leather boots, winter spices, and cedar boxes before a cotton candy sweetness hits on the mid-palate. The finish leans back towards the berry with a pie while the leather and tobacco dry out the end.
Sourdough and cherry pie are dominant on the nose with hints of old leather, maybe some orange rind, and a bit of green cedar. The taste is more of that cherry pie with a cinnamon stick woodiness next to a layer of dry sweetgrass and worn leather. The cherry continues on the finish as almost tart grape and more old leather round things out.
This opens with a mix of freshly fried yeast doughnuts smothered in blackberry jam with moments of dried leather, old cedar, orange blossoms, and date-rich Christmas cake. The taste follows those lines and adds in almost smoky cherrywood, more blackberry jam, lush vanilla cream, black tea, cloves, and sticky tobacco. The finish balances that pipe tobacco with old cedar and plenty of dark berry compote.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Boulder Spirits Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bottled In Bond — Taste 5
Average Price: $90
This Colorado bourbon is a bit of an outlier. The juice is made from a mash bill of 51% corn, 44% malted barley, and only five percent rye. That makes this one almost closer to a grain whiskey from Ireland or Scotland than a standard bourbon. The whiskey ages for four years before blending, proofing, and bottling in the Rocky Mountains.
This was very young/green on the nose. The hazy IPA vibe gave it away instantly as a crafty bourbon. It was good, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not my jam.
7. Johnny Drum Private Stock — Taste 4
Average Price: $40
Willett — or Kentucky Bourbon Distillers — makes this special label. As with everything at Willett, though, the cards on the aging, mash bill, and blending of this bottle are held pretty close to the chest. The juice is a marrying of varying barrels that are cut to 101 to compete with Wild Turkey. That’s about all we know.
This felt like a perfectly good cocktail bourbon. I’d also pour this into a refreshing highball, but that’s about it.
6. New Riff Red Turkey Wheated BIB — Taste 7
Average Price: Limited Availability ($50 MSRP)
This release from craft whiskey darling, New Riff, is all about the heritage grains. The whiskey uses a 19th-century grain, Red Turkey Wheat, to create a unique whiskey. The juice is aged for five years at New Riff’s warehouse before it’s vatted, proofed ever so slightly, and bottled as-is.
This was where things get a little “same-y.” There was a lot of cherry, wood, and vanilla in this lineup and this was the most indirect of these. It’s nice but didn’t stick out, hence the lower ranking.
5. E.H. Taylor Single Barrel Bottled In Bond — Taste 6
Average Price: Charity only
The whiskey in this case is a 12-year-old barrel of E.H. Taylor. That whiskey was hand-picked by Chris Stapleton. It was then cut down very slightly to bottled-in-bond proof, or 100 proof, with that famously soft Kentucky limestone water.
This, again, was nice. It felt like a classic bourbon or an everyday bourbon. I wasn’t overwhelmed or awed, but I was satisfied.
4. Jack Daniel’s Bonded — Taste 1
Average Price: $35
This whiskey is from Jack’s bonded warehouse. The mash of 80% corn, 12% barley, and eight percent rye is twice distilled before it’s run through Jack’s very long Lincoln County process of sugar maple charcoal filtration. The spirit then goes into the barrel for at least four years — per bonded law — before it’s batched, cut down with that Jack Daniel’s limestone cave water, and bottled as-is.
This was a nice departure from the rest of the list but not quite as refined as the next three on the list. Still, this is where we get into “that’s a nice sipper” territory.
3. Heaven Hill Botted-in-Bond — Taste 2
Average Price: $40
This expression has been a touchstone bottled in bond since 1939 and remains a go-to for many bourbon lovers. The juice is the classic Heaven Hill bourbon mash bill that’s left to age for an extra three years compared to Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond.
This still rules. It’s a little one-note if I’m really being overly critical. But that “one note” is a pretty nice one with a lot of clarity and depth.
2. Knob Creek 12 — Taste 3
Average Price: $71
This is classic Beam whiskey with a low-ish rye mash bill. The juice is then left alone in the Beam warehouses for 12 long years. The barrels are chosen according to a specific taste and married to create this higher-proof expression.
This would have won easily today had an Old Fitz not been in the mix. This was deep, interesting, and comforting all at once. It also goes to show that Jim Beam doesn’t need to slap “bottled in bond” on the label to make this the good stuff.
1. Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Spring 2022 Edition — Taste 8
Average Price: $1,275
This wheated bourbon whiskey — 68% corn, 20% wheat, and 12% malted barley — was distilled and laid down in barrels back in 2004. The barrels were vatted after 17 years and proofed down to the bottled-in-bond standard of 100 proof and then bottled in the iconic Old Fitz decanter for a Spring 2022 release.
Not surprisingly at this price, this was in a different universe to the rest on the list and it’s kind of unfair to even rank this against them. This is one of the best bourbons of the year by a mile.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
So, I guess that’s a “no” to my question at the end of the lede. Good bourbon is good bourbon whether it’s labeled bottled in bond, small batch, or even single barrel.
Overall, Knob Creek 12 was the clear winner today. Old Fitz was walking away with the number one seed pretty much no matter what. But that Knob Creek really wowed in the blind tasting and beat out the competition easily.