View Full Version : Who put the water in my "water"?

11-13-2012, 07:14
To paraphrase W. C. Fields, who was the first to add water to bourbon for the purpose of controling the proof--as opposed to "rectifying" it to extend profits? When bourbon was sold directly from the barrel (the real first single barrel, barrel proof?) the proof would obviously vary. My understanding is that BIB laws were implemented because too many unscupulous people were not only watering their bourbon but adding all sorts of other things to "improve" it. Old Forester was the first bourbon sold exclusively in bottles with a signed guarantee that you were getting the real thing.
Does anyone know at what point bourbon was sold at a deliberately pre-established proof? Obviously, every distiller had access to distilled water that could be used for that purpose. Who decided that it would be a good thing to offer 100 pf or 86 pf or whatever? And when did 80 become the "standard" proof?

11-13-2012, 07:39
80 is the "standard" proof because the government won't let them go any lower and still call the product a distilled spirit (related: tequila is traditionally bottled at less than 80 proof in Mexico; all tequilas in the US are at least 80 proof.) I haven't been able to determine for sure when this became a standard, but it goes back some time - this TTB ruling (http://www.ttb.gov/rulings/55-399.htm) seems to imply that in 1938 it was allowed to bottle at less than 80 proof; I believe the standards of identity that require a minimum of 80 proof were adopted in at least 1949, if not earlier - but someone correct me if I'm wrong!

Bourbon Boiler
11-13-2012, 13:49
Not to go too far off on a tangent, but the term "proof" originated by adding a spirit to gunpowder and lighting it. If it burned, the alcohol content was "proven". The test doesn't sound all that calibrated or repeatable, but it was a way for the buyer to know in advance if we was getting something that was extremely watered down.