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Bourbon Legalese

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In the wine industry, the terms "produced by", "cellared by", "produced and cellared by" etc. all have different legal definitions. These definitions elude me now, but I remember them from a viticulture course a few years back.

Question: Is there any analog to this nomenclature in the bourbon world?


Jim Butler

Straightbourbon.com Staff

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  • 2 months later...


"produced by" doesn't have a bourbon equivalent, since none of the distilleries grow all their own grain.

"distilled by" is the literal equivalant of "made by" or "vinted by", but carries more the weight of "produced by"

"Bottled by" means simply purchased in bulk and bottled, similar to wine

There ought to be a designation called "distilled and aged by", which would distinguish bourbon made and aged by a single distillery from those which are being marketed by an outfit that simply purchased whiskey stored in a broker's warehouse.

The problem is, unlike with wine, none of this is a very good indicator of the quality of the bourbon. Wine spoils; whiskey doesn't. Therein lies a very fundamental difference. The finest wines are the product of the winemaker, from the grape stock, through the winemaking process, through aging, and to the bottle. Some of the finest bourbon, however, has been passed along from one owner to another; and may very well have been purchased directly from a warehouse holding product from a long-defunct distillery. A.W. Hirsch, Kentucky Vintage, Rowan's Creek, etc. are all examples. I think Van Winkle has fallen into that category from time to time as well. The comparison is really not straightforward.

"Straight Bourbon", of course, has a legal definition (this is funny, since I'm responding, not to you but to the others reading this post; you were the one who taught this to me :-) )

To be called Straight Bourbon, a whiskey must qualify on certain minimum requirement, all of which are routinely exceeded by all bourbon producers.

"Kentucky" is roughly analagous to "California" or "New York"; all the bourbon in the bottle must have been distilled in Kentucky. I'm not sure just what kind of quality that should represent, because it's just as easy to set up a good whiskey warehouse in Indiana as it is in Kentucky, and the point of distillation is really not very important at all.

Then there is the complication of all the label-product-formula-yeast-trading that goes on in the bourbon industry.

Thus, label legalese aside, Wathen's (a particularly fine bourbon) was originally made by one company, possibly operating under two or three brand names, stored by at least three others, and bottled by a yet another (which consists of the master distiller from the first company). If this were wine, it would be the cheapest rotgut available, but as bourbon it's one of the finest ever made. There's just no comparison.

-John Lipman-


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Only moments after posting this question ( I have a bad habit of dealing with the board over coffee first thing in the AM) I realized that I'd been sitting on the answer to my own question for a couple years.

For an authoritative answer, see: http://www.atf.treas.gov/core/regulations/27cfrpart005.htm


Jim Butler


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