§ 5.40 Statements of Age and Percentage.
(a) Statements of age and percentage for whisky. In the case of straight whisky bottled in conformity with the bottled in bond labeling requirements and of domestic or foreign whisky, whether or not mixed or blended, all of which is 4 years old or more, statements of age and percentage are optional. As to all other whiskies there shall be stated the following:
(1) In the case of whisky, whether or not mixed or blended but containing no neutral spirits, the age of the youngest whisky. The age statement shall read substantially as follows: ‘‘___ years old.’’
The above comes from the US Government Publishing Office. Seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it? If your whiskey is bottled in bond or not, if it is produced in the US or not, if it is blended or not, statements of age are optional if it is over 4 years of age. For all other whisky the age shall be stated as shown above.
Yet even though it seems pretty straightforward and I was able to find it with less than 5 minutes spent on Google, this seems to be a something that is still hard to figure out for some small distillers. I mean, I get it. I’m a pretty smart person that has above average reading comprehension skills. And seriously, lawyers are notorious for writing laws that only another lawyer can understand, amirite? When you are starting a small business, who has the money for a lawyer to help you decode all those pesky laws?
Well, our helpful government has you covered there too. Can’t quite make out the particulars of the law? They provide a helpful guide in plain English that tells you what you need to do. It’s called the Beverage Alcohol Manual. And it is super easy to read.
If you look at Chapter One: Mandatory Label Information (PDF), it tells you all about what is required on the label. Scroll down to Section 13 (it’s on page 1-14) . Don’t feel like it? That’s ok, I’ll paste it below.
13. STATEMENTS OF AGE
REQUIRED A statement of age is required for:
• All types of whisky aged less than 4 years
Ok but seriously, age is just a number? Right. You’re only as old as you feel and maybe this whiskey doesn’t feel like its only a year old. Well, they have you covered there too. If you look at Chapter 8: Statements of Age (PDF), the very first thing defines "age" for you. Sorry I may only feel like I’m 25, but the government (and my knees) can tell you I’m closer to 45 than I am to 25. And in case clicking that link is a hardship, I’ll paste this too.
DEFINITION OF “AGE”
• Age is the period during which, after distillation and before bottling, distilled spirits have been stored in oak containers
• For bourbon, rye, wheat, malt or rye malt whiskies and straight whiskies, other than straight corn whisky (which must be stored in used or uncharred new oak containers), the oak container must be a charred new oak container
So there you have it. A very quick lesson in whiskey age statements. Just because you don’t know the law, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t apply to you.
I did this little primer, because I recently visited Door County, Wisconsin. Since I had last visited the area, about 5 years or so ago, a winery I used to visit had expanded to have a distillery as part of their business. When I visited, I noticed that they had a bourbon out on the shelf. Even better, there was no age statement on it. Doing a little math in my head on how long it had been since I was there last, I realized that if they had broken ground right after I was there and had everything go right in the building and licensing process there was an off chance that it was actually four years old. Barely.
So I introduced myself and asked if there was someone I could talk to about the bourbon. The lady behind the counter seemed to be in charge and told me I could talk to her. My first question was, as you might have guessed, “How old is the bourbon?” She told me just under a year…
So I asked again? Really? Because I see there is no age statement on the label and I’m sure you are aware that if it is under four years of age, whiskey needs an age statement. Well, unfortunately she got a little defensive and told me that everything that the law requires is on their label. “Because they are pretty strict about that stuff.” Not looking to upset her further, I bought my bottle and decided to write the company and see if they would provide further clarification.
They did not. I told them I would publish last Thursday and then held off until now just to see if there would be a response. There wasn’t. So I am forced to conclude that Door County Distillery Bourbon Whiskey is really about a year old and that they are in violation of labeling laws. Hopefully they will get this matter fixed because I really don’t believe they intend to deceive their customers.
Door County Distillery Bourbon Whiskey
Purchase Info: $24.99 for a 375 mL bottle at the distillery.
Details: 40% ABV
Nose: Corn, cinnamon, dried fruit
Mouth: Sweet and spicy with notes of honey, granola and cinnamon spice
Finish: Short with lingering honey and cinnamon spice
Thoughts: This is much better than I had expected from a bourbon that I have to assume is only a year or so old. In fact, I’m really very pleasantly surprised. Does it taste like fully mature bourbon? No. But it does taste like a good young bourbon. It nicely balances youthful brashness with a light barrel influence. And it was a nice vacation souvenir. I like this for what it is. I just hope they get their label in compliance because if you were expecting a fully mature bourbon, you’d be very disappointed and much less charitable.
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