The big liquor stores love their ‘house’ brands and will push them hard to customers. Why? It’s all about the money. Here is a bourbon brand found pretty much only at Total Wine – 2 Stars. It’s KY Straight Bourbon Whiskey at least 4 years old at 86 proof – really some fairly decent bourbon at a cost of $39.99 for a 1.75 liter handle. It’s produced by Sazerac from Bourbon made at their Barton 1792 distillery. Or you can buy practically the same KY Straight Bourbon Whiskey at least 4 years old at 86 proof under the Barton brand, which is not a house brand, for $19.99 for the same size.
As Richard Seale of Foursquare Rum once said ‘drink what you like, be careful what you pay for’
Most whiskey aficionadas know that Bourbon can’t have any added flavors or coloring. This is true regardless if the Bourbon is labeled Straight or not. If you question this, it can be verified by reviewing Ch. 7 of the TTB BAM. This contains a chart of all spirit types and if HCFBM (harmless coloring flavoring blending material) can be added. Both Bourbon and Straight Bourbon are checked as not allowed. For other types of whiskey, such as Rye or Wheat, which are labeled as Straight, HFCBMs are not allowed. However HFCBMs are allowed in these other whiskey types if not labeled as Straight.
I was surprised when I reviewed the COLA label approval for the newest Blood Oath Pact 4 Bourbon and found a formula. 27 CFR 5.26 (a) states ‘an approved formula is required to blend, mix, purify, refine, compound, or treat spirits in a manner which results in a change of character, composition, class or type of the spirits’. TTB regulations commonly require formulas when HCFBM are added to spirits.
This brings us to when is a Bourbon not really a Bourbon? Spirits have dedicated class types by the TTB. Straight Bourbon is class type 101; Bourbon is 141. When you start messing with bourbon by adding flavor packets or secondary cask finishes, these products are no longer legally bourbon. They become class type 641, which is a catch all for ‘Whisky Specialties’. Blood Oath Pact 4 is not a bourbon; it was approved as a Whisky Specialties. Formulas are proprietary information so who knows what they might have or have not added to this. For these products, the TTB allows Bourbon to still be used on the front label, but the extra process must be listed. They give an example in the BAM of adding coloring to bourbon. The example specifically states that the product is no longer Bourbon, but the label can state “Straight Bourbon Whisky with Yellow #5 added”.
If someone put me in charge of the TTB, this would be the first thing I would change. I would not allow these products to be called Bourbon and would make the front label say what they are – Whisky Specialty. For my money, I will stick with Straight Whiskies.