How Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond Built a Lasting Legacy

These days, it seems like every time you open Instagram there’s a deluge of posts promoting the latest and greatest spirit brand — and it’s probably made by a person you’ve never heard of.

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond is the opposite of a flashy celebrity brand, one that predates the internet and that bourbon lovers have most certainly heard of. It’s not an endorsement deal where a star uses their personal brand to cash in with a liquid of mysterious origins. It’s been a long-standing example of what a quality bourbon should be, operated by the same family since the first batch was put into barrels in 1935.

Back to the Beginning

The original Heaven Hill Springs Distillery in Bardstown, Ky., was founded just two years after Prohibition’s end by a group that included the Shapira family, who were owners of a small chain of department stores in central Kentucky. The company is still owned and operated by descendants of the Shapira family, making it the largest independently owned and operated distillery.

The family waited four years to release the first batch, which seemed like an eternity at the time for a new company waiting to turn a profit. But that investment paid off because Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond became the No. 1-selling bourbon in the state of Kentucky.

What Makes Something Bottled-in-Bond?

To be considered Bottled-in-Bond, an American-made distilled spirit has to comply with the 1897 Bottled-in-Bond Act. It laid out rules for manufacturers so consumers knew that what they were buying was really quality whiskey instead of something adulterated with other liquids, like prune juice, tobacco, and even kerosene.

Bottled-in-Bond sets a higher bar than what’s required for straight bourbon, which must spend two years in charred new oak barrels. Bottled-in-Bond whiskey must be the product of one distillery and distilled during just one distillation season, which can either run from January to June or July to December. It must be aged at least four years, and then be bottled at 100 proof. The bottle must also indicate the name and number of the distilled spirits plant (D.S.P.) where it was made, and if it was bottled someplace else, that D.S.P. number as well.

125 years after the Bottled-in-Bond act passed, it remains the world’s highest quality standard for spirits and has become shorthand for a distillery that cares about transparency and whiskey traditions.

The Lasting Legacy of Heaven Hill

As consumers gravitated to clear spirits starting in the 1970s and vodka became more popular, Heaven Hill kept the legacy alive, ultimately producing more Bottled-in-Bond whiskey than anyone else. This still rings true today — as the leader in the category, Heaven Hill still to this day the largest producer of Bottled-in-Bond whiskey.

But changing consumer tastes wasn’t the only hardship the company endured. A fire that broke out on Nov. 7, 1996, changed everything. Around 2 p.m. that day, a worker noticed smoke coming from Warehouse 1. Soon, the distillery was irrevocably damaged. While there were no injuries, the distillery and seven rickhouses were destroyed, a loss valued at $30 million today. Additionally, nearly 100,000 barrels of whiskey were lost to the fire.

In line with an unwavering commitment to bourbon, the team got back to work on the bottling line the next day. The Kentucky whiskey community rallied to help, with competitors distilling Heaven Hill’s signature mash bill, which the company continued to age in its own barrels and remaining rickhouses. Miraculously, Heaven Hill’s signature yeast strain survived in the distillery’s yeast refrigerator.

In 1999, Heaven Hill bought the Bernheim distillery from United Distillers in Louisville, which had triple the capacity of the original distillery, and moved operations there. Around that same time in the late 1990s, there was a resurgence in cocktail culture that coalesced with pop culture. With the debut (and ensuing popularity) of whiskey-loving “Mad Men” protagonist Don Draper in 2007, bartenders began to look at whiskey anew. Plus, a bourbon bottled at 100 proof had the backbone to stand up to other flavors in a cocktail, which inspired all sorts of innovation.

Suddenly, the demand for whiskey was higher than ever — and Heaven Hill was ready to meet that demand.

Heaven Hill has grown to produce a lot of award-winning American whiskeys, including bourbons like Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and Larceny, as well as Rittenhouse Rye Whisky. Eighty years after Heaven Hill’s first Bottled-in Bond was released, the company launched a 7-year-old Bottled-in-Bond bourbon, a whiskey that bore the distillery’s name. At the time, Heaven Hill president Max Shapira recalled advice his father Ed would say the most about bourbon: “It takes patience and perseverance to produce something of great quality.”

Patience Pays Off With Bottled-in-Bond

Since Bottled-in-Bond requires the liquid to come from a single distillation season, it limits the options for barrels that can be used to produce it. But even though Heaven Hill is family owned, it has lot of bourbon stock, with almost 2 million barrels aging in its rickhouses. It gives the distillers time and flexibility to find the right barrels that have the flavor qualities they want to make the final product.

The result is a golden amber liquid that has notes of vanilla, honey, and caramel, as well as a subtle rye spice note, owing to the 10 percent rye that’s used in the mash bill, along with 78 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley. The seven years spent in barrel give the whiskey an oak backbone to round out the richness. It was named the No. 4 whiskey of the year by Whisky Advocate in 2019, and it took home gold at the International Spirits Challenge in 2020.

All that history that went into the bottle is reflected on the label. A hand-sketched illustration shows how the Bardstown distillery looked back in 1935, and the simple but direct “This Bourbon is 7 Years Old” written on the label evokes age statements of the past.

There is limited availability on the market of Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond — so don’t wait to get your bottle and click here! Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond is a whiskey that has truly passed the test of time. And what better endorsement is there than that?

This article is sponsored by Heaven Hill.