Every once in a while I get an email in which someone sends me a picture of a Bottled in Bond whiskey that is 90 proof (instead of a the legally required 100 proof) or a "straight bourbon" that says on the label that it has caramel coloring, when such coloring is not permissible in straight bourbons. What's the deal? Are these scofflaws? Am I wrong about the law?
The answer is almost always that these are export bottlings. American regulations require that bonded whiskey be 100 proof and that no coloring may be added to straight whiskey, but these regulations only apply within the United States. In fact, the regulations explicitly say that they do "not apply to distilled spirits for export." 27 CFR § 5.1.
While the U.S. has a number of trade agreements that protect "bourbon" and "Tennessee Whiskey" as distinct products of the United States, these agreements, for the most part, only require that products carrying those names be made in the U.S.
Therefore, companies that export American whiskey do not have to comply with the strict regulations that they have to adhere to when producing American products. So for those of you bourbon lovers who aren't in the U.S., caveat emptor.
That being said, my guess would be that if you are buying a brand available in the U.S., it's a pretty safe bet (though not 100%) that it complies with U.S. laws. If you're buying one of the many independently bottled bourbons for export only, you're on your own.