We’ve been following the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon for many years, from the blockbuster release in 2010, the sweet and elegant 2008 release, and last year’s oak monster (2011 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon). One of the things we love about Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon line is that each year is a distinct release. These releases exemplify the differences between batches of whisky as well as how and where they were aged.
The Old Forester Birthday Bourbon series is often released between 11 and 14 years, and proofed between 94 and 98 proof. This year, the 2012 Birthday Bourbon comes out at 12 years old and is bottled at 97 proof (48.8% ABV). While the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon isn’t a single barrel product, this year’s release comes from 82 barrels that were all produced on a single day with a mashbill that had an additional 2% malt, versus Old Forester’s standard mashbill.
The location of a bourbon barrel can dictate as much character as the number of years it ages there. This year’s bourbon comes from the 4th floor of Old Forester’s aging warehouses (I & H). The higher up in a rackhouse, the quicker a bourbon will mature, and the more oak will begin to take over after 8-9 years. Some of the oldest releases that come from places like Heaven Hill come from the lower floors where the relatively cooler temperature and greater airflow keep maturation on a slow and steady pace. Still, aging bourbon longer than 12 years is a difficult task, as between 9-12 years (depending on where it was aged) the oak characteristics of the barrel begin to takeover and dominate the whisky.
Old Forester 2012 Birthday Bourbon (48.5% / 97 proof, $49.99) is dark gold in color, a lot lighter than some of the other 12 year old whiskies we’ve seen. Cinnamon and oak spice dominate the nose with an undercurrent of vanilla and marzipan. It’s a very nice nose, oaky but not nearly as oak dominant as the 2011 release. The entry is soft and slightly vanilla sweet for a moment and then the oak spice begins to quickly ramp up. Unlike the 2011, the oak doesn’t completely take over; instead, it’s accompanied by the vanilla from the entry along with a nice malt note, caramel, cinnamon, ginger, and maple nut. The combination of the wood spice and the malt note is superb and shows just how much impact even a slight adjustment to the malt in the mashbill can make. The spice comes to a peak at the end of the midpalate and then transitions into a nutty, malty caramel finish supported on a bed of oak. The integration is much better with this year’s release, and the oak, which tempts at overpowering, is nicely tamed and balanced out with some of the other flavors in this bourbon.
Make no mistake, Old Forester 2012 Birthday Bourbon drinks like an older bourbon. Oak is a star player, but it’s more than a one trick pony. The mouthfeel on this bourbon is exquisite and the flavor combination, with the solid presence of the malt, is delicious. We also can’t help but be impressed by the price. In an era of $99 and up limited edition releases of bourbon, we appreciate a limited offering under the $50 mark. Old Forester continuously puts out solid limited edition bourbon releases that are perfect for gift giving and this year is no exception. While it’s hard for any of the Birthday Bourbon releases to match the monster that 2011 was, the 2012 delivers nicely and is a solid step up from the 2011 release.