Recently we had a unique opportunity to do a vertical tasting of Old Forester‘s Birthday Bourbon. A vertical tasting is something quite common in the wine space as it highlights the differences in the same wine year after year. Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is a good candidate for vertical tasting because each year they use the same raw ingredients (mash build) but vary the aging, how it’s stored, and the proof it’s released at. This results in releases each year which are distinctly different from each other but still manage to preserve a common thread of taste.
Old Forester is one America’s oldest bourbon distilleries, one of the few that managed to continue to produce whiskey during prohibition (since it was classified as medicinal). Old Forester has the distinction of being the first bourbon to be bottled (rather than served straight from the barrel) and it’s the spirit which launched the powerhouse beverage company Brown-Forman (which also handles Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve,Herradura Tequila, Chambord, Canadian Mist and Southern Comfort). Of the bourbons on the market, Old Forester has the highest concentration of rye in their mashbuild, often resulting in a bolder and spicier bourbon.
Every September, Old Forester releases their Birthday Bourbon to commemorate the birthday of their founder, George Garvin Brown. Each year is distinct, and journeying through three years was a real treat.
There couldn’t have been a more perfect place to start the journey through Old Forester Birthday Bourbon than the 2008 release.
2008 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (94 proof, $35, aged 13 Years) – A rich, golden orange color with the slightest tint of red, this richly colored bourbon is simply inviting. The nose is lighter than other bourbons of this age with nice sweet caramel , vanilla and butterscotch with the slightest hint of cinnamon. The entry is soft and sweet with distinct caramel and vanilla on the palate, then opening up with some fantastic spice. The sweetness from the opening returns, and the sweet and spice gracefully fade together in a superb finish. The 2008 isn’t as bold as the 2009 and is much more light and elegant than the 2010. At $35-$45 a bottle it’s an absolute steal as it drinks alongside bourbons more than twice its price.
2008 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon may be hard to find, but it’s still out there, and at the price point it’s a complete no-brainer. Even if it wasn’t so amazingly affordable, this delicious and delightful bourbon would still be worth seeking out. It’s a nice step up for people who love softer, sweeter bourbons and want to try something that will deliver more complexity and do it more elegantly. Very Highly Recommended
2009 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (94 Proof, $35, aged 12 Years) – Although it’s aged less time than the 2008, the 2009 has a darker color to it, slightly more yellow and brown. The nose is much stronger with stronger oak as well as butterscotch and vanilla. The entry on the 2009 is very thick and heavy with deep syrupy caramel notes. As dense as this bourbon is, it’s not overly sweet, and less sweet than the 2008. The spice comes on strong in the mid palate and carries through to the finish which is predominately a spicy caramel finish.
2009 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon isn’t as attention grabbing as the 2008 or the 2010 but it’s still a very solid bourbon and at the price point it pulls its weight and them some to deliver some excellent bang for the buck. Very Highly Recommended
2010 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (94 Proof, $45, aged 12 years) – Put simply, the 2010 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is a rock star. Orange, reddish in color, the nose on the 2010 is much fuller and spicier than the 2008 or the 2009. The nose has a wonderful mix of vanilla, caramel, clove and butterscotch. The entry is spectacular – from the moment this bourbon hits your palate, you know that you need to chew, not sip. There’s a phenomenal amount of complexity with sweet vanilla and caramel intermingled with spicy cinnamon and clove. The mouth feel to the 2010 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is deliciously deep and thick. We’d call the finish to this bourbon long if it ever actually finished – the sweet spice lingers in your mouth so long we had to take a long break before sampling anything else.
2010 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is so good, and at such an amazing price point, it’s easily one of bourbon’s best kept secrets. We almost want to keep it that way so we can round up and store as much 2010 as we can find. But great whiskey is meant to be shared and this bourbon is a truly great whiskey. It encapsulates everything we love about bourbon at a price that challenges all convention for such a premium spirit. Highest Recommendation – “A Classic”