The Old Forester Bourbon review
The longer review
Often labeled a Kentucky classic by food and drink critics alike, the Old Forester bourbon has the longest history on the market. Perhaps, that’s why it’s hard to think about bourbon without picturing a bottle of Old Forester on the shelves.
Not sure where to start with this historic bourbon? Here’s our Old Forester bourbon review to guide your taste buds.
First bottled in 1870 by George Garvin Brown, the Old Forester bourbon has been around for almost 150 years. The former pharmaceutical salesman turned bourbon specialist merchant and founded the Brown-Forman Corporation. Today, the bourbon is still produced and bottled by the same company.
The Old Forester bourbon was the first bourbon to be sold exclusively in sealed bottles to avoid tampering with the content and was initially sold as a medicinal product in pharmacies. That’s precisely the connection with pharmacies that ensured the Old Forester bourbon was one of the few brands authorized for lawful production during Prohibition.
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Who makes Old Forester bourbon?
Interestingly, descendants of George Garvin Brown hold more than 70% of the company’s voting shares, so it is fair to say that bourbon has remained a family affair. Perhaps, that would explain why the Brown-Forman Corporation is one of the largest US-owned companies in the business of wines and spirits.
While the company started with bourbon, they rapidly grew the portfolio of products to focus on various products, including whiskey, wine, vodka, tequila, and liqueur. The company produces many recognizable brands that populate our drink cabinets. One of them is the unmissable Jack Daniels or even Woodford Reserve, a premium bourbon blend that competes against small-batch specialists 1792 Bourbon. <insert link to 1792 Bourbon review>
Bottled at 43% alcohol by volume, with an 86 U.S. proof, The Old Forester has an average alcohol content for the bourbon market. Worth noting, the former Old Forester Signature has a 100 proof for 50% abv, while the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, released first in 2002, has a 95 U.S. proof (for 47.5% abv). The Old Forester Statesman, which has been released as a marketing event along the film Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is also bottled at 95 proof. You can also find a wink to the 1920 -1933 period with the 1920 Prohibition Style Old Forester bourbon, bottled at 115 proof.
Where is The Old Forester bourbon made?
The Old Forester bourbon is distilled in Shively, Kentucky. It’s worth noting that Kentucky counts 68 distilleries as of 2018, which together craft 95% of the world’s bourbon supply. The Old Forester is one of the bourbons that’s helped make Kentucky the capital of bourbon.
The mash bill used contains:
- 72% corn,
- 18% rye,
- 10% malted barley
The Brown-Forman distillery also uses the same mash bill for their premium, high-end market bourbon, Woodford Reserve. Admittedly, the barrel seasoning makes all the difference between the two products. It is a high-rye recipe that contains a higher rye content than most bourbons. Despite its generous helping of rye, the Old Forester bourbon does not taste like Rye whiskey.
The Old Forester process tends to focus on bottling bourbon after 4 to 5 years in barrel, except for the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon variation, which uses 8-year-old barrels. Yet, important information for history enthusiasts: Brown-Forman distillery produces The 1870 Original, which uses only 21 barrels for limited filtering to stay loyal to the initial process established by George Garvin Brown.
What to expect
The Old Forester bourbon ticks all the flavorsome boxes you can expect of a bourbon, from sweet vanilla, toffee and caramel, to oak and nuts. It balances the dryness of the woody elements with the delicate sweet spices and aromas elegantly. Ultimately it doesn’t get made for so long without getting it right!
The Old Forester has a sweet nose, marrying toffee-apple, maple, buttery popcorn, and overripe bananas. But you get a robust wood and charred base that subtly supports the sweetness. There’s a slight oxidative nose that isn’t unpleasant, but that probably comes from its medicinal origins. Not that it smells like your cough medicine, but there’s a sense of herbal and spicy thick goodness to it.
Colorwise, the Old Forester bourbon has a warm and clear amber and copper balance that shines in the light. You can catch elements of bronze in the glass too.
The taste comes in two main streams with the Old Forester bourbon, both rustic and full-bodied. As first, the sweet and buttery cream caramel, maple, and apricot flavors explode mid-palate. It is no surprise that some may refer to the Old Forester as a grown-up cold chocolate, as you get a lot of cocoa, praline, and dark cherry flavors in the palate.
The dry woody element gradually appears, bringing a sense of cedarwood and lingering toasted oak and tannins. The maple flavor takes a cinnamony hint in the aftertaste, keeping it sweet enough to balance the toasted wood in the mid-palate. There’s a surprisingly fresh finish, with juicy orange hints bringing a somehow almost medicinal quality to the taste.
How to drink The Old Forester bourbon?
The version you are the most likely to come across in bars is the 86 proof Old Forester bourbon. It is the most common and probably the best to start your Old Forester bourbon journey. It’s one of the most recommended bourbons to stock your drink cabinets, as it’s superbly versatile, mellow enough for a straight-up glass, but full of subtle notes that elevate cocktails too. If you want to have a taste of how people would have enjoyed bourbons in the 1800s, the robust versatility of the Old Forester bourbon is the closest you’ll get to an answer.
Saying that the Old Forester bourbon works in cocktails is an understatement. The Old Forester Mint Julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby race in 2015. How does the Mint Julep differ from the Old Forester bourbon? It combines the subtle palate thickness with the sharp orange and honey finish to elevate the cocktail to a new dimension. The recipe creates a perfect balance of sweetness and sharpness that brings the Old Forester bourbon’s citrusy fruitiness to attention. Alternatively, you can also buy the pre-mixed cocktail directly!
For lesser experienced home bartenders, the Old Forester has created a syrup range that can help you recreate some of the preferred bourbon cocktails in an instant.
If you prefer your bourbon neat, the Old Forester 86 proof is a standard Kentucky straight-up bourbon that offers a subtle spiciness. For lesser experienced bourbon drinkers, it is a gentle introduction. You might find that the Old Forester 1870 original Batch is a simple bourbon with less edginess, helping to open the palate for other experiences. You wouldn’t want to sip on an Old Forester every day. It is best left for occasional events, as the thick chocolate fruitiness and wood quality makes it an exciting but somewhat cloying drink.
You can then build up depth with an Old Forester 1897 Bottled in Bond, sweet with a peppery finish, and the Old Forester bourbon Signature, which packs hints of mellow butterscotch and corn. Not all Old Forester bourbons can take water, but the Signature variation maintains its strength on ice too.
Price of The Old Forester bourbon
You can expect to find a bottle of Old Forester bourbon 86 proof to stock your drink cabinet at around $14-$18. It’s one of the best value bourbon considering the versatility of flavors and usages. Some of the batch variations will come at a higher price, though:
- Old Forester 100 proof (previously Signature): $30-$40
- Birthday Bourbon: $130
To keep your bourbon cabinet top-up, we’d undoubtedly recommend the standard and trusted 86 proof, that packs a superb nose and palate under its small price.
The Whiskey Rocks verdict.
Is it good?
The Old Forester bourbon is not only America’s first bottled bourbon, but it is also the longest bourbon to have been continuously distilled. Under its rustic appearance lies a pleasantly sweet drink that builds up layers of tastes in the mouth. There are many delicate flavors and scents that you can pick up, even if you are not an experienced bourbon enthusiast.
If there’s only one bourbon you can have in your drink cabinet, the Old Forester bourbon is your best choice. A decent choice that doesn’t blow either your money, not your mind, the Old Forester is easy on the palate. As a go-to staple, it is an excellent, versatile choice that is either bland or overpowering. For enthusiasts who want a real taste of rustic America’s bourbon history, you can experience flavors that are in many ways as close to the original bourbon as possible.
The Old Forester bourbon is an excellent introduction to bourbons for someone who isn’t familiar with the typical rye and sweetness balance. It is a relatively young bourbon that is pleasant in the mouth with a spicy bite but no aggressive heat. It is no middle-of-the-road experience, but it offers a great base to build up more complex flavors. But that’s not to say that experienced home bartenders wouldn’t also appreciate the aftertaste depth that blends dryness, sweet, fruity tones. For those more familiar with Jack Daniel’s whiskey, there are enough similarities in the blend of flavors to make the Old Forester a reliable alternative.
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